The Paper Chase: Kick the clutter and get organised.

The Paper Chase.

We live in a consumer world, we are seduced into buying stuff we don’t need, get things in the mail we did not ask for and instead of giving or throwing this stuff away, we hang onto it for years, until it eventually takes over our lives. Our homes are filled with all sorts of clutter that make us disorganised and even a little crazy. Spring is just around the corner so now would be a great time to sort out your home once and for all. There are two main types of clutter, paper and possessions, lets deal with the paper first.

Even with email and the internet we are assailed with paper documents every month, from bank statements to receipts and agreements. There is enough paper in the average household to cause a fire hazard. There comes a time, perhaps when you can no longer stuff another sliver of paper into your drawers that you will have to start discarding some of it.

The dilemma is what do you keep and what do you trash? We have all had experiences of throwing away a receipt then need it the very next week. Another concern for many is SARS. What if they come knocking on your door looking for 2007’s restaurant bills that you claimed as a business expenses?

Before we get into the nitty gritty of what you should keep, you need to get a system in place to ensure that the papers that you hold onto, are stored effectively. Getting a system in place once and for all, will give you more than peace of mind, it will save you time, help you in case of an emergency, and help your family sort out your affairs should anything happen to you.

The first thing you need to do is to invest in 10 files, dividers and some plastic sleeves.

You will need one additional large lever arch file which will be an archive file.

Label the files, Investment & Insurance, Banking, Tax, Medical, Home, Car, Retail accounts, (clothing and furniture accounts) Receipts, Certificates, and Important Documents.

Then you need to label the dividers in each file (chose the ones applicable to you).

Investment & Insurance:
Retirement annuity, Shares, pension fund, endowment, unit trusts, funeral policy, education policy (which ever are applicable to you) then life insurance, Disability cover, home insurance car insurance.

Banking: Bank statements (if you have more than one bank label then separately), Credit Cards, Garage card.

Tax: Copies of Tax returns, Refund Notifications, Correspondence, IRP 5’s etc.

Medical: Medical aid contract, Receipts for medical expenses, etc.

Home: Home loan agreement, Statements, Deeds, Electrical compliance, Maintenance costs, Rate & Taxes bills rental agreements, phone bills, Internet

Car: Car lease, AA membership, registration documents, extended warranties, service records.

Retail Accounts: Clothing account, furniture, statements, etc.

Receipts: All receipts for purchases over R1000, air tickets, Guarantee documents for appliances etc.

Certificates: Educational qualifications, work awards etc.

Important Documents:

Copies of your ID book, Certified Copies of your passport, Copies of Drivers licence, Copies, Birth Certificate, with copies, Death Certificates of family members. Gun Licence, Divorce documents.

Miscellaneous: Any other documents that are important, i.e. pets pedigree docs, gun licence, Voyager miles statements etc

The next step is the most time consuming but it is the most vital element of getting organised. Set aside an entire day to gather all the documents in your house, every one of them. Sort them into the various categories and then begin purging.

Here are the rules.

Tax: All records pertaining to tax should be kept for five years. You can keep two years in the current file and archive the rest.

Home: Utility bills (rates, electricity etc) should be kept for one year in a current file and archive the rest for two years. Maintenance receipts should be kept for as long as the guarantee is valid. Phone bills, three months, Assuming that you don’t use your phone or electricity bills as a home-business deduction (if you do, that falls under your tax file and should be kept for 5 years)

Banking: Keep in mind that most bills, like credit-card statements, and bank statements can be reproduced from the internet if necessary. Keep three months worth in your current file and archive two more years.

Investments: Statements can be kept in your current file and the rest can be archived for three years.

When it comes to more complicated documents like legal papers or real-estate records, you should obviously keep them for the long haul. You should have certified copies made of Documents that may be might be hard to duplicate like birth certificates, ID documents and passports. You might want to consider buying a small fireproof box or safe for storage of these documents. You should also place copies in a sealed envelope and give it to a trusted family member or friend in case of a theft or fire

Once you have your papers safely stored in files and you have thrown out all the stuff you don’t need the net step is to make an inventory list of all your important documents. This should include the names and contact numbers of all the people you deal with. There are three reasons for this:

1. If something happens to you, either an illness, an accident or death your family will be able to sort through your affairs with ease.
2. If there is a fire or flood, you will be able to inform relevant parties with ease and access the necessary documents for insurance.
3. It will save you hours of time and frustration when you need to look something up.

The check list should contain email addresses, phone numbers and names of the following individuals and organisations.

Bank: Branch Phone number, manager’s name and account number.
Credit Cards: The call centre number and credit card Number.
Home Loan: Account number and phone number.
Car Loan: Account number and phone number.
Investment Company: Phone number and account numbers and type of investments.
Financial Advisor: Name and phone number.
Insurance: Brokers name, phone number. If dealing direct, the name of the company, phone number and policy numbers.
Lawyers name and phone number
Accountants or tax advisors, name and phone number.
Retail accounts. A list of all account numbers, stores and credit department numbers.
Children’s School, headmaster and phone numbers
A list of siblings and relaives names and phone numbers
Parents contact details.
Subscriptions to services like gyms magazines and internet.
Golf Clubs, social clubs etc.
Medical aid company policy number, call centre number.

Once you have drawn up this list put it in a place that is easily accessible and give a copy to a family member for safekeeping. These lists need to be kept up to date so you should review them at least every six months.

Many people have no clue where there important documents are located. If you are married in all likelihood your spouse if not fully aware of your commitments and obligations. Going through this process will focus both of you in on each others financial affairs. It will also help you to get a big picture view of your finances.

If your investments file is empty and your retail accounts file is bursting at the seams you will immediately see that there is room for improvement.

Now that you are on a roll why not do an inventory of your household contents. This will really help you and the insurance company should you be a victim of a theft or fire. You may also find that you are under insured, so this is a beneficial exercise all round.

The next area to deal with is all the stuff you get in the mail each day that does not need actioning but still needs to be addressed.

Calendars, Menus and catalogues all take up space and add clutter. Put up a notice board and pin the important stuff to it. If you must hold onto catalogues store them in one place in a box, throw out the rest recycle the paper if possible). A good way to reduce paper is to ask your service providers to emails statements and invoices. Open up separate files on your PC to store them and don’t forget to back up regularly.

Newspapers and Magazines-get rid of them, its pointless keeping the 1999 Garden and Home for one table setting idea. Rather tear out pages of articles you want and keep them in a file.

Ok so the paper clutter is now sorted but what about all the other stuff you have accumulated over the years. Getting your home streamlined can really enhance your lifestyle. People with lots of clutter often buy more than they need because things are impossible to find. It can be a huge task so tackle one room at a time. Stock up on some garbage bags and boxes and get to work. Divide the bags into two, one for the trash and one for charity. The rule of thumb is that if you have not used something for two years, its got to go. A room by room audit will help you uncover things you have long forgotten about.

The benefits of living a clutter free life are pretty obvious but there are psychological benefits too.

The nagging feeling that you are disorganised can eat away at you, creating anxiety and frustration. When you finally get down to the task you cannot imagine how much more enjoyable life becomes.

Your efficiency will increase and you will find that every day tasks can be completed effortlessly. You will not need to wrestle with overfilled cupboards and sort through reams of paper. You will free up time and energy for the more important things.

An interesting side benefit of de-cluttering is that research shows that children who are raised in tidy, organised homes do better at school.
The benefits include a feeling of peace and calm in your home environment. The relaxation factor alone is enough reason to get organised. There is also the element of pride as well. You will feel a new level of pride in your organized environment.

Whether you just feel a little disorganized or have an easily recognizable larger problem with clutter, you should take action. Once you have tackled the problem, resolve to not let it get that way again. Just spending half an hour per day maintaining the system you have created is all it will take to keep your life in order.

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