Tracie Utter, Certified Professional Organizer and Certified Public Accountant
Utterly Organized, serving Louisville, KY
As an organizer with a financial background, I spend a lot of time helping clients deal with paper. All kinds of paper, mostly financial, but anything that comes into their space.Typically, we have two areas of focus: deciding what to keep and where to put it.
Sometimes clients, not many, want to throw everything away. Taking this route without looking is risky depending on the source of the information. If something thrown away in error is easily recovered then I am more likely to go along. On the other hand, if there is the slightest hint that something might have money/cash in it (an envelope, gift card, etc) then we are going through everything. Sometimes, keeping information in paper format, like a social security card or copies of the credit cards, are more valuable (scanning is fine).
For other clients, and this is more typical, they fear throwing anything away so they don’t, especially if it is related to their taxes, retirement, or legal issues. It is good to have apprehension but not to the point it paralyzes you. Going through your papers is necessary because of the value of the information. For example, I have accounts at about 10 different financial institutions. Sound like a lot? Count yours, you will be surprised. I did not realize that I did business with than many banks until I went after this list. Include bank accounts for everyone in the family, credit cards, loans, investments, savings, and any place that holds money for you or that you owe money to. If you accumulate this information through Quicken, Quick Books, Excel spreadsheets, then great, you have a way to remember what you have. On the other hand, if you do not have a method to consolidate your financial information, keeping papers might be the best plan. I have found using a paper method to track holdings to be especially helpful in an estate situation. Sometimes our loved ones do not know what they own or owe so I help clients figure it out. But, none of this means you need to keep everything. Education yourself or have an organizer teach you.
Other blog posts I have written regarding paperwork:
More is available, search the web. My favorite source is the IRS’s Publication 552 “Recordkeeping for Individuals“