Q: I have lots of papers in my room in a box for myself and my 3 children – awards, taxes, receipts. I need help! What do I do?
A: This is a very, very, VERY common issue in modern households. Even in this electronic era we have more papers to organize than ever before. The first problem is knowing what you need to keep and for how long. The second is how to organize it. (This could be a pretty long answer so take a deep breath and keep reading).
First I’ll address how to store what you need to reference later (not the items you still need to take care of.)
The traditional way to organize these papers is in files. The simplest system is made up of a few broad categories. (If you feel you’re more advanced you can make sub-categories).
1. Supplies: Get 1-2 file boxes or drawers and about 50 hanging files for a family of 5.
2. Make labels FIRST. Attach the label to each file and then put papers into the appropriate files. Make more files as needed to match your family activities.
3. There are several pre-designed products that have created the file tabs for you so you don’t have to do it yourself.
JOYS is one of my favorites because it is very attractive and comprehensive. It is used with hanging files of any color.
Another pre-designed system is made by FileSolutions. It is more complex and JOYS and uses primary colors to color code.
If you decide to make your own labels, these are the basic labels that you will need:
Bills (that need to be saved)
Family – general info – addresses, history, wills, legal stuff
Mom – general info, hobbies, activities, job
Child 1 – Genearal (school, activities, hobbies)
Child 1 – Medical
Child 2 – General
Child 2 – Medical
Child 3 – General
Child 3 – Medical
Recent photos (school photos, photos that others give you)
House Other (Decor, improvements)
Financials (IRA, Social Security, Investments)
Tax Documents – This Year
Tax Documents – by year
You will likely have some special interest areas. You can group those into manila folders inside of your hanging files, or start a new hanging file.
How long to keep the papers? It will depend on you in many cases.
Tax documents need to be saved at least 7 years, but keep the tax return itself forever.
Medical background information should be saved forever.
Legal matters need to be saved forever.
And vital documents such as birth certificates, marriage/divorce documents, passports should also be saved forever
Consult the IRS for more specific information or search the term “Paper Retention.”
Do you have a room or area in your home that needs organization help?
No worries – the Rubbermaid Professional Organizer Squad is here with expert advice! This group of professional organizers has seen and tackled it all. Simply enter your question, screen name and email to submit your question to them (any organizing question is welcome, no matter how simple or complicated!). We’ll answer and feature questions the squad can provide the best answers on. Don’t worry – we’ll email you if your question is selected!