Here are some ideas for knowing what to keep, what to shred, what to toss and what you should try to find in digital format...
1. Financial Paperwork
- I have used Quicken for so long that I'm not sure I know how to use the old-fashioned check registers any longer. Switch to Quicken or other reputable personal financial organizing software. Be sure to backup your data frequently.
- Go green, stop paper waste (and the higher risk of identity theft) by switching to e-Statements from your bank or credit union.
- Continue on the green fiscal policy and switch your monthly bills to e-Statements.
- Pay bills online.
- Save tax returns for up to 7 years; shred the old ones.
- Use your personal finance software to create budgets, or import the data into Excel for more data manipulation options.
2. Manuals & Receipts
When I buy something, particularly if it is an electrical appliance, I keep the receipt. If I can find the owner's manual online, I will download the file (often a .pdf file) to my computer for future reference and then recycle the paper manual. If I can't find a digital version of the owner's manual, I attach the receipt for the item to the front cover and keep it in a special file. If anything goes wrong, I have all the information I need at my fingertips.
Recently, I had to exchange a slow cooker I purchased on sale at Williams-Sonoma many years ago. When I brought it in, the ladies at the cash register were surprised to see it, but they could only offer me a fraction of what I paid for it as store credit without the receipt. Not to be daunted, I produced the receipt which was shockingly almost 8 years old. I received store credit equal to the full amount of my purchase price. Moral of the story - it does pay to hang on to some paperwork!
3. School Papers: Essays, Term Papers and Theses
Unless there are particularly significant messages written on returned papers, digitize these papers and toss 'em. I have a grand total of one paper I wrote in a creative writing class; the professor wrote me a particularly ironic and amusing note without ever realizing that he was doing so. I save it to remind myself that I can paint some detailed pictures with words.
4. Old Invoices, Receipts
If it's paid, toss it. Unless the receipt is for a serviceable or uniquely valuable item, toss it.
5. Reference Materials
Chances are, this is the first time you've looked at this stuff in years. Equally probable - it's likely the last time you'll look at it in years. We get so much information with the ease of the internet - recycle old reference materials after scanning and saving the useful bits.
Be ruthless! The shredder is your friend!