Paperwork, in all it’s forms, is the most commonly hoarded item. If you think about it, it is the most common thing that comes into our home both actively and passively. There’s the non-stop onslaught of mail coming in to our home on a daily basis and the diverse types of paperwork given to us on a daily basis such as receipts, coupons, business cards, educational materials, etc…

Thinking about paperwork brings two things to mind for me:  the movie Memento and my cat.  In Memento, the lead character sustained an injury that left him unable to store any new memories. When he wakes up each morning he has no recollection of the previous day.  Yes, this could apply to a lot of us however; the twist is that he is trying to solve his wife’s murder.  DUN, DUN, DUUUUNNN!  (Yes, you should rent this movie….but after you are done reading this, of course ; ) In order to progress in his pursuit of the murderer, he has information tattooed on his body  (the body is Guy Pierce, in the event that you needed a visual) and his room is scattered with notes and Polaroid pictures in order to rebuild the case each day.

In regards to my cat: While vigorously laboring into the wee small hours of the morning over my year long MSW research project in 2012-2013, I accumulated a gargantuan mass of paper.  Upwards of 20 journal articles, 35 research papers, post it notes, class notes, outlines, and questionnaires rendered the dining room table unusable for its intended purpose.  Without fail, each night atop my paper rendition of the Devil’s Tower, stretched out in her best and most breathtaking Vasisthasana yoga pose, was my dutiful, Siamese paperweight, Phoebe.  What started out so adorable and innocent rapidly became a dangerous game of tug of war involving a quite uneven display of weaponry and skill.  Her lion-like territorial vigilance over the entirety of MY papers was astounding and aggravating as…..I digress.

So, I guess the moral of my rambling on the topic of paper is this: unless you are suffering from Anterograde amnesia and coincidentally have the opportunity to solve a murder or you are in training to become a wicked feline origami yogi, it’s time to consider eliminating excess paper from your home.

First and foremost, it is essential that you begin to decrease the amount of paper coming into your home. Have a sorting system for going through mail near the front door that you can give attention to on a daily basis. This can include  bills, coupons, magazines/catalogs, and recycling. Some simpler categories I’ve worked with people before on are immediate/upcoming action and trash/recycling – just two categories. In other words, if it requires an immediate or upcoming action – bills, using a coupon, making a phone call or appointment, reading, cancelling something, etc… it goes in one category. (We write on the item the date by which this action needs to be taken. I’ll use it, call them, read it by this date xx/xx/xxxx or it will be discarded.)  Items that you are not going to take action on go into the trash or recycling. If there are magazines or catalogs that you no longer look at or purchase from, coupons you would never use, advertisements for items you never knew existed before that moment, etc…go in the trash/recycling.

The most prominent concerns surrounding paperwork is: “How long do I keep it?” referencing taxes, bills, receipts. etc..  Here are the guidelines according to Consumer Reports:

Keep for less than a year 
In this file, store your ATM, bank-deposit, and credit card receipts until you reconcile them with your monthly statements. Once you’ve done that, shred the paper documents (to avoid ID theft) or securely trash electronic files unless you need them to support your tax return. Keep insurance policies and investment statements until new ones arrive.

Keep for a year or more
You’ll want to hold onto loan documents until the loan is paid off. That will often be for more than a year. Then toss those papers. If you own one or more vehicles, hold onto the titles until you sell them. If you have investments in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or anything else, keep the investment purchase confirmations until you sell the investment so you can establish your cost basis and holding period. (If that information appears on your annual statements, you can keep those instead.)

Keep for seven years
If you fail to report more than 25 percent of your gross income on your tax returns, the government has six years to collect the tax or start legal proceedings. So when it comes to determining how long to keep tax records—electronic and paper—we recommend seven years, just in case.

Keep forever
Essential records such as birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, Social Security cards, and military discharge papers should be kept indefinitely. Also hold on to defined-benefit plan documents, estate-planning documents, life-insurance policies, and an inventory of your bank safe deposit box (share a copy with your executor or your attorney).

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