By: Ann Davis-Rowe
If you’re a regular reader of The Adult Dish, you know that reducing our negative impact on the environment is a huge deal. (And if not, read this.) One easy way to do this is to go paperless on as many statement-printing accounts as you can: your bank or credit union, credit cards, student loans, investment accounts [like your 401(k)], etc. Besides saving trees, it’s also easy to look up details and pay bills online. AND you don’t have to store all that paper.
But, sometimes, going paperless isn’t an option. So what do you do with all that… stuff? And how long do you have to keep it anyway?
Here are few general rules:
As with all tax-related discussions, there are always exceptions. For details on tax oddities (like if you filed a fraudulent return – they really do cover everything), see here. It’s specific to small businesses, but good rules of thumb nonetheless.
So now that you know you have a whole bunch of stuff you can get rid of – what do you do with it? First of all, do not toss it in with the rest of your recycling. This isn’t just paranoia given what a pain in the neck identify theft can be. Home shredders can be purchased fairly inexpensively on Amazon or at your favorite office supply store. If you don’t want to make that purchase, your bank may have regular shredding services for its customers. Also, many churches or other non-profits often offer shredding days for a small donation per box – check the bulletin board at your favorite coffee shop; such things are often posted there.
But what to do with what you can’t get rid of?
One option would be to scan everything and keep it on an external hard drive with cloud back up. Dropbox and GoogleDrive are options to start with if you wish to go that route, but for more secure storage, you may want to consider a service like Carbonite or Zoolz.
If you don’t have a scanner or don't want to go through the hassle, there is nothing wrong with a classic set of manila folders. Personally, in our house we have an old school filing cabinet that my husband inherited a million years ago, and one Saturday I bought a box of folders and a Sharpie and created files for everything we need to keep: tax returns from before we were married, combined tax returns, 401(k) and Roth records, medical records, and pet vaccinations. It’s been super easy to update this basic system for our new house – mortgage docs, deed, appliances, etc. This method works for us because a classic tan filing cabinet fits with our eclectic design aesthetic. It used to hold up one end of a desk made of an old door, and now it’s a funky side table covered in our spare room.
If you’re not into that 1980s office look, there is a whole range of other options, from decorative folders to hidden storage, and they’re findable from small stationery stores to big boxes. The important thing is to find what works for you and just do it. Take a Saturday, put on some energizing tunes, pour a cup of coffee (or a mimosa), and start working through it. Once you have your system down, it will be super easy to add and remove things as necessary and you won’t have to think twice about it. Easy adulting is the best adulting.