I must admit, office paperwork is my least favorite downsizing project.  Reams of paper, endless folders, dust.  The home office is often the most time-consuming area to tackle for any of my clients.  

Here are some things I have learned.  We all hang onto more paper than we need.  Whether it’s receipts, outdated user manuals, or bank statements from 1963, much of what lives in our office should be moved out!

How long should you hold onto paperwork?

According to the IRS, here are guidelines for audit records that should be saved:

  1. Paperwork to keep for 1 year: bank statements, credit card statements, utility bills, canceled checks, pay stubs.  The exception to this is if you have used any of these items as part of your tax filing and then you should keep them for 3 years.   
  2. Paperwork to save for 3 years: Records of any house sale or stock sale, insurance policies, medical records, and end-of-year investment statements.  Also to keep, any records from number one above that support income or deductions on your tax returns, including canceled checks, credit card statements, or utility bills.
  3. Paperwork to save for 7 years:  Tax returns, completed loans
  4. Paperwork to save forever:  Birth certificates, adoption certificates, marriage license and divorce papers, records of paid mortgages, deeds, trusts, and wills.  

Here are some other bits of advice I have received from accounting and legal professionals: 

Paper Shredding

Shred any statement that includes an account number or social security number (bills, bank statements, investment paperwork), old passports. Expired driver’s licenses, identification cards, and credit cards should all be cut up before putting in the trash.  

If you have a relatively small amount of shredding, you can bring your boxes of old paperwork to a local Staples, where you can pay per pound of shredding. There are also several local companies that offer walk-in services.  If you have a large amount of shredding, you may want to consider having a company who will come and pick up your boxes of documents and shred them at their facility or may shred on the spot.  

Electronics

And, of course, here is some advice from tech experts:

Destroy floppy disks by cutting with scissors.  

Destroy USB drives by pounding with a hammer or dropping them in water.

If you need to destroy an old computer hard drive, there are several video tutorials online to assist you with this or you can use a local shredding service, that will “wipe” your hard drive clean.

Recycling electronics:  Best Buy will allow you to recycle up to 3 items per visit. This includes computers, printers, and cell phones.  Another great resource for cell phones is Cell Phone for Soldiers, which accepts used cell phones for military families.  

I hope this list of information helps you plow through your home office.  If you have helpful information to share with other downsizers, please email me at natalie@alltherightmovesboston.com.