by Garret Stembridge
Are you a person who quickly files or tosses receipts in the trash and immediately shreds documents? Or do stacks of paper and outdated office equipment gnaw at the corners of your desk and overflow storage closet shelves? If you’ve been hanging onto every fading, yellowing scrap of paper and outdated electronic device, stacking them in piles that eventually dominate work areas, this post is for you.
The ideal situation falls somewhere in between these two extremes. Paperwork can be important, but is often not so critical that it takes up space better used for other purposes. There’s no real reason to keep a copy of an insurance contract from 20 years ago, especially if the insurance company is no longer in business, but you probably shouldn’t toss last year’s policy quite yet.
So which items from your paperwork clutter should you keep and what should you toss if you really want to put your office storage space to good use?
Which Papers to Keep
- Tax-related records – You should keep these for at least three years (and seven years if you’ve ever claimed a loss on a worthless investment or bad debt deduction), the length of time the Internal Revenue Service has to audit your returns and claim you paid too little in taxes. Remember, however, that your receipts and other records don’t have to be on paper. You can scan your paperwork and store the files on your computer. In many cases, it’s possible to download this information from your bank or credit card company. You should back up these digital files on remote drives, jump drives, CDs, DVDs or through online services such as Mozy or Carbonite.
- Tax returns – Hang onto your business and personal tax returns indefinitely, in case your heirs require access to this information for some reason.
- Other important documents – Files that contain information such as what you paid for stock should be maintained for at least seven years after you sell the stock, and you should keep W-2 forms until you start drawing Social Security, as well as information on retirement accounts. You should keep documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates, divorce papers and military discharge papers.
- Warranty information – You should keep the paperwork on warranties on any equipment you own or lease, at least until you are no longer using the computer, fax machine or cell phone.
Which Papers to Toss
Most of the rest of the stuff you have stacked up in your storage closet can be eliminated. For example:
- Get rid of ATM and bank deposit receipts after you balance your bank statement.
- Don’t keep credit card receipts once you get your statement, unless you need them for tax purposes. These are almost always available online — but check before you toss!
- You don’t need pay stubs once you get a year-end summary of what you’ve been paid or what you’ve paid employees.
- Get rid of the receipts for minor purchases once you’ve decided you’re not going to return these items.
- There’s no reason to keep old utility bills unless you are writing off these expenses for your home office.
- If you deduct a part of the cost of your phone and Internet as a business expense, keep the bills with your tax records. If not, you really have no use for them.
- If an insurance claim was paid, you can get rid of the paperwork after a year. However, if you wrote off the loss, you should keep this information with your tax records.
- Hang onto the year-end statements for retirement plans. Other statements, such as those you receive monthly or quarterly, can be trashed.
Regardless of what you keep, the items you throw away should be shredded first. They probably contain personal information such as Social Security numbers, Federal Employer Identification numbers, birth dates, phone numbers and addresses. This can be valuable information for people who prey upon others by stealing identities.
If you are really interested in freeing up some room in your closet, you should take a serious look at disposing of office equipment you no longer use. Here are a few examples:
- Outdated computers, printers and monitors
- Fax machines that no longer work
- Cell phones powered by old technology
Keep in mind that you can’t simply throw your obsolete electronic equipment in the trash. Some states have passed laws that require you to dispose of these items at special recycling centers. And before you let any of your old computers leave the building, make sure you delete all the files from all your drives. You don’t want any personal information about you or your employees or any information about your company to fall into the wrong hands.
You can remove much of the paperwork clutter from your office by freeing up space in your storage closet. After you realize what to keep and what to get rid of, you’ll never have to live with clutter again.
Working for a self storage company (www.extraspace.com), guest author Garret Stembridge has a keen interest in reducing clutter because he has seen too much of it! Extra Space Storage has locations from coast to coast, including an Irvine, California self storage facility.
Courtesy of Garret Stembridge