Shred, Scan, or Store? A Checklist to Eliminate Paper Piles
When I became a Fujitsu ScanSnap Squad member last fall, I started scanning nearly everything in sight. It was novel and fun…and I loved the self-righteous feeling of satisfaction from a clear desk and easy access to my documents electronically.
But no matter how hard I try, I always end up with at least a few envelopes full of receipts, forms and miscellaneous items throughout the year, cluttering my desk drawer. Since the tax deadline has come and gone, this is an idea season to tackle that “someday I’ll get to it” pile and decide what to keep, scan or shred.
Here are a few tips to help with the decision-making:
Step #1: Gather your tools
Scanner. (Personally I couldn’t do without my Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500. It’s fast, easy to operate, scans double-sided paperwork, and recently it’s cloud service launched such that I can automatically send documents even easier than before.) The scanner is used to first, make digital copes of information as a back up, or for documents you want to keep but not in paperwork form.
Shredder. This is not a must-have item…it just depends on how much paperwork you are dealing with. In my case, I usually end up dropping off my shredding at my local shredding company because of the volume of paper I have.
Small Filing Cabinet. This doesn’t have to be a beauty - it can be stored in your closet or basement. But if you want this close-at-hand, my favorite is the Elfa Mesh Rolling File Cart from Container Store.
And assemble a few other items: hanging folders, interior file folders, label maker, recycling bin, sharpie, pencil and Post-It notes.
Step #2: Choose a workspace
Desk? basement? Dining room table? You’ll need good lighting and a good amount of clear floor space and/or a large table to sort the piles.
Step #3: Categorize
Yes, you do want to organize your papers by Action, Reference or Archive, as I mentioned in my recent post about organizing a home office. However, in this case, I’m talking about different categories. Grab three different color Post-It notes and create space for:
Store (a.k.a. File).
When you come across anything that can be simply recycled, just drop it straight in the bin. No need to label it.
What to Shred?
Receipts (exceptions are receipts for warranties, proof of purchase, taxes)
Bank statements and investment statements. (If you are signed up for online monthly statements, there is no need to keep the paper form.) If you want more advice on organizing your financial documents, check out my earlier blog post on 3 Things to Consider When Organizing Your Finances.
Pay stubs can be shredded after you get your employer tax statement in January.
Loan contracts can be shredded when you are done paying the loan.
Car and home repair records can be passed along to the next owner, or scanned…but shred those eventually or they weigh down your filing cabinet!
Membership documents can be shredded when you are no longer a member
Rental contracts can be shredded within six months of the contract end
Service contracts for utilities, cable, etc. can be disposed of when the contract ends
Warranties can be shredded when you no longer have the item
Your (deceased) pet’s medical and ownership records
TIP: To eliminate other unnecessary paperwork, sign up for online bank statements and eBill service. I love Hubdoc and File This to help manage online bills so they don’t create digital clutter. We’re nearly to 2020…it’s time to give it a try!
What to Scan and Store?
Store these items either in a safety deposit box or a home safe - after they’ve been scanned for back-up purposes. If someone ever steals your identity, it’s a much smoother process to have the actual documents on hand.
Tax returns. If the IRS audits you, you’ll need to provide this information. It’s a lot simpler to keep it digitally than in piles of banker boxes. Here's how long to keep those documents, straight from the IRS.
Tax documents. receipts and credit card statements for proof of purchase, donation records, annual bank and brokerage statements, etc.
Annual investment statements. Retirement accounts and other proof of securities holdings should be scanned. And just to note: stock certificates should be kept by a broker, not yourself.
Safe deposit box contents.
Social Security statements.
Insurance documents (Car, home, renters, medical insurance cards, etc).
Medical history by family member. Immunization records, prescription information, etc.
Car title. Keep this until the car is sold.
Serial numbers. Photograph and save serial numbers of larger appliances and items you may need to claim under a warranty.
Loan and mortgage. Paid-in-full statement for every loan you’ve ever had.
State-issued vital documents. Marriage, birth, divorce and death certificates.
Social Security cards
Titles and deeds. For Autos, boats and homes as long as you have them.
TIP: If you find yourself trying to remember what exactly is in your safe deposit box, it’s a good idea to create scans of the paperwork, as well as an inventory of other contents. Keep a digital copy of these items as well.
Review and update the contents at least every five years. Give a copy of the safe key to someone you trust.