Organizing Your Office for the New Year

Article written by Judy Trosvig, Organize That!

Everyone needs a place to pay bills, write letters, keep important paperwork, etc. Whether you work at home or not you need a space at home to keep you stuff. Remember you are in charge! No matter how old you are you need to know where the insurance policies, warranties, titles, taxes, receipts are and so on. Spring is the best time of the year to get rid of outdated files and to organize your records. It's also a great time to de-clutter the rest of your financial files. In my book, Organizing a Single Life, I have tips on organizing a home office space.

Tips on organizing your office:

  1. Have a designated desk area. Whether it is your kitchen table or a spare bed room, keep it out of the traffic pattern.
  2. Your desk should have a place to keep bills before they are paid. Open all mail over the trash can and throw away envelopes and junk mail before it even hits your desk.
  3. Have trays or slots on the desk or attached to the wall for mail that is being routed to other members of the household. You don’t need to deal with other people’s mail.
  4. Keep a central calendar for everyone to coordinate their activities so nothing is missed. Combine your personal calendar and your professional calendar to avoid double booking the day, that way there is room for both. You certainly don’t want to forget your date and show up at the single party.
  5. Have at least one file cabinet with two drawers. Invest in good hanging folders preferably different colors with tabs. Zig zag the tabs so you can see all folders as a glance. Put different categories in the color folders. Put in the top drawer file, anything that is used or needed on a daily, weekly or monthly bases.
    For example, put all tax receipts you use for deductions in a red folder with the tab that has the current year and TAXES. Put bills paid in a green folder, action items not to forget in a yellow folder, and so forth. In the second drawer you can file everything that you don’t need, but want to keep, in a permanent storage, such as, wills, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses and other personal paperwork. Please remember that 95% of all permanent storage is never looked at again.

What you can trash:

  1. Trash your ATM receipts and bank-deposit slips as soon as you match them up with your monthly statement.
  2. Ditch pay stubs as soon as you receive your W-2 for the year.
  3. Toss paper copies of your credit-card, utility, phone and cable bills as soon as the next month's bill acknowledging your last payment arrives (unless you need to keep the bills for tax purposes -- if you deduct home-office expenses, for example).
  4. Weed out and toss supporting documents, such as canceled checks and old receipts, three years after the due date of your return (that's usually how long the IRS has to audit your return, unless you've significantly under-reported.)
  5. Toss the monthly statements. Keep year-end statements with your tax return.

Shred or burn paperwork so your garbage doesn't become a treasure trove for identity thieves but most paperwork can be recreated or duplicated by your bank, financial advisor or utility company. So there is not much you need to keep.

What you should keep:

  1. Keep utility receipts if you plan to sell your house soon, to show prospective buyers how much your utilities tend to cost.
  2. Keep tax returns for at least seven years
  3. Keep car titles until you no longer have the car and warranties until it expires or you no longer have the item. You should also decide whether some of this warrantee or titles should be kept at home or in a bank safety deposit box.
  4. If you have any self-employment income, keep your receipts for at least six years.
  5. You may also want to hang on to receipts for major home improvements for at least three years after you sell your house.
  6. Keep insurance policies at least two years after the policy expires or the claim has been paid.