Office Paper De-Clutter & Organization

I feel like the home office is the scariest place to de-clutter.  You want to clean out and shred old papers but want to make sure not to toss out anything important.  How long are you supposed to keep receipts and tax documents?  What is the best way to start?

Cheat sheet

  • Forever = Fire safe box to hold items
    • Examples include…
      • Social security card
      • Life event records like birth, adoption, marriage, divorce, etc
      • Stock bonds/certificates
      • Receipts for major purchases (jewelry, collectibles)
      • Proof of ownership records like vehicle title
      • Proof of insurance
      • Wills
  • 3-6 years = Tax documents and related paperwork (tax-deductible contribution receipts)
    • “You can be audited by the IRS for no reason up to three years after you filed a tax return. If you omit 25% of your gross income that goes up to 6 years and if you don’t file a tax return at all, there is no statute of limitations” (Suze Orman)
    • We keep ours for 7 years just to be on the safe side.
  • 3 years = Medical bills and records
  • 1 year =
    • Utility bills
    • Cancelled checks
    • Credit card / bank statements (most of these are now available online with a paperless option)
  • Varies = Sales Receipts
    • This answer does vary depending on the purchase.
      • If it is a large purchase, then keep in the fire safe box.
      • If the purchase is under warranty, then keep the receipt until you no longer have item or warranty expires.
      • Keep any receipts that are associated with your taxes for 3-6 years.
    • To make things easy, we keep receipts for the past 3 years.  Each January I start a new plastic shoe box for that particular year and label it.  We keep all receipts in a bin so that we can easily go back and shred old receipts.

Where to start?  There is no right answer.  You just need to pick a drawer or file and start somewhere.  We happen to have some hanging files so I started with the a subset of those.  I took them out and sorted out what to keep and what to shred.  The shred pile I left in a bin to make sure I double-check the items before turning them into paper confetti.

How to organize the remaining papers after de-cluttering what is not needed?  

  • Set up a landing pad for incoming papers = Think about what types of papers come into the home via the mail or ones that you bring home like receipts.  Set up a designated spot to hold the paper and set up times to sort through them.  I took dollar store bins and labeled them “Receipts” and “Mail”.  They sit on the top of the desk in our home office and as soon as them come into the house, they land there.
  • Set time aside to sort = Each week I go through the receipts and mail and give them their final “home”.  Anything that I need my husband to review (aka get a second opinion on), we have a magazine holder that stores the papers.  He sorts through those about twice a month.
  • Give them a home (file or shred) =
    • Shred bin = We have a small trash can sitting next to the shredder.  It is a great way to toss papers in there to shred later.  This gives you a chance to review the item a second time before finally shredding it.
    • “TO DO” bin = We have some papers that are related to tickets purchased for upcoming events that do not have a home in a hanging file.  There is a plastic bin (can use any container like a basket) and we set these papers aside.  They will all be used within the next couple of months so it is good to keep them handy.  Alternatives to this include using a magazine holder or folding them and placing them into the correct month in a paper planner.  It basically needs to be a spot that is easily accessible and will not get lost since most of these items are needed to get into venues.
    • “Second opinion” bin = Anything that I am unsure about and need my husband to review as well, I put into a magazine holder.  This way he can sort through them with me and we can decide how to handle a particular item.
    • File away = Depending on the duration we are keeping the remaining paperwork, they fall into a few locations…
      • Fire safe lock box
      • Receipts get stored in a plastic shoe box with a label of the year “2017” on the outside
      • Other paperwork go into hanging folders which are categorized

I would say that my best advice would be to stay on top of the papers flowing into your home.  It is very easy to throw them in a pile and walk away.  If you sort often and file them away properly, you will not feel overwhelmed.  It will also be easier to locate papers that you might need later.