How to Organize Important Documents at Home

Trying to find an important piece of paper and failing to do so is definitely one of the most challenging situations that everyone has experienced at least once in life. So it should come as no surprise, if you are wondering how to organize important documents at home, to want to know any time of the day or night where all your vital paperwork is. Missing documentation might prove especially thwarting if you’re planning long-distance relocation and need to obtain important documents as soon as possible.

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September 27, 2020 Posted in How-to

Whether you’re moving for love or maybe relocating after college, we’ve got you covered. With our guide, organizing important documents will be a piece of cake. You’ll stop asking yourself where your certificates or receipts are because you’ll learn how to store important documents properly.

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What Are Important Documents

Papers of great importance are usually those you need to keep around “just in case.” They become significant when you’re facing big life events, such as having a baby, making a will, or buying a new home. As you get older and more responsible, you’ll realize you should start keeping them in a safe and easily accessible place. Let’s have a look at what kind of paperwork this documentation includes:

  • Legal identification papers
  • Tax paperwork
  • Property records
  • Medical records
  • Finance records

Yes, one thing that pops up into your head is saving all this documentation on a hard drive, and there’s no doubt it’s a useful option. But, if you think a little further, you’ll realize that many bills and mail still arrive like a hard copy, and you just can’t avoid that. Also, computers crash all the time, and hard drives fail or get lost. When moving cross country, it gets tricky, and you may forget to do disk backup. These are the most common things people forget when moving, so, why risk? One of the most important things to do before moving should be to print your documentation out and think about how to organize your move without worries.

Whether you’re moving a business to another state or just moving with kids and relocating to a smaller home, we’ll help you find out what steps you should follow when organizing important paperwork.

Obtain All Necessary Supplies and Tools

In order to organize your filing system correctly, you should obtain some items to mitigate your moving stress and speed up the process. With these tools and supplies, your documentation and declutter will be minimal:

  • A filing cabinet or file box
  • Desktop file holder
  • Hanging file folder
  • Recycling bin
  • Shredder
  • Label maker or pen
  • File folders
Make sure to obtain proper file box or file holder to store your documentation tidily
With appropriate tools and supplies, you can systematize each piece of paper easy

How to Store Important Documents at Home? First, Gather Your Papers and Categorize Them

If you find it difficult to start dealing with all the paperwork in your home, remember that this process will give you the answer to the question of how to organize important papers. Every beginning is hard. This one is specific because it’s demanding but relatively straightforward – you should gather all your documentation into the same space. This way, you’ll have a chance to sort them and toss or recycle those you don’t need anymore. Just as it is practical to have a moving to-do list before your relocation, the same goes for having all important paperwork in one spot. And here’s why:

  • You’ll have to, whether you like it or not, to continue and dig in
  • Looking at every nook and cranny, you’ll find even those forgotten stack of papers, so there’s no chance something stays hidden and undetected

Decide on each piece of a document – whether it’s for saving, recycling, or tossing. So, after doing that, you’ll very soon have five categories:

  • Action files which are used once and then discarded: invitations, homework, parking tickets, etc.
  • Archive documentation is something you should save. However, you use it only once or twice a year: tax returns, deeds, leases, medical records, family photos, etc.
  • Paperwork that’s household-related: coupons, receipts for this year’s taxes, user manuals, etc.
  • Documents apt for recycling usually don’t contain any personal information, and after a while, you don’t need them anymore: newspapers, used envelops, junk mail, magazines, etc.
  • Much of the paperwork contains personal identifying information, so these should be shredded into small pieces: bills, credit card offers, old bank statements, etc.
Decide the fate of each paper individually - which one should be stored and which recycled or shredded
Arranging your records into categories is the best way to know where your essential documentation is

Where to Store Important Documents

According to some research, one in four Americans forgot or lost critical financial records, and only 40 percent could locate crucial papers if needed. If you want to be in this second group, you should realize the importance of some paperwork. Because they are valuable, you should keep them away from the wrong hands. How to properly store this documentation? When doing that, keep in mind that you should place them close at hand, but safe from theft, flood, fire, and other possible emergencies.

Safe Deposit Box for Personal Papers, Such as Retirement Account or Birth Certificate

If you want to have complete peace of mind, get a safe deposit box. Most banks or credit unions can provide this service. This box is perfect for storing the originals, like wills (living will and last will), marriage and birth certificates, annual tax returns, etc. But what’s the catch? When you need some of this paperwork, you should plan it because you can’t get it immediately. So, make copies of the documentation and keep it in a safe place at home on hand.

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Household Safes

Place records you keep at home or copies of important paperwork in a fireproof place and make sure it has a secure locking mechanism. Avoid storing financial paperwork with your private information or large amounts of cash at home. Homeowners insurance usually covers a small amount of money in case of a theft, and not the documentation that might be stolen along with cash.

Use Plastic Page Slips

What is the best protection from any wear and tear, flood, or sunlight? One reliable option is using plastic page slips. First, put a document in a plastic sleeve, and then file it in a box or binder, inside your safe place.

Use the Shredder

It’s recommended to shred the paperwork you no longer need. This is the safest way to protect your personal data from criminals. The advice is to never throw out a receipt from the transaction you used your credit card for. That’s because your name or number are likely on the receipt.

Make sure not to throw your confidential and financial documentation, but shred it into strips
A paper shredder will help you destroy private and confidential documents into strips and fine particles

How to Keep Important Documents Organized? Create Right Profile and Coverage for Your Records

Here are some useful tips on how to make finding and filing important documentation as smooth as possible:

  • Create a labeling system with big-picture categories listed first. Also, make sure to put narrower descriptions
  • If you decide to maintain most of your files digitally, there’s no need for a large filing cabinet
  • Not so easily accessible spots are ideal for bank statements and tax returns. On the other hand, recipes and school forms should be at hand, so try to store them in barrier-free locations
  • The best option is to have one spot in the house where all incoming paperwork and mail will be collected. This is usually an easily spotted place for all family members, like a kitchen or shoe rack cabinet’s flat surface in your home entrance.

Archive and Reduce the Number of Unnecessary Papers

Don’t accumulate unnecessary papers – filter out junk mail and archive or shred paperwork that is no longer relevant. Do a big sweep every three to six months and keep your documentation shipshape.

Follow Digitization Trends and Separate Documents in Paper from Those in Digital Form

When storing files digitally, you don’t need to handle space challenges. Also, by using your laptop’s or computer’s search tool, you can significantly shorten search time. Follow the same patterns for e-labels as for physical ones. You can back up your files on Google Drive or an external hard drive.

Since digitization surrounds us, it can help you deal with your records in a neat way
Save some records on your computer or external hard drive, and you'll have less worries about paperwork

How Long You Should Keep Your Documents Around

Now that you know the difference between vital paperwork and not-so-important ones, it’s useful to find out how long you should keep them:

  • Bank statements and pay stubs should be saved at least one year. You might need them to see all your transactions in one place or provide proof of income if planning a big purchase.
  • Medical records should be kept at least one year. These include paid and undisputed medical bills.
  • Utility bills shouldn’t be stored too long, a month is enough
  • Tax statements are a kind of documentation that requires storing for at least seven years because you never know when you might need them
  • Receipts are documentation that can be shredded immediately unless you’re working from home or dealing with some issues you might get a tax credit on
  • Property records include some important paperwork such as mortgage statements or deeds that should be kept as long as you own the property. But, once you pay off your home or a car, you should save these records for at least ten years.
  • Personal records should be stored forever. They include certificates, wills, social security cards, powers of attorney, life insurance, family-related items, etc.
Property records and tax statements are paperwork that requires storing for several years
It's recommended to save personal records forever

Additional Tips for Good File Organization

You’ve realized until now that organization is a key when it comes to storing your essential documentation properly. With a unique organizational system, you can create a specific filing system to your liking, where all records will be stacked neatly. Follow these handy tips, and you’ll have less stress during your everyday living:

  • Create a simple filing system
  • Use different colors of files, labels, and tabs
  • When buying a filing cabinet, make sure whether you need a vertical one (it doesn’t take too much floor space), or lateral filing cabinet (ideal for larger sized papers)
  • Use an expanding organizer for all paperwork in your car

Review Your File Storage at Least Twice a Year

Once you systematize all your paperwork, keep them that way. Incoming papers are a regular occurrence each month, so make sure to file any new paper in the appropriate category. Regular monthly maintenance is just necessary as a general annual purge. You can perform it twice a year – at the first of the new calendar year and the end of the school year. If you’re consistent in this activity, it will become your habit sooner than you imagine, and you can reap the long-term benefits of organizing important documents.

Paperwork organization should be uncomplicated providing simplicity and clarity
With the colorful and simple storage system, looking for a specific piece of paper will be easy

With a Proper Record-Keeping System, You Will Easily Turn Your Wishes Into Action

If you’re moving across the country soon, one of the first preparatory steps is to find out how to organize documents and prepare important paperwork. In addition to hiring long-distance movers for their moving and packing services, you’ll probably count on the company’s help for auto transport. Car shipping is quite a straightforward process if you possess all the necessary paperwork related to your vehicle. Once you’ve organized your documentation, you will be able to find any piece of paper you need fast and quickly. The same goes for your cross country relocation. Whether you’re moving in with elderly parent, organizing your office move, or are house hunting oriented, with all personal identification documentation in one spot, even a last-minute move won’t be a problem for you.

Hannah Michaelson

Hannah is a freelance relocation writer from NYC that has become an expert on packing and unpacking.



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