What I Learned From Organizing Mountains of Personal Papers and Important Documents

This is a guest post from Mimi, the owner, writer and solepreneur at The Texas Homemaker for the series titled “What I Learned From…

what i learned about organizing my personal information
I married in my early 30s. I had a house, a corporate job, some debt, insurance and a 401K. You know all the trappings of “being a grown up”.

I married a man who was divorced, with a young child. He had a job, debt, insurance, attorneys, custody and divorce decrees. He was being a grown up too.

Not only did we need to blend our families together, we also had to blend our finances and important information together. I think blending the family together was easier than organizing the important papers for us all.

I quickly learned, while blending both our families into one organization system, he didn’t like my system and I didn’t like his system.

  • Basically I had a system…organized, labeled, easy to find in a file cabinet. You know…OCD organization.
  • His system…every piece of paper in a manilla envelope with the name and date on the front. Ideally, it made sense to have an envelope to keep all the items together. But every warranty paper, letter, medical bill, in a separate envelope overwhelmed me.

First let me say…I love my husband and his quirkyness-es, so know when I tell you this story it’s shared with love (and laughter…we can laugh about it now) and to show the difference in organization styles.

About a month before we married, I was paying my bills. Writing out checks (you know in the olden days). Updating the check register (does anyone even use these anymore?), etc. etc.

He hands me his checkbook and says “can you balance mine too?”

“Sure thing babe.” (I was already sitting in front of the calculator…again ole fashion one with the tape coming out the back…I love those calculators) {sorry I digress quickly}

Anyways, I opened the checkbook. It’s blank.

Yes, B.L.A.N.K., blank!

The check numbers are down the left side…that’s standard

One or two entries “big box store, child support”

Then…NOTHING! nothing else, the entire register was blank. Not even an entry for a deposit.

I looked at him and said “Are you kidding me? What would you like me to balance it too? There’s nothing here. Does your checkbook come with a crystal ball?” {I can be a little snarky…yes, just a little}

He responds. “I know how much I have.”

I giggle, look at him, hand him back his blank checkbook and say “I will be responsible for the finances and the checkbooks, ’cause I need to know how much money I can spend shopping….and your system isn’t going to tell me that!

He shrugged his shoulder and said. “Cool.” {editor note: It never occurred to me until now, but do you think he did this on purpose so he didn’t have to pay the monthly bills….LOL}

What I learned about organizing important information is:

  • everyone has a system, even if it’s stuff everywhere
  • find one that works for you and your spouse
  • I don’t like to do it but I am thankful that I know where things are and can quickly get to them
  • if something happens to me, my husband, Joe will have everything in one place
  • if something happens to Joe, I have all his vital information, nothing is worse than navigating the loss of a loved one and not having the specific details you need
  • separate monthly recurring bills, like utilities, from documents, receipts and information you need for your annual taxes
  • document your tax related information as you go. Yes...all year long! {You really will see a difference in time spent preparing your taxes}
  • share your system with others, you learn what works and doesn’t work … you might learn something

The key to my organization system. It must:

  • be easy to use. If you make it to complicated, you won’t use it {said the voice of reason and experience}
  • have folder labels. 2015 Taxes instead of Tax papers for 2015 – short and to the point
  • provide a method of tracking information for the annual trek to the CPA. Who wants to spend two weeks in February digging and scouring for information for their taxes?
  • easy to archive from year to year. Yes, it is okay to throw stuff away. {I never throw away legal or ownership papers…and I have a copy of every tax return I’ve filed since I was 16. But that is my preference.}
  • be consistent. file as soon as you pay the bill so you’re not wasting a whole day filing and organizing

So what does my system look like today?

My system has evolved and changed as I’ve gained more organization experience and we’ve acquired more assets, and grown up responsibility such as wills, burial policies, etc.

  1. I have a detailed important document organizer for each member of my family, including one for my mom.
    {My sisters each have their own document binder and we all use the same organizer template}
  2. I update my detailed important document binder at least annually but I usually update it as things change.
  3. I keep passports, social security card, birth certificate, baptism and other religious sacrament papers, marriage license, Will, end of life policy, advanced medical directive and medical power of attorney, and other legal documents in a fire proof/water proof safe. The piece of mind of purchasing the safe is worth every penny!
  4. I use a pocket folder to hold my monthly bills and receipts.
    Title: 2015 Bills {nothing complicated about that…it’s kind of a catch all, in case I need to dig for something}
  5. I use a pocket folder for tax receipts and tax related information. Title: 2015 Taxes
    • if I pay for a doctor visit with my credit card, I highlight the line item on the monthly statement and put the statement in the tax folder, not the bill folder
    • if multiple items on my credit card statement are tax related, I highlight each one with a highlighter and make note of what (and why) I purchased the item (e.g. professional certification annual dues, doctor visits)
  6. I use a safe for hanging folders and have the folders tabbed as:
    • Titles: e.g. cars, boats, trailers, etc.
    • Insurance: one for each auto, life, health, burial
    • Retirement: 401K / IRA / Pension

A few words of wisdom if I may…

  • My system works for me. It may not work for you and that’s ok. Finding out what works for you is part of the organizational process.
  • If you like part of my system, but not all of it that’s okay too. Remember the system must be easy FOR YOU, or you won’t use it.
  • Start today even if you’re using an expandable file folder, just start!
  • Organization is like a diet. If your diet is complicated; you’re counting calories, or it’s too limiting in what you can and can’t have…you’ll quickly fall off the wagon.
  • If your organization system is complicated; too limiting or doesn’t give you flexibility and freedom…you’ll quickly fall of the wagon.
  • You didn’t get unorganized overnight and Rome wasn’t built in a day. Organization is a process. Take it a step at a time. And, if you fall off the wagon, grab that donut and hop back on the organizational wagon.

What’s your method, do you have everything neat and tidy?
Do you have your personal information all over the place?
Do you have your birth certificate, social security card, passport, marriage (or divorce papers) license in a safe or safe deposit box?

GRAB YOUR FREE BONUS

Organization and having a grab and go binder (in case of emergency) is so vital and important to me, so I created a freebie for you. Just for stopping by!

You download includes about 100 individual file labels, a blank label sheet for customization and a fingerprint sheet.

The printable fingerprint sheet comes standard in my FREE Get Organized! eCourse but if you have kids it’s important to have their fingerprints on file. Which is why I am giving it to you today for free.

It’s that important! I pray you never need it!

the-texas-homemaker-signature

 

mimitoosmThe contents in this post, the Get Organized! Free eCourse and Perfect Life Organizer™ product are based on personal opinion, personal experience and personal research. All media is provided in good faith and should not be construed or implied as a replacement for professional legal, financial and medical advice.

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