Our technological revolution promised to reduce paperwork and paper clutter in the office. It lied. Life and work generate more paper than ever. How do you begin to figure out which documents can safely be thrown away, and which need to be shredded? Fear not — paper organizing does not have to be a mystery. Your NYC Professional Organizer has successfully helped many clients sort through their stacks, and she is ready to help you, too.
Because so much personal information is on so many of the documents and publications that we handle daily, it behooves everyone to take steps to keep that information out of the hands of identity thieves. But….and here’s the kicker…many personal documents do need to be saved, some for years. Here are some paper organizing guidelines for sorting through your stacks:
You should shred all material that has any of the following information: account numbers, birth dates, passwords and PINs, signatures, and Social Security numbers. Additionally, consider shredding items that include your name, address, phone numbers, and email addresses (including junk mail). Check out the Washington State Attorney General’s office for an excellent and detailed article listing many items that should be shredded: https://www.atg.wa.gov/page.aspx?id=13148#.U-0uUlbn_IU.
On the other hand, items that should never be shredded or thrown away during the paper organizing process are: essential records such as birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, Social Security cards, and military discharge papers. A safe deposit box is the most secure place for these kinds of documents. Copies of wills, trusts, and powers of attorney also belong in your safe-deposit box. Our NYC Professional Organizer recommends that you keep an up-to-date list of the documents you have in the safe deposit box at home, as well as photocopies of these documents themselves in case you need them for reference.
Tax documents, including federal and state returns and their supporting records, must be saved for a number of years. Your taxes can be audited up to three years after you file. In addition, if the government suspects that you failed to report 25% of your gross income, they have six years to come after you and/or start legal proceedings. You can be audited at any time if the government suspects you of fraud. There are other kinds of documents that you need to hold on to for various periods of time. Check out Consumer Reports Online Money Advisor’s excellent and detailed article complete with a guideline of which documents you have to keep and for how long. It is always best to check with your accountant or financial advisor for their recommendation as they are most familiar with your specific situation.
Once you have collected your mountain of shreddable documents, you will be happy to know that you don’t have to sit in front of your own personal shredder non-stop for two weeks to get it done. Many communities host regular “shredding events,” where you can bring all your boxes and bags of personal documents and have them safely destroyed. You can find those listed on many local sites online. In addition, many Staples’ locations offer shredding services. Mystery solved!