Clearing Clutter to Start the New Year

As another new year approaches are you looking around at your files, boxes, piles of papers and receipts wondering how much of this stuff you really need to bring into the new year with you? You'd really like clear out the clutter. But there's just one little problem: Which of the documents that you've stuffed into your files and piled on your desk need to be saved and which can go?

The good news is that much of your paperwork is disposable. And most of it can be tossed after three years. It's your ownership statements, receipts for major purchases, tax returns, warranties, wills and insurance policies that need to be filed in a nice safe place, available to you for an indefinite amount of time.

Here are a few fast and easy guidelines on filing and tossing all those seemingly important papers:

Indefinitely save ...

  • Warranty slips. Save them as long as you have the items under warranty -- but not longer. (When I cleaned out my files, I found warranty information for a mobile phone I no longer own and a refrigerator I got rid of three years ago -- a big de-clutter no-no.)
  • Old tax returns. You want to hold on to these. But after three years, you can dump supporting documentation.
  • Documentation on home improvements. Save these proof-of-work papers until you sell your home.
  • Insurance policies and credit card agreements. Keep them as long as you're covered by that insurance company and as long as you have the credit card.

After three years, toss ...

  • That pile of receipts you have to support tax returns filed more than three years ago. The IRS can ask for three years of old returns and documentation, but no more for documentation.
  • Old bank statements. You need the past three years in case you get audited, but that's it.

After one year, the circular file gets ...

  • Canceled checks. You have to save them for your taxes. But after a year, you can chuck the checks you don't need to support old tax returns.
  • Credit card receipts and statements. These prove you really bought that answering machine that's under warranty. Plus, you'll want to save your receipts until you get your bill.

You can dump now ...

  • Phone bills. Unless you need them for your taxes, there's no reason to keep 'em.
  • Gas and electricity receipts. Just like your phone bills, if you don't need these receipts for taxes, dump 'em.
  • ATM receipts. Once you get your monthly statement and verify that's it's accurate, get rid of all those irritating, flyaway slips of paper
  • Receipts for groceries. There's absolutely no reason to keep track of every can of tuna you've bought -- unless you will use the coupons on the back.
  • Coupons that come every month in your credit and airline card statements. You don't have to save the car-rental coupon every time it's slipped into your statement; just save one.
  • Old annual reports from companies whose stock you own. The latest report will have previous years' financials for comparison.

And one final note ...
Don't toss out your old papers any old place. Someone could easily grab your information and apply for credit cards in your name. Rip sensitive documents into pieces before throwing them out.

When you're done, you'll have not only a clutter-free home but also a whole bunch of confetti for New Year's.

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