Organize Your Life: Pack Rat, Meet File 13

Anyone who believes that the term “paperless society” has even the slightest tinge of inevitable realism, should strongly consider a reality check of one’s self. That term supposedly originated in 1978 and therefore has been flaunted in an office park near you for almost 30 years.

Through massive growth of personal computers, laptops, hand-held tablets, and mobile devices since then, all of us were assured of a paperless society at least some point along the way. Today, we’re nowhere closer to that pipe dream.

Paper is here to stay. When you start a family, you soon realize that life continues to inundate us with its flat and highly stackable existence in every corner of the home. So what exactly should we keep, and for how long? And what can we throw out? How can you stay organized and avoid being a pack rat? Figure out a system now, and you’ll have more time for what counts. 

{ MORE: Why Nesting is a Natural Part of Pregnancy }

pack rat
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Bills & credit card statements – The U.S. government considers all active file papers over three-years-old as “dead storage.” Realistically, you probably don’t need to keep more than three months of past bills paid, especially when most records are easily retrievable from the company. If the company has a history of mixing up your account, you could keep things longer. But in general, pitch them sooner than later.

Pay stubs – More and more, companies conduct this weekly ritual electronically. But if you’re saddled by antiquated practices and still get paper copies like you do with bills, only the last few are necessary. A W-2 will provide all you need at the year’s end.

Tax records – Most tax and accounting experts tend to agree that seven years is the magic number, though, you should keep in mind that the IRS can audit anyone, anytime, in the case of suspect or deceitful returns.

Bank statements – Most people conduct this affair online. But if paper is preferred, one year is enough. Banks can easily provide you missing materials upon request.

Automobile records – Titles should be kept forever, but expired insurance cards can be shredded. If you get new cards every six months or so, don’t senselessly hang onto paperwork that’s not needed anymore.

Receipts – Unless you need to make a return, or need to keep for insurance issues or tax purposes, you can probably toss the receipts once your credit card bill has been paid each month. Besides, even the best pack rat will tell you the receipt ink inevitably fades over time. So why bother for too long?

Medical records – Some suggest keeping these for at least a year. Some need to be kept until symptoms and treatment end, which may be five years or more. One could also argue keeping them longer in case of insurance reimbursement disputes.

Ownership manuals/warranties – Keep the warranties as long as they’re current. But most appliance manuals are accessible online. Review your file folder on this, though, because you’ll be surprised at how many items you no longer own, like that cassette player or electronic typewriter. Yes, I’m talking to you 40-somethings!

Remember, most papers nowadays can be scanned with home printers. Sure, there are legal stipulations with originals vs. digital files. But if you’re talking about less serious matters like receipts and credit card statements that can be handily retrieved, scanning is a sure-fire way to save space and also protect your inner status as someone who can’t let go.

After all, no one will call you a pack rat in the you-never-know-when-time-of-need. It’s good to be prepared, you just need to have a plan for it.

What do you think?

Organize Your Life: Pack Rat, Meet File 13

Tom Konecny is a dad of four children and husband to wife, Erika. Tom currently serves as a private consultant in writing, communications and marketing. In 2013, Tom founded Dad Marketing, a site dedicated to exploring the world of marketing to dads. He previously worked in sports marketing, served as an associate editor and writer for several publications, and directed an award-winning corporate marketing department. His first book, "DADLY Dollar$" will be published this summer, and he is c ... More

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