The need for current and complete records is paramount in just about every area of our lives. From taxes to grocery store receipts, it’s just a matter of time before you are going to need to trace your steps or transactions to take care of your daily business. So how can we keep it all straight?
Formally speaking, the folks at “For Dummies” (think Microsoft Windows For Dummies) have a great list of suggestions for our important documents. Check them out here.
But what about all those stacks of paper, folders, and boxes? How about those electronic files in your email and other folders in too many accounts to track easily? As a person who regularly spends time organizing my life, I would say use what system works best for you and stick to it. Do a little every day. Handle a document as few times as necessary before filing it or acting upon it. Even if you need to drag-and-drop electronic files into a folder marked by a subject or month of the year DO IT! And if you haven’t touched the item in a year and it is not something of vital importance then either place it in a covered, plastic bin marked with the year in the attic or basement OR toss it! View the electronic file and re-classify it as necessary or dump it into the Recycle Bin. You will know what to do with it when you have to move or get a new computer! Sometimes things are just too emotionally charged to make a decision right away anyways. I get that. So into a “bin” it goes!
The desk in our home only holds records for the current and past year. The file cabinets get purged yearly (yes, we have a lot of them!). The clear, plastic bins in the attic get purged every 7 years if not sooner. And just about anything that can be reconstructed online (such as a bank statement) is shredded by the end of the year, keeping a master copy as a summary for the year. That summary is put into our shoe box of tax documents, receipts and any paper planners that would help to reconstruct an event or decision from the prior year if needed. But hey, this is not legal advice (and may not apply to truly legal documents) just some thoughts for one’s sanity! You decide what works best for you, k?
The single best system for organization of our day-to-day records has been the envelope system. We use a set of business-sized envelopes labeled by subject to keep track of receipts for a given year. The envelopes are kept in a metal “money box” from an office supply store. Tax time is less hectic for us when we can pull out the envelop marked “Donations” to add up for our itemized deductions. File folders and spreadsheets work well too, just have some kind of paper trail to support the latter. If documents are scanned, I have heard that it is prudent to have a 3rd location to store documents in case your hard drive fails (like Dropbox or and external hard drive that gets updated automatically each week. Just some thoughts.
Another example is the management of medical records at our house with the use of one travelling notebook for each person. For those with ongoing health issues, the most current reports, treatment protocols, medication/supplement lists, questions, billing issues, etc. are kept in one place for quick reference during a medical appointment. (Other folks may keep a dedicated spiral notebook-with-pockets or note-taking app for this purpose.) Sometimes I’ll just add the issue needing to be discussed as a note in my smartphone calendar too. When there is a special appointment with a new medical provider, we can easily retrieve the information needed, saving valuable time and hassle from having to follow-up with everyone later. “Do it now” is the best strategy IMHO when at the office or location of the service provider. Periodically the notebook gets purged into more long term files in a file cabinet; test results are kept and billing records eventually are tossed after 3 years.
These organization systems are critical for those in the role of a caregiver. Or an executor of the estate of a loved one. Or when teaching these skills to our next generation! I will always be grateful that my mom was a bookkeeper for she kept bankers boxes of records long before there were computers. Since there will always be paper records, having a system for organizing every type of information is necessary and valuable for making life easier.
P.S. Here are more details if needed!