A while back I was working with a social worker and had to write up case reports on the progress being made with the client. Early on in one of them I talked about the continuing struggle with papers and how common this is. After talking with the caseworker, she requested I rewrite my report – saying that the struggles with papers would make the client seem incompetent. Huh? Apparently, her superiors are under the impression that struggling with papers is uncommon and a sign of greater challenges. I offered to speak with all of them to explain how extremely common it is and I was completely flabbergasted that anyone could think that way.
Struggling with papers is quite possibly the most common thing I encounter with my clients. This doesn’t necessarily mean bills or mail, although it can. Papers are virtually endless, there are always more of them and we cannot be rid of them all ever. Also, they can be difficult to organize in a way that makes them easy to find when you need them.
Papers are also extremely important. We need them for taxes and for work and the list goes on and on. Sometimes they are unique and finding them again – like on the internet or library (i.e. if we got rid of them) – isn’t simple or possible. We’re not always comfortable with the internet – accessing financial information – and that doesn’t mean the information you’d need is available.
I’ve done research on how long it’s recommended we keep our important papers. It’s surprising how there are different opinions on various types of papers while there are agreements about others.
For papers that relate to taxes, the IRS has guidelines (of course!). It’s gotten more detailed since the last time I reviewed them, scroll most of the way down the page to “How Long to Keep Records.” In general, it’s recommended that you keep your returns indefinitely, although you can discard the supporting documentation eventually.
When we’re dealing with other papers, here’s several resources with their recommendations. The best idea is to ask your tax preparer for their advice, as they know your personal situation. You can always make a list of questions for the next visit if it’s not convenient to contact them more frequently.
- Consumer Reports – “Conquer the Paper Piles: What documents to keep, what you can toss—and when”
- Bankrate.com – “How long to keep financial records”
- OnlineOrganizing – “Records Retention Guidelines”
Everyone handles their paperwork differently – from keeping bills of everything for a while to throwing away bills as soon as a new one comes in. When it doesn’t deal with taxes, it really is up to you how you handle them. If papers plague you – know that you are not alone. It does not make you incompetent either, despite what some people might believe!