Weekend organization project

I peruse a variety of minimalist/organizational blogs during the week and one of them had a post up about how to cut down on the long-term paper clutter we tend to accrue. I don't know about the civilian side of life but in the military, you're hesitant to throw anything out because the military so often loses paperwork, making YOUR life most difficult. Most military spouses I know tend to hoarde things like LES (leave and earnings statemements...pay stubs), Tricare paperwork (insurance), copies of orders, POAs, and any other official piece of paper you can possible imagine.

Some spouses are more organized about their hoarding than others.

With the advent of portable and easy to use scanners, the ability to digitize these types of documents has meant that the amount of long-term paper clutter can be significantly diminished. So that is what I set about doing last weekend. I'm about done and I'll try to find my camera and post pictures of my progress once I'm completely done. But first, let's discuss what items should be kept in hard copy:

Records to put in a bank safe deposit box or personal safe include:
  • Birth, death, and marriage certificates
  • Divorce and child custody papers
  • Adoption papers
  • Passports
  • Military records
  • Social Security cards
  • Copies of drivers’ licenses
  • Mortgage/property deeds
  • Stock and bond certificates
  • Car titles
  • List of insurance policies (life, health, disability, longterm care, auto, homeowners, renters), including the type, company, policy number, and name of insured
  • Copies of power of attorney, living will, and other medical power
  • Trust documents
Note: Generally, the original of your will should not be kept in a safe deposit box because the bank may seal the box temporarily at your death. Keep the original of your will at your lawyer’s office and copies of it at home and in your safe deposit box.

(source: Red Cross)

In addition to these items, we also have an "Oh $#!^" folder that contains copies of the most important stuff in a convenient location should we only have moments to evacuate. My family and a few close friends know the location of this folder and can get to it easily, should an emergency occur. 

Once I had all of the important documents put away safely, it was time to weed through all of the other paperwork that had piled up in the filing cabinet. I created three piles:

  • trash (ex: things that I truly had no need for such as receipts for car parts to a car we no longer owned)
  • shred (ex: old credit card and bank statements)
  • file (current month's financials, owner manuals for appliances, paperwork pertaining to cars we currently own, etc.)
  • scan

I scanned things such as Tricare enrollment paperwork for our family, initial account paperwork for credit cards and other financials, receipts for major purchases and homeschool curricula, paperwork from my last place of employment, and so on. My plan is to scan all of this and then burn it to several DVDs. A copy will then be placed in our safe as well as copies sent to key family members for backup. 

All in all, I probably have 25-30 POUNDS of paperwork to shred! Holy paperwork, Batman! And now I have two virtually empty file cabinets. I'd ditch them but they form the base of his desk so I guess I can't quite get rid of them. My 'files' now consist of:

  • current month's financials (at the end of each month, bills will be shredded once payment is confirmed)
  • owner manuals and other registration-type paperwork
  • vehicle paperwork (minus the titles which are in the safe)
  • homeschool receipts (will scan at the end of this school year)

And that's really about it! From a large filing cabinet down to just 4 hanging files. I feel lighter already! How do you keep your files organized?

As a military family, safe deposit boxes aren't always feasible. So we have a fire-proof safe, much like this one:


- hfs


Mary said...


In addition to these items, we also have an "Oh $#!^" folder that contains copies of the most important stuff in a convenient location should we only have moments to evacuate. My family and a few close friends know the location of this folder and can get to it easily, should an emergency occur.

A redundancy could be to share copies of it with others not in the immediate area (e.g., out of state).

If you are participating in the FRG type stuff, maybe the powers that be will consider a "shredding day"; we have those locally - it's a free service and up to 2 Xerox size boxes per person; you can watch as they are shredded.

Crista said...

I have two file drawers that are 32" across and that is it, plus a small gray file box that sits next to my desk that has current stuff in it.

I keep all of the things you mention; however, I keep all bank records and credit card records for 7 years and I keep taxes and military things (to include all of our housing stuff, whether civilian or on post) forever. Once we vacate a house, I shred the utility bills after I have received the final bill showing a zero balance and I keep that one. I've also kept all of our college financial aid information "forever". And will until the loans are paid off and have dropped from our credit report.

Adoption and child support paperwork keep forever, LES/leave paperwork/travel card paperwork keep forever, PCS paperwork forever, every house we've lived in I keep forever, taxes I keep forever, bank/credit card stuff for 7 years, and some of my files is purely for informational purposes. I also have a file that is all of kiddo's school stuff from every school she's ever attended but it's limited to what I keep in it and I keep a medical file on each of us for copies of physicals, filing prescriptions (such as my eye glass script), etc.

Some of the things I keep are purely CYA. I do not want the Army to examine his 20+ years of service and say "you never paid ABC" or whatever. I have allllll of the records for the entire time we've been married because I won't risk that. And there has been more than one instance I'm aware of where a family gets a back bill for a PCS from 5 years ago because the military did an audit and discovered they got overpaid. Not happening to me. I keep all of that.

I am overly cautious with what I save but not nearly as bad as I used to be. There are a lot of recommendations out there for what to keep, what not to keep, and for how long. I am adamant about savings all things military-related and all things tax-related forever. The rest I could learn to do things differently if convinced it would lighten this load of paperwork. lol

But, I do have it on my list to lighten some of it by scanning. What kind of scanner are you using? I have a printer/scanner/copier thing but secretly long for one of those I see on tv where you can just put your stack of papers on it and it scans and catalogs it all. hehehe

Homefront Six said...

Mary ~ That's an idea too.

Crista ~ Wow. That's a LOT of paperwork to hold on to forever. We've not held on to a hard copy of an LES since they went digital several years back. I have a digital copy of each set of orders we've ever received. I only hold on to tax paperwork back to 7 years. Our taxes are simple, having never owned property nor really ever had our own businesses. Loan info (student loans) is hung on to until the loan is paid in full and then I retain a copy of that statement but for things like utilities, I don't bother.

I picked up an HP printer/scanner/copier a while back at WalMart. I think I paid $50 and it was worth every penny. MacGyver's HP and I do NOT get along - I lose more print jobs in cyberspace with that @#$%^&*( printer (it's networked wirelessly and it just doesn't like me) so I finally gave up on it and went and bought myself a P/S/C that I use for school stuff primarily (in addition to scanning stuff).

WRT homeschooling, I keep tests and samples of work for each year in a binder that acts as a portfolio should anyone ever need to see proof of our work. I am also in the process of creating 'syllabi' for each course, primarily for The Girl as she heads into middle school. That will help me create transcripts when the time comes.

Crista said...

I'm not a very trusting individual, I guess, when it comes to some things and I don't necessarily buy the philosophy that having digital versions of things is good enough. You can create darn near anything digitally these days and make it say whatever you want. And I don't count on the government's digital records to back me up on an LES or anything else related to his military career and the finances of it. The government loses things when it's convenient for them and not for the person involved. Taxes can be audited into perpetuity, depending on what they are looking for and/or allege the tax payer has done wrong.

Yeah, guess I have trust issues. heh

Homefront Six said...

Crista ~ sorry...I didn't mean to imply that your lack of trust is unwarranted. I think you're wise to CYA. My minimal(ish) tendencies win out over my CYA/OCD tendencies. But that's what works for me and, it's quite possible that I find myself lacking in the CYA department.

Crista said...

No, wasn't offended or anything and I know I'm a bit paranoid and untrusting at times. However, I did do a purge of my file cabinets....inspired by you. :) 2.5 thirteen gallon trash bags filled with shredding!!

Not real sure why I still had all the loan paperwork and maintenance records for a car I traded in 11 years ago. rofl Or 16 years of records on hubby's old truck that I traded in a few months ago for kiddo's car. And everything on my car that I traded in two years ago. Yeah, brilliance. lol It's all gone now. :)


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