As we move into the second quarter of 2016 it is a good time to take stock of your piles of papers, documents and statements and assess what can be shredded, what should be kept and what can be saved online. This guide will help you to decide what to do with all of your paperwork and prevent it from piling up around you.

Things that should always be saved

There are some types of documents that will never be replaced by online copies – you will always need originals of certain important papers. It is a good idea to invest in a safety deposit box or a fireproof safe to ensure that these items never get damaged, stolen or lost.

Remember – safety deposit box can be useful, but they are only accessible during banking hours. Some of these documents could require immediate access.

Always Save Physical Copies Of the Following:

  • Birth certificates for all family members
  • Marriage licenses and/ or divorce decrees
  • National Insurance Card (if you have one)
  • Pension plan documents
  • Copies of your investment portfolio
  • Military records and discharge papers
  • A copy of your will, living will, health care proxies, powers of attorney and trusts (remember, your attorney and executor should also have copies of this)
  • An inventory of your safety deposit box
  • Life insurance policies
  • House insurance policies

Paperwork that you can shred

  • Bank statements – Many people suggest that you keep at least one year’s worth of bank statements (and some even recommend five), but in today’s day and age these are available on your online banking website and easy to access when you need them. In fact, many banks are going paperless and only offering online statements. If you are still receiving paper statements and you want to be extra cautious, you can always scan them and save them to the cloud, but otherwise – go ahead and shred.
  • Credit card bills – The same goes for credit card bills – it is very rare that a bank will not have these stored online, ready to be accessed if you need to dispute a charge or balance your accounts. These can safely be shredded, but again – you might want to store a scanned copy to the cloud.
  • Tax returns and all supporting documents older than 7 years – If you have been lugging around bulky cabinets of old tax return information for your small business, now is the time to assess and shred. If seven years have passed you can no longer be audited and so you no longer need these papers. If you want to keep them for your own use, scan them and store them online.
  • Pay stubs and statements – Keep these for one year, and ensure that they match your end of year statement. Once a year has passed, you can happily shred these. You may want to keep a copy on the cloud for your own records.
  • Investment monthly statements – Keep all confirmations and statements until you can see them detailed on your monthly report, and then feel confident in shredding them.
  • Utility bills and phone bills: Don’t shred these space wasters until you’ve paid them, unless they contain any tax-deductible expenses. Look into whether you can have your bills switched from paper to electronic versions.

Paperwork to keep (only for long as you own the object):

  • Appliance manuals and warranties – This information should be kept handy, just in case something happens to the item and you need to fix it, cash in the warranty or contact the company.
  • Loan documents and vehicle titles – Keep these in a safe place that is also easily accessible, as having them on hand will save you a lot of time and effort should something go wrong.
  • Your home and mortgage documents – This can include the deed to your home, any records of your purchase, all improvement and inspection record and all of your mortgage agreements.

What to store on the cloud

The options of what information you can store on the cloud are endless – any document, picture, file or music can be uploaded, making it accessible from anywhere on the planet, as long as you are connected to the internet. Cloud storage has many benefits as well, namely that it is cheap. Storing tons of digital data in a data storage system can be costly, while cloud storage provides an alternative at a fraction of the cost.

Of course, after many high profile security leaks, many people are rightfully concerned about the security of cloud storage. Is it really a secure method? The answer is yes – as long as you select a well reviewed cloud company that has a proven track record of excellence. Here are some tips on how to choose a good cloud storage provider.

Here are just a few things that you might want to store on the cloud:

  • Manuals and protocols – If you own a small business, it can be costly and time consuming to print out employee manuals for new hires. Instead, direct them to a shared folder on DropBox or similar where they can find all of the information that they will need. This can save you reams of paper and a lot of clutter.
  • Lists and old emails – If you are planning to save any online correspondence, lists or writing for sentimental values or business purposes, resist printing them out and instead store them to the cloud.
  • Photos – The cloud is the perfect place to store photos, music and other files that take up room on your hard drive – and on your physical desk!
  • Music – This one is more about keeping a clutter free computer (rather than your physical space), but storing your music online is the best way to save space on your hard drive.

As you can see, there are plenty of choices for how you can store your documents while keeping them safe, clutter free and well organised.

Written by Anna Lemos