Here is the system: each topic gets a hanging folder, and for many subjects that is all that is needed. The automobile records don’t need any more organization. I toss in the maintenance receipts, the insurance coverage documents as they accumulate. During my yearly purge, I take out the outdated ones. Some topics need a bit more organization. The Money folder has three subdivisions (the manila colored folders): one for the credit card, one for the credit union accounts and one for retirement accounts.
The folder with my name has things like my birth certificate, my nursing license, my current item count. I used to have a folder for each of the kids with subdivisions of things like school, medical history, birth certificates and social security cards. As each child has turned twenty-one, I have given the contents of the folder to the young adult, who must then manage his or her own papers.
You may notice a folder titled Death. This folder holds my will, my Health Care Power of Attorney, my Do Not Resuscitate form, a brief set of instructions of what to do with my body and music I would like played at my memorial service. It also contains a letter to my children with money information, how to access the accounts. This letter I update each year, usually around New Year’s Day. Each of my children knows where this information is kept, so they can find it easily when I die.
Some of you will argue for a safe deposit box, or a fire-proof box to keep at home. If you desire these things, go right ahead. I have found I have no need for my marriage license or divorce degree, but they are available at the county courthouse, should I ever need a copy. I have been able to get new copies of documents like a Passport or a birth certificate, when they were destroyed by fire. I mostly hold onto papers that I might need to reference in the coming year or two.
The tax papers I save for seven years. When I file a new year, I destroy the oldest one.
I don’t think I will ever get rid of all papers–I like writing in a paper journal, I find balancing my checkbook easier with a paper statement of the account. But I do feel a bit lighter each time I recognize I no longer need something.