Ask the Experts

Q: “What Important Papers Should I Be Filing vs. Shredding?”

What important papers should everyone keep filed away in an organized fashion? Here is the list, plus advice to keeping all that other paper from cluttering up your life.

Important documents in files placed in the filing cabinet
Important documents in files placed in the filing cabinet

Q: “My lack of a file system means piles of paper are all over home. Where do I put things on both computer and paper files? Paid insurance bills, medical bills. I’ve yet to pay my property tax. I just need the all-inclusive list please.” – Tocar2662

Hi Tocar2662:

Ah, the dreaded paperwork. It just doesn’t stop piling up, right? And knowing what to keep and what files to create can make all the difference in feeling organized and in control. Over the years, we’ve been asked this question so often that we’ve compiled a “core” list of files/documents that every home should have. Also, please reach out to your financial advisor or accountant to make sure you are keeping what is necessary for your records. They will know best what is required.

Before we get to the all-inclusive list, I wanted to give you my two best strategies for organizing your paperwork. What good is a list if it’s not organized?

Think Past, Present, and Future When Creating Paper and Digital Files.

+ PAST files represent papers that you need to keep but don’t need to access regularly. Think taxes, insurance policies, old health insurance documents. These can be stored in files cabinets, boxes or even binders, and placed in storage. If you have these types of files on your computer, they can also be categorized this way and placed in separate folders from your current documents to get them out of view.

+ PRESENT is what you need and use NOW. Current bills, medical information, travel plans, quarterly bank statements, and household projects would fall into this category. These items need to be in your “prime real estate.” Place these papers in desktop files on your home office desk, baskets on your kitchen counter or a rolling cart that moves from room to room for super easy access.

[Download This: Your Free Guide for Controlling Clutter]

+ FUTURE consists of papers you need to eventually access but not right now (future travel plans, home renovation projects, etc.). Store those where they are easily accessible but not necessarily in view. I like to create binders with clear plastic sleeves to hold all my future materials. They sit on my bookcase and when I need them, they are all ready to go.

Go Paperless Whenever Possible.

Pay your bills online, scan receipts, and sign up for a mobile application program that will store all your medical records. Create folders on your computer the same way you would your file cabinet. Any way you can think to reduce the paper coming in will take out the stress and overwhelm!

Now for that list. Here’s what I recommend every family keep in their home “file cabinet!” These are just the basics; other items will be added depending on your personal situation.

  • Deeds, mortgages, and bills of sale
  • Annual tax returns
  • Year-end statements for investments
  • Legal documents (birth certificates, marriage license, divorce papers, passports)
  • Home improvement documentation and receipts
  • Receipts for major purchases — for warranty and insurance purposes
  • Wills
  • Living wills
  • Power of attorney designation
  • Medical and burial instructions
  • Beneficiary directions
  • Real estate certificates
  • Automobile titles and paperwork
  • Current and past life insurance policies
  • Medical records/policies
  • Education records
  • Pension plan records
  • Retirement plan records
  • Mementos

As for bank and credit card statements? That is a personal decision. I don’t keep mine as I can easily access all that information online. But you may feel more secure having those documents on hand.

Also, if you are keeping files on your computer’s hard drive, I would make sure to back them up on an external hard drive or in the Cloud in case your computer crashes. And if you would like more information, please visit our website, and head to our hub to download our lists.

Good Luck!

[Q: How Can I Stop Life from Piling Up Around Me?]

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!