What to Keep?

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From my own experience and what I have read, I think the most difficult thing to declutter and keep under control is paperwork.  It seems to be so insidious.

After my post the other day, titled ‘Gone From the Office’, Angasagain asked, “How long do you keep bills and bank statements for? Some of my filing sleeves are bulging but I’m not sure how ruthless I should be.”

The first thing to remember is that there are legal requirements regarding documents relating to tax returns.  In Australia, you need to keep all taxation papers and relevant documents, such as bank statements, for 5 years after the completion of the tax year.  This may be different in other countries so it is important to check the local laws.

I have set up the suspension files in the filing cabinet with one for each year.  At the moment we have:

Current year 2011-2012

5 previous years


When the next tax return is done, I will discard (shredded) the 2006-2007, add 2011-2012 to the previous years and create a new “Current year” which will be 2012-2013.  This is based on the principle of 1 in, 1 out.  If you do not do this regularly you are likely to find that you have 20 years worth of tax returns bulging out of the filing cabinet.

In conjunction with the annual cull of tax stuff I also get rid of the relevant year of bank statements.  Remember to shred all documents carefully to protect your security.

For all other paperwork, I find the best method is to ask yourself why you are keeping it and what possible scenario could arise where you would need to refer to it.

Household bills – we usually keep for 1 – 2 years so that we can compare them with the same period of the previous year.  I do not keep a record of how much we spend on particular bills over an entire year but some people do.

Product warranties, instructions and receipts are kept for the life of the item.  I would suggest setting up a 6 monthly schedule to review all of these documents and discard any that are no longer relevant.

In order to reduce the amount of paper, we choose to receive whatever bills possible via email and save them in the electronic format.  We only print them if required.

Being a good gatekeeper is essential.  Stop that paper before it gets in the door.  Consider putting a ‘NO JUNK MAIL’ sticker on your mailbox.  What will you miss?  Store catalogues advertising stuff that you didn’t even know you needed?  Flyers advertising services that you do not require?  If you seriously want to follow what grocery specials are available, I believe these can be accessed online although I personally have not done this.

Everyone’s requirements will be different.  This may depend on whether you are renting or have a mortgage, are studying, employed or receiving Centrelink benefits.  The most important thing is to review all paperwork critically when it arrives in your home and decide:

Do I need to receive this information?
Do I need to retain this information?

Please tell me how you go about deciding what documents come into your home and more importantly what gets to stay and for how long.

Back to Basics

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A new year is a good time to remind myself of my aim.  It is to live simply while adhering to the principles of organisation and sustainability.

Today I have done something that ticks both boxes.  It may seem like a small, or almost insignificant action, but I see it as worthwhile.

After doing a trial last year, our council have decided to offer the option of receiving rates notices by email.  When I saw this mentioned in a promotional booklet before Christmas, I sent an request for this option.  I have now registered our details, and while I am not exactly looking forward to our next rates notice, it is good to know that I can receive this notification electronically.  This means that there is no paper used (sustainable), the council saves money on postage and I do not have to handle and file the paperwork as it lands directly in my inbox (organised).

We receive as much correspondence as possible electronically.  This includes statements, phone and internet bills.  There are probably others that I cannot think of right at the moment.  Automatic payments and direct debits also help to streamline and simplify the business of running a household.  By automating as much as possible this leaves more time for doing productive and fun things.

Speaking of productive activities, yesterday The Duke and I planted out 23 rockmelon (cantaloupe) seedlings.  If they all thrive and produce fruit I will be able to run a market stall!  Some were planted in the rather desolate area nicknamed ‘the snakepit’.  It is a barren patch near the low part of the garden and seems to be filled with rubble.  Some months ago I managed to plant a couple of pumpkin seedlings which i had rescued from the compost heap and they are doing well.  I counted at least 10 tiny pumpkins growing on the vine yesterday.

Do you receive mail electronically or have automatic payments set up in order to streamline the business of running your household?  What other strategies do you use?  I would love to hear your thoughts.