I'm Drowning in PAPER -- What Do I Keep???

Updated on April 26, 2012
D.O. asks from Lake Villa, IL
9 answers

I just had my 4th baby in May, but I'm still in a nesting phase. I look around my house and I see paper EVERYWHERE! I just want to toss everything but not sure if that's the only/best solution. Here are my main problems:

1) Household Bills: How long do I need to keep bills I've paid? Just until I get the new bill to see if it was applied?

2) Receipts: What's a good way to store receipts until I verify they were applied to bank account/credit card? What about receipts I want to keep for a while in case I need to return something?

3) Medical info: How long do I keep medical bills, EOB's, etc?

4) Follow-ups: I also don't know where to keep my "follow ups" -- mailed rebates that I want to make sure I receive, cards I need to write & mail, ads for stores I might get to this week...you know, all the stuff for "when I have time".

Any tips for you have for getting/staying organized will be MUCH APPRECIATED! I'm feeling overwhelmed by this chaos. THANKS!!

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answers from Chicago on

D. -- the only part I can comment on is regarding receipts. Since having children, I have found that it is CRITICAL for me to keep receipts for their clothing as long as possible, in case the clothing doesn't fit when the season hits.

I have a bunch of #10 envelopes in an oversized manila envelope in a kitchen cupboard. (Nope...not very scientific!!) Each #10 envelope has a store name on it. When I get home with the clothes, I put the receipt in the applicable envelope. (Carters, Old Navy, Gymboree, etc.)

This has been a life-saver for me.

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answers from Chicago on

Hi D.! I just wanted to offer you a suggestion as far as your greeting cards are concerned. I work with a company called Send Out Cards and we offer a system where you can send out actual greeting cards from your computer. You just choose the card, type the message, and then the company prints it, puts it in an envelope and mails it. This is great for doing holiday cards too since you can download a picture of your kids to the front of the card. This way, you wouldn't have to have greeting cards laying around anymore.

Let me know if you'd like additional information about the program!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My system is not totally organized but usually keeps me from many of the insurmountable mounds of paperwork that seem to creep up if I am not on top of it!

1) Household bills....FILE FOLDERS marked HOUSEHOLD BILLS 2008, all bills for the month - rubberbanded together or organized by creditor; at the end of the year, I usually shred (funny but the last three years, my shredding week has been just before New Years. I guess that's a good time to purge!)

2) Store receipts, coupons, rebates, to do: Couple thoughts here. If it's short-term and I may return it, it gets clipped on the side of the refrigerator in a big envelope. (I hate looking at little pieces of paper all over!) This envelope gets looked at EVERY WEEK, at least once; eventually stuff may get shredded, moved, tossed, filed. Sometimes I write on front of my big envelope or put a post it on front, reminding me ..."don't forget to send.....by date" If item is a purchase w/ a warranty, receipt gets stapled to the front of the warranty info and on the front of the receipt or booklet - I boldly write: generic name for item / not brand name ...i.e. "VACUUM" not "DYSON vacuum" and date of purchase, filed alphabetically under generic name. My warranty file is a large accordian file. I sift through this every few years. My thought is....should tragedy strike my home, it's a very easy file to grab and run quickly. I also have a shoe-box type basket in a cabinet for my "to file" stuff and when the basket gets full, it's time to get filing - this can be my catch-all too so, if I'm having a sloppy month, I'll just stuff things in here for another day! (Yes...it's not perfect but my counters are usually clean!)

3) Medical bills, EOB's...one year - then shred. Medical records depts. can usually get you info if you need it after that date.

4) Weekly flyers.....this is my husband's organization...grocery store flyers - new ones come in - old ones go out! Don't keep flyers UNLESS you really think you will go to THAT store during the week. You can always dig it out of the recycle bin!

5) Those nice monthly catalogs that you can't part with, just yet (i.e. Oriental Trading, Land's End, and the millions that we'll be getting for the holidays)....Lot's of this stuff is on-line, however, if you have a little time, one night, just collect a bunch, go through them at once, earmark what I want and, recycle the others, making sure you shred your personal address label - and the inside order form, which can also have your personal information on it.

Congratulations Queen of the house....on your fourth princess! And you still have energy to organize! Amazing!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I'll admit it, I'm a little neurotic about things like this...so remember that as I give my advice. If it is too overwhelming for you, I totally understand! This is just what I do in my world to keep everything organized and feeling 'right'.

Household bills - My desk has a drawer with a hanging file system. We put tabbed files in there for each of the bills we receive (we also have file folders for our insurance, paycheck stubs, car stickers/maintenance sheets/etc.) For each bill we receive, we write down the check # or online transaction # on the front of it, the date paid, then file it in chronological order. Each year, we 'purge' the statements by taking all the bills for one category and placing them in a marked manilla file folder and placing it in a box marked with the year on the front. We keep these for 8 years. Now, this all sounds like it takes up a bunch of room and energy. It honestly really doesn't.

Receipts - We place an envelope (regular, not business) in our desk drawer and write the month on the front of the envelope. Whenever we return from shopping, eating, whatever uses our check card or requires a written check, we just place the receipt in there. Once the month is over, we tuck the flap in the envelope and place the envelope in a shoe box. We put a year's worth of receipts in the shoe box. We also save our receipts for 8 years.

Medical - it has it's own file (and sub-files for mom, dad, and baby) in the 'bills' section.

Follow-ups - I have an 'inbox' on my desk where those sort of things accumulate. And yes, there are frequently many things in there. I try to go through them once a week.

The key is to find a system that works and makes sense for you. My family might be a little over-paranoid about IRS audits or whatnot...not that we have a lifestyle or occupation that would warrant a raised eyebrow...but believe it or not, many of the receipts and papers have come in handy when we've had issues arise.

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answers from Chicago on

First off, I do everything that I can do paperless -- so any credit cards, gas company, phone company, etc -- I enroll in their paperless statements. I get email reminders about payments and can log in to read my statements. Some will still send paper copies which I do not save. I use online bill pay, so I always have a record of when a payment was sent with or without the statement. I have a hanging file system for Medical claims, dental claims -- anything that might get denied later -- I save those for 1 year. Receipts for things that I can write off for taxes go into one big file. We deal with that at tax time every year.

As for coupons, reminders, etc -- I have a cork board that I tack things onto. On the cork board is an envelop that I put coupons in. Anything else I just stick up there. There is kind of an order to it, but not a strict one. I used to keep all these type of things in a box in my desk drawer (my "to do" box) but my toddler started getting into it all the time so I went with the corkboard. Receipts for stuff that I might have to return or that has a warranty -- on the corkboard short term (clothes that weren't tried on), in the file long term (electronic equipment or furniture that has a warranty).

I do not save catalogs. They go in the trash as soon as they come in. I will glance at them to see if there are any checkout codes to use for discounts, in which case I either tear out the page with the details or write it down and stick it on the corkboard. I am very diligent about the mail -- I go through it as soon as I bring it in and throw away (or shred) immediately. That way it isn't sitting around in one place and then moved to another place while I wait for free time to go through it. I also have a date planner style calendar hanging up next to the corkboard -- any invitations, appointment reminders, etc -- get written on the calendar and then thrown away.

I have one "in box" type box on the desk that I put anything that I have to talk to my husband about or for whatever reason I can't deal with it right away (if I have to wait for something else to happen before I can do whatever I need to do). I go through this box often. My husband looks through it after kids' bedtime almost every day and we deal with whatever is there.

Hope that helps!



answers from Chicago on

if i were someone else i would say O'my.....
But because i love to organize... and dont mind throwing things out..this is a breeze..
1). I pay bills online, and i keep the part of the bill that you would send in the mail with your check(it tears off the rest of the bill). Till i pay bill. I think paying online helps keep track of what, when and how much was pd. and not paper work to store. But you can always keep that tear away part in an accordian folder, and write down how adn how much you pd. BUT I WOULD ONLY KEEP IT FOR NO MORE THEN 1YR...and even that is so much for somethings.

2.)Receipts....do you have a cork board at home(or you may need to buy a small one) every time you have receipts, come home and tack them on the cork board that way you see them and it will remind you that they need to be entered. And that way you dont store them in your wallet, purse, on top of dresser etc. And receipts that you might need to keep from department store ect that you might need to keep, tack them on the board till the bill comes from what ever it is you used to payfor them(credit card statement, bank statement) and when that comes in staple them to the bill....or In the accordian folder(that your going to og buy)make labels for the 12mo and when you have areceipt that you want to keep put it in that month that you made the purchase. theres lots of ways..

3). most medical and Dental Ins co have a 1yr resubmition and dispute policy. (I work for a dentist) So the 1ry rule applies her to. And for somethings like routen med and dent things there is no need to keep...

If you get a bigger cork board. You can make a wk view or monthly view, and tack things across the board "example" Mon.. you take a few things that you know you have to get to that day. or you can make it for the week...tack things that expire or are due that week...i Dont know if ive explained this one to well???

hope this helps....Its hard to get my ideas in writting.. so i hope i was clear in explaining my thoughts.

let me know how things go

btw...you have 4kids under 5yr....wow..
Im expecting my 3rd in Dec and im not sure how much work its going to be......i have 2boys at home 4yr and 3yrs...expecting another boy


answers from Detroit on

Although late, this might help other moms, I have found that going paperless fully is the only way to get rid of piles and piles of paper. I have hired the services of a paperless processing http://www.avidxchange.com/page/paperless-processing company to handle all my bills and invoices so I just get e-invoices/bills from them now, which I can conviently tuck in a folder in my computer. As for your old bills/invoices you can have them scanned and keep them in the computer too!



answers from Chicago on


Both my husband and I are very much committed to keeping our paperwork in order. IMO, It takes a 2 person committment for it to work. Once we merged our financial/paper lives, we realized that our individual systems were essentially the same. This made the transition much more simple.

We use labeled hanging file folders for everything.

HOUSEHOLD BILLS: Everything has its own folder. Cable, telephone, cellphones, financial statements including bank, retirement, investment accts (1/acct), insurance (auto, homeowners, life), etc Once we pay the bill, we file the remaining part of the bill in its cooresponding folder and we keep it for 3 months with the exception of certain things like real estate taxes, paystubs, income taxes, financial statements etc. Investment accts we keep 1 year at a time and then purge keeping just the year end statements. Since my husband was a victim of ID theft about 10 years ago, we make sure to shred anything that would be risky in someone else's hands. He either (1) takes it to work and deposits in a secured shred bin, (2) we manually shred it or (3) we visit area shred events when we have alot. The kids have become a big help with shredding recently, of course, with supervision. When bills come in, it goes in a centralized location until someone has "desk time" to pay bills, file, organize, purge. Desk time happens every 1-2 weeks depending on the mound of stuff needing attention.

RECEIPTS: We keep all receipts and check any charges against our monthly bills. Once its been checked against the bill, we discard the receipt as long as it doesn't have anything we might want to return, save especially for large purchases, etc. We place those receipts we want to keep in a envelope and go through it periodically. Christmas receipts we keep in a special Christmas envelope. Family knows that they better ask for the receipt if we haven't already provided a gift receipt by the end of Jan or they are out of luck. At first keeping all receipts was a adjustment but it does help with budgeting and return hassles especially as stores are becoming more strict with their return policies.

MEDICAL INFO: Each family member has their own medical/dental/vision folder. Any EOB is filed in the person's folder. Since we are back to having an HMO, paperwork is lessened. Having these folders helps to organize immunization records, dates of last exams, informational materials pertinent to that individual etc. I try to purge these folders at least annually as they fill up quickly. At the end of the year I can tally up out of pocket costs for income tax itemizations, health care spending accts etc.

FOLLOW-UPS: I have a greeting card box I bought years ago from Current that holds all my cards. Rebates we keep in the same centralized location as the receipts until we receive the rebate then toss. Store discount mailers, school cafeteria menus, preschool calendars, etc go on 1 of 2 bulletin boards in our home.

We do our best to purge unnecessary mail immediately. At this time of the year we tend to hold onto most catalogs in a deep bottom nightstand drawer since we do alot of internet catalog Christmas purchasing. Besides the kids love to look in all of the toy catalogs to put together their "wish lists".

My husband comes from a family of organized people. My F-I-L has held onto some of the silliest things. Not long ago he gave my husband a receipt for guitar lessons he took back in the late 1960's/early 70's. My mother used the "toss it in a shoe box" method and could never find a thing. Within the last several years, my sisters and I had to settle the estates of my single, no kids aunt and my mother. My aunt was a former legal secretary with everything buttoned up to a "T". My mother had allowed me as the executrix to step in and organize things once she became seriously ill. I cannot begin to tell you how each of these situations were made so much easier by having well organized systems in place especially in times of high stress and responsibility.

I wish you luck. Getting a system in place that works for your family will be the hardest most time consuming piece. Once in place and working, I believe it will save you time and headaches in the long run.



answers from Chicago on

I use baskets, i have one for things i want to keep but are not bill. One for shredding and i use a file folder and put all the bills in there after they have been paid until the end of the year, then i put them in a box mark it 2008 and put it away. I believe you are supposed to keep things for 7 years but with all the computer banking you could probably shred everything. Just a suggestion

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