Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How-To: Declutter Your Paperwork

One of the top items that creates clutter, both at work and at home, is paperwork. At home you'll have bills, bank statements, financial records, receipts, contracts and various other items of paperwork, with new items arriving each day. Additionally, come tax-time or when you're applying for a loan or moving house, you'll need quick and easy access to the relevant documents. There are two ways of dealing with this paperwork: electronically and in hard-copy.

Many people are increasingly moving to receiving paperwork electronically, and storing it in electronic format (i.e. not printing it out), often for environmental reasons. Some service providers may even penalise you for still receiving paper bills as a cost-cutting measure. If you want to move to storing your paperwork electronically, follow these steps:
  1. Request to receive your bills and other documents electronically. Look for information on the most recent document received, or check out the company's website.
  2. On your computer, create a financial folder, then create a set of folders inside this folder, with one folder for each category (e.g. "Phone", "Contents Insurance") or each company.
  3. When you receive a document via email, save the document to the relevant folder. It's easier to just go to the one folder, rather than to search through all your email.
  4. Similarly, if you view the document after logging into a website, again save the document to the relevant folder. Often you can only access documents going back the last year or so on websites, and charges will apply if you need to have sent older documents.
  5. When completing financial transactions or purchases on line, save a copy of the confirmation as a PDF document to the relevant folder.
  6. Ideally, if you still receive paper versions of any documents, scan the documents and save them along with the electronic documents. If you need to keep the original paper version of the document, keep a folder for this.
  7. If you have bulky paper documents, such as Product Disclosure Statements, Terms and Conditions brochures and manuals, often an electronic copy of such documents can be found on the company's website. Save this document to the relevant folder and recycle the original document.
  8. Because you are relying on these electronic documents, with no hard-copy backup, ensure that you back up the data, whether to discs or online. Additionally, make sure the data is kept secure, with a password required to log-on to the account under which the documents are stored, and optionally data encryption switched on.
  9. Finally, occasionally delete old documents that you no longer need, so that your folders do not become cluttered. Alternatively, if you want to keep everything, you may want to create additional sub-folders, such as one for each calendar or financial year.
If you still want to store your documents in paper format, or you have extensive paper documents that you need to get on top of, before you move to storing documents electronically, follow these steps:
  1. Purchase one or more folders, sufficient to fit all your documents in, along with one or more packets or plastic sleeves.
  2. Use one plastic sleeve for each category (e.g. "Phone", "Contents Insurance") or each company. Order the plastic sleeves in an order that makes sense to you, and, if you are using multiple folders, divide the plastic sleeves between the folders in a way that makes sense to you.
  3. Regularly file the documents away in these folders - at least at the end of each week or after you have paid the relevant bill. Unfiled paperwork can easily go missing.
  4. Occasionally, go through the documents and get rid of any documents that you no longer need (such as old electricity and gas bills, unless you need to keep them for tax purposes). However, if the document has any personal information on it, ensure that you firstly shred it. (Simple shredders can usually be bought at electrical goods stores from about $30.)
(images: kikki.K)

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