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Ask Slashdot: How Do You File Paper Documents At Home? 371

Posted by timothy
from the shred-then-reassemble-of-course dept.
swamp boy writes "How do you file paper documents at home? I'm mostly asking about things like monthly paper-based statements that get mailed to you (credit cards, gas cards, medical bills, health insurance explanation of benefits, electricity bill, natural gas bill, water bill, etc.). Do you push to have as many sent electronically as possible? Do you scan the paper documents to store electronically and then shred the paper document? How do you manage and organize the ones stored electronically? I've been doing this the old-fashioned way with manila file folders, but as time goes by I keep thinking that I should opt for digital storage. What works for you?"
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Ask Slashdot: How Do You File Paper Documents At Home?

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  • by Haedrian (1676506) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:44PM (#35991258)

    If you have a court case which requires the documents, I'm pretty sure that printing out your electronic copy won't really work, because you could have easily modified it while it was stored there.

    To answer original question - I have a big file. Sometimes I prefer having something physical that can be brought out as proof.

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:47PM (#35991282) Homepage
      Fireplace!

      Keeps me warm and annoys the neighbors!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 01, 2011 @01:02PM (#35991390)

      Not true -- many large corporations have scanned and destroyed large collections of legal documents, and their lawyers are fine with it. Electronic copies scanned with an appropriate process are even considered legal by the IRS (see this IRS publication for details, page 9 http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-irbs/irb97-13.pdf )

      • by hedwards (940851)

        It is however advisable to keep a paper copy of anything that important anyways, just in case the electronic copy gets destroy and whatever backups you have as well. Which can happen. You can also accidentally destroy paper copies, but it's typically less likely, unless you're doing something like mass shredding or your house burns down, typically less common occurrences.

      • by milkmage (795746)

        then what is an acceptable digital alternative to a notary stamp (the thing they use to stamp the paper to make a raised impression)

        - i'm not being snarky, I would like to know.

        lawyers might be fine with digital copies of some types of documents.. like receipts or other common items, but what's the digital alternative to a document like a birth certificate or mortgage paperwork? there's a reason I had to sign multiple copes of my loan papers - the banks want wet signatures... they didn't let me chec

    • by sribe (304414) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @01:06PM (#35991436)

      If you have a court case which requires the documents, I'm pretty sure that printing out your electronic copy won't really work, because you could have easily modified it while it was stored there.

      Yes, actually, the best copy you have will work. If the opposing party wants to claim that you have modified documents, they will have to come up with actual evidence to that fact. (You are aware, are you not, that paper documents can be forged???)

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        WIth thermal printed receipts, if you don't have a scanned or photocopied copy of the receipt, in 2 years, it's likely that all you'll have a blank piece of paper. The fade over time eventually becoming impossible to read.

        Well, at least that's what happens with my storage system of throwing them into a box in my non-airconditioned home office. Maybe if I stored them in more climate-controlled conditions they'd last longer.

        • by jedidiah (1196) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @02:06PM (#35991858) Homepage

          > WIth thermal printed receipts, if you don't have a scanned or photocopied copy of the receipt, in 2 years, it's likely that all you'll have a blank piece of paper

          Thermal receipts can actually fade much faster than that. They might not even last long enough to be used for tax purposes.

          I started scanning all of my important receipts over this very issue.

    • How is this any different from getting "paper free" electronic bills and statements and other documents? If you did in fact need to present them as evidence, surely you or your lawyer would ask the original company for a copy of the original statement.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        This point troubles me a great deal. The IRS under normal circumstances has 3 years in which to conduct an audit of your tax forms in the US. But, most banks limit the duration of storing said records typically to a year if you're lucky, and often times even less than that. So, while it is ultimately your responsibility to make sure that you've got the records, if those files were to get corrupted after they were destroyed by the bank and before you receive the audit notification, you haven't really any way

        • by NitroWolf (72977)

          I thought it was 7 years, not 3 years? Has the law changed in the last decade or two? I haven't really kept up with that, since I've been keeping things for 7 years. Would be nice to throw out an additional 4 years worth of crap.

          • by sribe (304414)

            I thought it was 7 years, not 3 years? Has the law changed in the last decade or two? I haven't really kept up with that, since I've been keeping things for 7 years. Would be nice to throw out an additional 4 years worth of crap.

            I think it has always been 3 years normally; 7 if they find evidence of fraud in the past 3.

        • Does the bank actually destroy those older records (by law?), or simply move them to archives? My own bank allows me to access certain records going back 18 months, but I'd assumed it was just a limitation they imposed on online access, i.e. if you want older records you'd have to pay a small fee to access them.

        • by billstewart (78916) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @03:26PM (#35992308) Journal
          • 1. Buy Stock s for $x.
          • 2. ....
          • 3. Sell Stock s for $z.
          • 4. PROFIT!!
          • 5. Pay capital gains tax based on z-x.
          • 6. ...
          • 7. IRS Audits you - you may need the records from step 1.

          Step 6 is 3-7 years depending on whether the IRS is lazy or suspects you of fraud, but Step 2 if however long you hold the asset before you sell it. If it's a more complicated investment, there may be other steps involved - for instance, the company merges with another, or spins off another company, or splits their stock, or does something else weird, so now you the stock you own isn't identical to what you bought.

          If you own a house, you need to keep even more records. There's the purchase of the house, and anything related to the purchasing process (real estate commissions, lawyers, everything about the mortgage), any expenses you have that increase the basis of the house (a new garage counts, painting the inside might not), and then when you sell the house, usually you're buying another one and rolling over the capital gain into it (unless it was a loss.) You probably only need to keep documentation on a single house for 7 years after you file your taxes after you sell it (maybe up to 9 if it took you the whole 2 years to buy the next house), since the tax return from rolling over the cost documents your basis.

          Usually the rule is to keep purchase records 7 years after you sell something.

    • by houghi (78078)

      Bills I will trow away once they are payed. Payslips I keep one year and then trow them away as I get an annual one.

      If I need proof, I ask for a copy from where it came.

    • by NitroWolf (72977)

      If you have a court case which requires the documents, I'm pretty sure that printing out your electronic copy won't really work, because you could have easily modified it while it was stored there.

      To answer original question - I have a big file. Sometimes I prefer having something physical that can be brought out as proof.

      I've never had a problem bringing my printed documents to court. I digitize everything now and I've had to take a few documents to court now and then for various reasons, the judge has never batted an eye. One case involved a contract and it was a digitized copy of the contract, no problems at all.

      YMMV of course, but since I see many large businesses digitizing everything, including signed documents and digitized copies of cancelled checks are valid proof I'd say you'd probably be fine.

      • by sribe (304414)

        YMMV of course...

        Actually, no it won't vary. In 2000 the "Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act" established once and for all the validity of electronic records. Even before that, many states had enacted variations of the "Uniform Electronic Transactions Act"...

    • Even a photocopied (as in - copied onto a dead tree format) documents will be useless in many cases if you are required to have the original receipt/bill/invoice.

      As for filing...
      Stick everything into plastic sheet protectors. [amazon.com]
      If you need to label them in some way, either attach a post-it from the inside or simply write the label on the sheet protector with a marker.
      Put sheet protectors into a binding box or two. [saundersoffice.com]
      About once a year go through your binders and throw away the bills you no longer need.

      Same procedu

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        Even a photocopied (as in - copied onto a dead tree format) documents will be useless in many cases if you are required to have the original receipt/bill/invoice.

        What is one of those cases? As a private citizen, I've never had a need for a "wet-ink" original document, copies have been fine for everything, even when I had a dispute with my mortgage company.

        As for filing...
        Stick everything into plastic sheet protectors. [amazon.com]
        If you need to label them in some way, either attach a post-it from the inside or simply write the label on the sheet protector with a marker.

        Wow, are you that OCD with everything? Even in companies I've worked at where they have million dollar contracts that have a 10 year lifetime, they just put the originals in manilla envelopes in a file cabinet (and keep an electronic copy) -- what purpose does the sheet protector serve?

        • by vlm (69642)

          what purpose does the sheet protector serve?

          Given time and pressure, xerography toner will glue pages together. If the paper gets glued to the inside of the page protector, you can still read the page.

      • by vlm (69642)

        I used a plan similar to yours, until I realized :

        and throw away the bills you no longer need.

        That would be all of them... So, my workflow goes from in box to shredder.

    • by b4upoo (166390)

      Sometimes a copy is better evidence than an original as it can be a trap to forge a copy as it is so easily proven to be a forgery.

    • I'm pretty sure that printing out your electronic copy won't really work, because you could have easily modified it while it was stored there.

      Right, because paper is a magical medium that disallows document forgery.

  • Keep them? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:46PM (#35991268)

    I keep the absolute minimum amount of paper lying around.

    Bills get payed and then shredded. Why keep them? Same for almost every other piece of paper. My yearly insurance policy gets stuck in a binder (and the old one gets shredded). Oh, and I keep the ownership documents for my house. That's it. If everything in my paper 'archive' is 50 pages total I'm being generous.

    There is no need to keep all that junk around. In fact, I wouldn't need the paper that I do keep, because if I would ever need it I can have a replacement copy sent.

    • by Tomahawk (1343)

      Ditto. I tend to put some stuff in a drawer in case I need to refer back to it, but every once in a while I clear out the drawer of all the stuff that I never referred back to, which is all of it.

      I was lucky that I had a year of household bills, as I did need them recently. Usually you are asked for stuff like bank statements, and you can just ask your bank to send them out when you need them.

  • now I just put them in a shoe box....

    Then burn or shred them after a year.

    • by MoonBuggy (611105)

      Yup; stack 'em up, keep them for a while in case they need to be referred to (never happened yet), destroy 'em when it's clear that they aren't needed.

      To be fair, though, maybe the only reason this works is that documents I actually will need to refer to (bank statements, particularly) already come electronically...

  • paper (Score:4, Informative)

    by symf (764314) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:48PM (#35991288)
    I've found that it's still just easier to file in manila folders by month. I rarely ever need to pull paper documents out anymore, but if I do need them they are there and I've got only one month of stuff to sort through. I tried scanning everything and backing up locally for about two months but dropped that method when crunch time at work rolled around.
  • folders (Score:5, Informative)

    by superwiz (655733) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:48PM (#35991292) Journal
    Hanging folders with labels by category and year. Most categories only need 1 folder per year. At the end of the year, I move them to a "history" storage box and start a new set of folders.
    • Re:folders (Score:4, Interesting)

      by superwiz (655733) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:50PM (#35991298) Journal
      I've been able to find parking tickets from years back (because Police's system glitched and re-issued the ticket after it was resolved). It took less than half an hour to find all information on the tickets from 3 years prior.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      For items that are just FYI, I tend to just scan those and chuck the original. The files tend to just get stored on my HDD under an appropriate broad category with an informative title including date.

      For items that are tax records, you're stuck either with a paper copy, or using an IRS approved scanning product. Which reminds me that I've misplaced mine.

      But in general, I've found that it makes a lot more sense to store things chronologically, just holding out things that are definitely trash and definitely

      • Re:folders (Score:5, Informative)

        by sribe (304414) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @01:22PM (#35991570)

        For items that are tax records, you're stuck either with a paper copy, or using an IRS approved scanning product.

        There is no such thing as "an IRS approved scanning product". IRS simply accepts scanned receipts. Some vendors toss around terms like "IRS approved" in a vague and misleading manner in order to make you think their product meets some kind of IRS regulations, but this is just marketing bullshit.

    • by scruffy (29773)

      Hanging folders with labels by category and year. Most categories only need 1 folder per year. At the end of the year, I move them to a "history" storage box and start a new set of folders.

      I do this, but I don't organize papers into folders until they go into the storage box, which happens after I get done filing income taxes.

      The main advantage of paper is that it lasts a long time. Many banks and financial institutions say they'll keep records for 10 years, which sounds like a long time, but sometimes you need longer. For me, I inherited some stock some 30 or so years ago. If I sell the stock, I need to know the cost basis, so I need information from 30 years ago, and I need to track

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        The main advantage of paper is that it lasts a long time. Many banks and financial institutions say they'll keep records for 10 years, which sounds like a long time, but sometimes you need longer. For me, I inherited some stock some 30 or so years ago. If I sell the stock, I need to know the cost basis, so I need information from 30 years ago, and I need to track mergers and splits over that time period.

        Paper records last a long time... until your first fire or flood. My sister lost her house to a fire, including the documents stored in the consumer grade fire-safe. I'm sure there are commercial grade fire safes that can provide better protection, but then you still only have one copy of your document. Offsite backups of paper documents are possible, but there's still a lag time between when you make the backup copy and when you actually take it off site to your bank safe deposit box (or grandma's house).

        E

  • by wormbin (537051) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:52PM (#35991314)
    Like any other data storage problem you have to ask yourself how you will access this data. For me there is a high probability that I will never look at an old phone bill or gas bill. In this case you want to optimize for insertion into the data store not selection from the data store. so I stick all of these statements into a big box. The more recent ones are on top so they are automatically sorted by date. When the box fills up I shred the bottom half of the box. This makes the most common case (insertion) really efficient; I just throw the paper in the box. In the rare case I need to find an old statement, I just hunt through the date sorted statements.
    • by Compaqt (1758360)

      Good idea.

      I wish OS/application writers would get this message. I hate having to root around for files.

      95% of the time, I'm working with files that have been created or touched in the last few weeks.

      I've found it really handy to keep the Gnome file selector set to sort by Modify date. But you still have to drill into folders to be able to see them sorted.

      How about a system-global list of recently touched files *and* folders? The current Gnome one is hit-and-miss. And it's only in the File Open dialog, not i

      • It's pretty trivial on BeOS or vaguely recent versions of OS X to create a smart folder that contains files (optionally only of a specific type) that have been recently modified.
        • by hedwards (940851)

          I personally use xplorer2 when on windows as my filemanager, and it's trivial to filter out things based upon name. Typically I'll name things by institution, account and date, sometimes if it's a receipt I'll append the item purchased. It's a bit of work, but it makes it a lot quicker to sort through those files.

          Presumably theirs a better way.

        • It's pretty trivial on BeOS or vaguely recent versions of OS X to create a smart folder that contains files (optionally only of a specific type) that have been recently modified.

          BeOS? I know we're big on edge cases here at Slashdot but BeOS?

          • As far as I know, BeOS was the first operating system to have the requested functionality built in (around 15 years ago). I think OS X actually has a smart folder with the files edited in the last week by default in new installs.
        • by jedidiah (1196)

          ...or you could just sort by date. Works for just about any desktop GUI made in the last 20 years.

      • by Alrescha (50745)

        The OS X Finder has pre-installed buttons labeled "Today", "Yesterday" and "Past Week".

        A.

      • by spasm (79260)

        find /home/[yourusername]/Documents -mtime -2

        change '2' to the number of days back you want to know about.
        change '/home/[yourusername]/Documents' to whatever path you want. I tend not to use /home/[username] because that picks up every minor change to config files.

        If you really want to get fancy, create a folder, script the above & pipe output via xargs to something which creates a symlink to every modified file within that folder, called by cron every hour or so. The folder will then always have lin

  • by dlsmith (993896) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:53PM (#35991324)

    Do you push to have as many sent electronically as possible?

    I wish we lived in a world in which there was a secure electronic equivalent to document delivery. The technology exists, but nobody uses it.

    As it is, the standard is for every company I deal with to require a separate login which gives me a web interface to tracking down the documents I need. Maybe they'll send a generic email when something new arrives. The problem is that this raises the convenience barrier so high that I rarely see the documents I'm being sent when they arrive — it happens when I'm already on the site and looking around. Which means I have to remember to go to the site.

    When I get something in the mail, in contrast, I can look at it immediately, and then if necessary I can put it in a to-do box, which gives me a clear indication, in one place, of all the stuff I need to deal with.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheClarkster (1130495)
      In Canada we have ePost. It is run by Canada Post and companies can send out bills, paystubs, T4's, etc electronically, all in the same place.
  • fujitsu scansnap (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Buy a Fujitsu Scansnap -- only $254 on Amazon, and does a great job of quickly scanning piles of documents. I use the software included with the Scansnap to manage the scanned documents -- the software is quirky and quite outdated, but it was developed for your use case, and works out better in the long run than a more polished, general purpose piece of software.

    Scan your entire backlog of documents, then shred everything. No more paper storage. The PDFs that the Scansnap generates are fine for legal purpos

    • by whoever57 (658626)

      Buy a Fujitsu Scansnap -- only $254 on Amazon

      Or, for a lot less, buy a cheap inkjet multi-function device and never install the ink cartridges. Let all those other people who actually print using these things subside your "scanner" purchase whenever they buy ink.

    • Agree, I started scanning with a Scansnap 500 back in 2008. Definitely correct about the filing software; it's an ancient MFC app but it works nicely. So I use a dedicated VM (Win XP) for it since I wasn't able to get it to run in Wine reliably. Scans are then stored on the host ubuntu machine and accessed through a networked drive. Maybe they've updated to a more cross-platform solution, haven't checked in a long time.

      Now everything gets scanned on it, from bills to old books, then shredded. There's b

  • by Mysteray (713473) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:55PM (#35991348) Homepage

    Err on the side of not categorizing and not shredding. Only categorize into folders the stuff that you're likely to need to access by category in the future (e.g. tax documents). Everything else goes back into the envelope it came in. For bills, write "paid" on the front.

    Use an appropriately-sized box to hold old mail neatly. Stick the newly-archived mail in the front (or top) of the stack such that it naturally sorts in a coarse reverse-chronological order. It's not too hard to go back through this to find stuff if you need it later and you'd probably never need to look further back than a year anyway.

    Above all, don't spend more energy on the problem than it merits or else it will become a burdensome chore.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Indeed, depending upon the number of documents, it's frequently better to just have a box or envelope per year, with everything in it for that time period. If you've got a lot, then moving to a per month or possibly per week file is a good idea. It's good because you've got it in chunk size bites. And if you do decide to digitize chances are that you can handle an entire months worth of papers on the first of the next month, but either way, you generally have a fair idea of when to look.

    • by hubie (108345)

      How far back do you like to keep your documents? From how I understand your message, it doesn't sound like you get rid of anything.

      I've got stacks of stuff going back +20 years that is around out of sheer laziness. One of my projects in the next couple months is bulk shredding, but I haven't quite decided where to draw the lines on what to keep and how far back (I'm pretty sure I can get rid of all those canceled checks and account statements from that bank account that was closed 15 years ago...).

      • by Mikkeles (698461)

        Well, what's the statute of limitations of the worst thing you've ever done? :)

      • by xMrFishx (1956084)
        I think there's some sort of requirement for tax that's around 7. Beyond that most things get written off, but someone who knows better than me should give a more concise answer. I believe in England there's a limit to reclaiming tax-back that's around five years, so you need to keep employment slips (P45/P60) til at least that in-case HRMC cocks up your tax, or vice versa, and they don't tend to tell you about it for years - for instance, there was a large tax claim against teachers when their tax got me
  • I like to call it a set of stacks, but it's really more of a heap. Old stuff goes in a boxed linked list.
  • Geeky method (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Compaqt (1758360) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @12:57PM (#35991360) Homepage

    Get a sequential numbering stamp, stamp your documents, and file them in order.

    Then keep info about them in a database, inputting both the unique number, and free-form tags about the document.

    • by DeBaas (470886)

      I do just that for my company. I use the sequential numbering stamp, scan everything, (got a full duplex scanner with document feeder). The scanner numbers the scans automatically. I then use a small program where I can enter tags and then it emails it to a Gmail account. With the filtering features (filter on the tags) and great search options of Gmail I can always find stuff and download the scans. I keep all the originals in folders on their numbers. So if I ever need the original I can easily find it ba

    • by synaptik (125) * on Sunday May 01, 2011 @04:37PM (#35992756) Homepage

      Better yet, use a binary tree. On each piece of paper, punch 1 hole at the top-center, and also a hole at both the left and right bottom corners. Tie a small length of string through the top hole, and then tie the other end of that string to the left-or-right hole of the appropriate parent paper, based on your key sorting criteria. Don't forget to rebalance the tree on occasion.

      For added fun, use different colors of string for different search keys. This way you can end up with multiple binary trees, all sharing the same nodes!

  • Piles (Score:5, Funny)

    by crumbz (41803) <<remove_spam>jus ... o spam>gmail.com> on Sunday May 01, 2011 @01:00PM (#35991376) Homepage

    Lots of them. All over the house. It's a mess.

  • by moehoward (668736) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @01:00PM (#35991380)

    I follow IRS rules and keep 7 years of documents. When possible, I have bills electronically sent to me and I simply file them in folders in G-mail.

    Each January, I create a new set of file folders (physical) that mirror the previous year's folder structure. Then, I shred the files from 8 years ago. Takes an entire hour. My files for current year and past year are in the top drawer of a 4-drawer file cabinet. The other 5 years' stuff is stored 2 drawers down. The 2nd drawer holds things like insurance info and instructions/directions (indirections??) for house-hold "stuff". The bottom drawer is for home-owners stuff, personal stuff. etc.

    My work files are stored under my desk in a double-drawer horizontal filing cabinet. It holds all things work-related. But, the top drawer closest to me holds anything that is currently going on in my life, so that I have instant access when I get phone calls, e-mails, etc. On top of that, I have an organizer on my desk that holds really, really current stuff that would include stuff that I will be working with on any given day.

    I have been doing this for years, and it works, as long as you keep a maintenance routine. Easy habits to get into and I am never searching through piles like I see others doing. My desk stays neat and organized and I always have what I need for any day right in front of me.

    Being organized like this is essential to increasing personal productivity and producing quality work.

    It is stupidly easy, but I would say that maybe less than 5% of people can achieve a high-level of organization.

    Your question might come across as dumb to other slashdotters, but I find it incredibly relevant.

    • by xMrFishx (1956084)
      Whilst I currently don't have a system in place, that's essentially the one I'd opt for, except on the 7 year boundary I'd scan and then shred the documents. For instance my OH's business will probably follow that, once she hits the 7 year limit, scan and destroy. Neither her business nor my paperwork is old enough to hit that boundary yet (being mid 20s) but I agree that it's best to start now. I'm the sort of person who likes things easy to find, and properly filed. For instance, when sorting through
    • by butlerm (3112)

      The IRS rarely goes back more than three years, and then only if there appears to be a serious problem. As far as the value of keeping receipts for minor expenses from even three years ago goes, one might consider the cost to you if the IRS arbitrarily decided to disallow all of them. For many people that is a such a small number it is not worth losing sleep over.

      If you run a non-trivial business, are relatively well off, or have deductions for large transactions, however, you better keep documentation fo

  • When I receive a document, I file it by type: electricity/phone/rent/misc/salary stub/insurance/....
    In january. I put all of them in a big envelop and write the year on it.

  • I have some shelves with box files containing all important paper documents.There is no way I am trusting my own electronic storage to hold the data as it is still way too fragile and scanning everything is a massive chore. Your time should be worth more than that. Far more efficient to keep the paper and shred years later.

    For electronic stuff it tends to be things kept on the systems of the bank or utility company so I only have to login to their systems to get hold of it.

  • Having looked at this for my business, as well as for personal stuff, I think the first thing to think about, for each category of document, why you need to save it, and how you are likely to use it. For things that you are required to save, like tax documents, I am not sure that electronic storage is sufficient -- you may need the paper. On the other hand, keeping the paper doesn't mean you have to work with the paper. Scan them, by all means, and use your electronic files as an index. I have a regula
    • by sribe (304414)

      For things that you are required to save, like tax documents, I am not sure that electronic storage is sufficient -- you may need the paper.

      Not true.

  • by Kjella (173770)

    Paper folder with dividers, hole puncher, file and forget. I have sections for the things I might need again like work contract & related, apartment & related, insurance & related, tax reporting and related and so on then a big section of general bills/receipts. I don't bother with the date on it, I simply file them in the order I put them in - it's close enough that I don't bother. The electronic ones I hope either who I got them from or my webmail provider will keep - at least one of them. Tho

  • They fall over when they get more than about 2' high, though.
    Also, the parrot chews on them.

  • I get two bills by mail and I can check the status of them online (they just won't stop sending me paper bills).

    They usually don't get opened and just thrown in the garbage. Is that a great idea? No. I should probably shred them, but I'm lazy and too cheap to buy a shredder.

  • Each year as the year goes on, I toss everything into a "inbasket". Then come tax time (usually around New Years), I dump out the box, sort through and organize the receipts. I'll put all the gas receipts together in order & staple them, electric receipts together and staple them, etc. Then I extract all the tax info into a single spreadsheet, making a note on the source (e.g. for a deductible item on a credit card, I note the card and the month of the statement with that item.) Finally, I dump ever

  • Definitely scan & shred. It's only a little bit more time to stick paper in the scanner to my left and scan than it would be to file the paper in even the loosest of physical filing systems--and then I never ever have to touch that piece of paper again. (Well, OK, I toss it on the floor, then when I get up later pick up the pile and stuff it in the shredder--that that is the last time I touch the paper.) To me, definitely worth it to be done with it once and for all.

    One folder per year, within that one

  • While I do get stuff mailed to me if I miss a payment, most things here in Sweden (and I believe most other parts of Europe) allows for e-mail based bills and/or just setting up a periodic wiring of money to an account through the bank's web page. My bank logins are handled using a wireless smartcard reader w/ a PIN keypad. Thus, the only things I need to file are contracts, receipts and other such signed documents; this reduces the paper load to one plastic binder, small enough that you can just flip throu
  • Required: scanner and shredder. Everyone should own a shredder, or take sensitive stuff to one of those commercial shredder services. Otherwise, as some have mentioned, you eventually get hip-deep in paper. A very small number of paper docs need to be kept (auto title, will, e.g.). Use whatever systematic organization you want for scanned documents. You will need good backups including off-site. And a way for selected others to access it if something happens to you. Yes, it's some work to set up, but
  • I picked up a printer/scanner combo with a document feeder, and I scan everything and (save for anything I think I might need for legal reasons) shred the originals.

    I file the docs in folders by company name and with a YYYYMMDD-whatever image name or subfolder (for multiple pages). And I upload a backup to my server.

    This has worked really well for me; paprework used to be a nightmare to find as I was so bad at filing it. Now I can find anything easily, and even email someone what they're asking for directly

  • I heartily recommend a setup based on a ScanSnap and some sort of organisational filing software. The ScanSnap is a home-office grade document scanner - the main difference to your cheapo scanners is it's focus on documents and it's ability to scan both sides of A4 paper in one pass, achieving at least 20ppm scanning. The software that comes with it should be able to do OCR. I combine this with DevonThink on the Mac which allows me to organise the documents efficiently and search through them - it will a
  • I think it really helps to think about what paperwork will be needed by you in the future. It may be comforting to have every electric bill you ever received but why would you ever need it?

    For me I have all my periodic bills sent to me electronically. I download all my transactions into Quicken and I back up that file locally and remotely. Everything is budgeted so if something comes in out of line I'm alerted immediately.

    I keep a paper printout of all my tax returns and associated receipts etc. That is

  • Paytrust (Score:5, Informative)

    by hawguy (1600213) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @01:50PM (#35991772)

    I have all (well nearly all) of my bills sent to Paytrust [slashdot.org].

    I set their address as my billing address, when they receive the paper bills, they scan them in and store them for me. Then they pay the bills for me -- I set up payment rules so, for example, if my electric bill is less than $50, they pay it automatically, if it's more than that, they email me an exception notice and wait for me to take action. It's also possible to set a maximum payment, so for example with a credit card bill, I can tell them to pay a maximum of $200 on my bill (or the total payment due if it's less than $200).

    For most merchants that have electronic bill retrieval, they retrieve the electronic copy of the bill so I don't have to have a paper bill sent to them.

    For merchants that don't send a bill (i.e. my landlord), I can schedule automatic payments (or do one-time payments) just like any online payment service.

    They have electronic payment arrangements for most major billers (credit card companies, utilities ,etc), so they don't even need to send out a check in many cases, they pay electronically so there's no chance of the bill getting lost in the mail (though I believe that with some smaller billers, instead of an EFT, they send one paper check for all of their customers along with a list of account numbers to apply the payment to)

    In about 10 years of using their service, they've never lost a payment - I've had a few checks in the mail fail to be delivered, but in all but one case, the check eventually made it, it was delayed by the post office.

    Some merchants get confused when your billing address is not the same as your physical address. Sometimes they sent notices to the paytrust address, which Paytrust either scans in for you, or if it's something like an auto insurance card, they forward it to you by mail.

    The only missing feature that I really wish they had is a way to upload my own invoices, so if I get a bill from my plumber I can upload it to my Paytrust account to store it and send him a check.

    At the end of the year, they sell me a CD with all of my bill images on it.

    I know this sounds like a paid advertisement for Paytrust, but I am just a very satisfied customer - I'm usually terrible about paying bills on time, Paytrust makes sure I make all of my bills are paid on time. Does anyone know if there any other competing services? My bank's online bill-pay service just doesn't compare - they have no way to receive paper bills and pay them for me.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      Sorry, bad link in my post - it should link to: Paytrust [paytrust.com]. I dropped the "http" in the link, and apparently that makes it link to this article.

  • I have an alphabetical file, indexed by category. I maintain an index of category headings, to deal with the problem of losing track of something, if there's multiple ways of filing it. The index is totally ad-hoc (although I suppose a real librarian might file, based on a standardized set of headings).

    For tax records, I maintain yearly files, retained for only 7 years. Anything older gets fed into a shredder.

    Bank statements are filed, but occasionally, I scan into PDF format and then shred them. I don'

  • If you are ever involved in divorce litigation, there is nothing nicer than being able to say "I have no such records" when your deranged spouse's even more deranged bottom-feeding scumbag sends you a discovery request listing 141 categories of documents and demands copies of all paper or electronic records in those categories.

    In normal litigation this isn't as much of an issue, because the attorneys are usually able to negotiate a happy medium in which they agree not to issue nuclear-tipped discovery re
  • This Years

    Last Years

    Compost
  • I use a good old pre-digital hanging lateral file. Hanging filing cabinets can be quite expensive, but a good one with ball bearing slides does the job quite well. A lateral 2-drawer is excellent because you can do letter sized in one drawer, and legal sized in the other.

    But the real question is what to keep and why. You want to make it easy to get rid of what you don't need to keep anymore.

    • Bills. Best thing, make 12 folders, one for each month. At the start of the month shred the year old bills. You
  • I just use a big file storage box and toss them in (LIFO queue). Once a year, about tax season, I sift though (query table scan) and toss out the trash (delete query) that got in by accident, pull any missed tax related docs (move queue query). Sometimes I'll stack bills by type or account (bucket sort on doc_type/account), but don't go so far as to alphabetize them (index by date).

    You can do reduce the $2 cost to nil by recycling a copy paper box from work.

    After 7 years, I pay my kids $20 to shred a bo

  • I get paper bills for the more important things, but use my bank's bill-pay service to pay them. I file the important pages in a binder (one or two for each year) and shred the rest.

    When tax time comes around I get a second, smaller binder and I do a run-through and move tax-related items from the main binder to the smaller one. e.g. car registration, property taxes, donations, tax documents, medical bills, and so forth. The smaller binder gets shipped off to my CPA.

    For services paid via credit card I ca

  • First off, I've worked with various electronic payment systems (including building parts of them), I don't trust them, I've seen way too many screwups that end up with hundreds or thousands of users being told variations of "Oh, sorry about charging you ten times the normal amount, we'll have the money back in your account in a fortnight and according to the contract you signed with us we can't be held responsible for any family members of yours who starve to death due to this...".

    So while I've been paying

  • I used to try and separate everything, but eventually I've settled on filing papers in quarterly folders. Personally the amount I get doesn't warrant higher granularity, and on the rare occasion that I need to find a given piece of paper a quarter (for me) doesn't add up to much more than a stack an inch high.

  • I make note of the sum due and round it off to the nearest dollar and pay them all electronically, usually on the same day. The bills themselves land near the round pail or on the floor. Having all that paper makes for less dusting as when I finally pick up the bills the dust is on them and not on the carpet. No, I'm not kidding.

  • by farnsworth (558449) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @03:12PM (#35992228)
    I am a marginally affluent adult with children, and I struggle to understand why I should store paper documents at all.

    I keep a stack of maintenance records for my car, because I will probably sell it some day, and the future owner may want that. But I will never actually refer to any of these, even if there is a question about the state of my car. I will just have it re-evaluated at that time.

    I don't get any financial statements in the mail, because the institutions store them as pdfs for me. I trust them to keep accurate records. Every day I throw out practically everything that arrives in my mailbox. Occasionally I will get a personal correspondence or an actually-informative message from a financial institution.

    I don't keep the records of my interactions with the government (parking tickets, licences, etc). It just doesn't seem worth the effort compared to the potential risk of some misunderstanding occurring.

    I don't keep medical bills or documents, because I trust my doctors to keep an accurate medical record. And even if they fail to do so, I don't see a strong reason to care about that.

    I don't keep correspondences with my children's school, because I can't imagine a reason that I would ever need to refer to that. I read them, respond as appropriate, then they go straight into the trash.

    I keep documents regarding real estate ownership, but in the ~10 years of doing so, I have never referred to any of these.

    So I have a couple of unsorted write-only streams of files for certain things, but everything else is either digital or thrown away. I can imagine scenarios where magically having a certain document might make things easier or simpler for me, but none of these scenarios have ever occurred to me or anyone I know. Nor do I imagine that is worth the 1-2 hours per week it would take to maintain something like that. I would rather spend that time with my kids or my friends focusing on the present.

    Is this unusual?

    • by feepness (543479)

      I don't keep medical bills or documents, because I trust my doctors to keep an accurate medical record. And even if they fail to do so, I don't see a strong reason to care about that.

      I agree with much of what you say except this. I'm a cancer survivor and the value of keeping my blood work and other records is immense. The issue is you will see other Doctors over the years and they won't have your records. With information sharing rules getting records from one doctor to another is difficult and time consuming. Most Doctors are shocked and pleased when I walk in with a short stack of records they can glance over immediately, forming an accurate baseline of my past bloodwork, medicat

  • by Miamicanes (730264) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @05:36PM (#35993122)

    I personally use Pendaflex 5394 legal-size hanging tri-way folders. Basically, it has a folded paperboard divider attached that divides it into three expandable sections.

    I use one folder per 'genre', with sections for "this year", "last year" and "anytime else".

    My genres can basically be divided into two categories: "dead" and "useful", with two or more sub-categories per genre. The folders are all the same color (green), but the labels are color-coded.

    "Dead" are things I'm filing because my parents told me I should, but I'm unlikely to ever look at or care about again. Bills in general fall into this category. I used to have one folder, but recently split the category into two: things specifically related to credit cards, and everything else (mainly because credit cards were accounting for 2/3 the volume, and everything else was getting lost in the clutter)

    "Useful" things are papers I might actually need to look at again over the next year or so. Things related to insurance, tax-preparation, etc. Right now, I have 4 such folders: tax-preparation, house/car/insurance, cats (one of my cats has asthma) and "everything else".

    Elsewhere, I have hanging folders with the same genre names for each past year. Sometime around January 1, I move everything from the "last year" section into its own folder in the big filing cabinet, move everything from the "this year" section to the "last year" section, and might dig through the "some other time" section if I'm feeling like it.

    Why this works for me:

    My old filing method can loosely be described as two boxes: "stuff" and "old stuff", I'd open bills, deal with them, and throw them in the "stuff to file" box... where they'd stay forever. Every couple of years, the "stuff to file" box would get full. I'd start digging through it planning to weed out everything but the latest stuff, then get bored halfway through and just throw it all in the "really old stuff" box. About 10 years after college, I had about 5 such bankers' boxes full of stuff that was technically supposed to be filed, organized roughly by year. It worked surprisingly well, but once I bought a house and started getting torrents of papers that had to be filed, I accumulated almost an entire box of papers in less than a year (previously, it took 2-3 years to get to that point). Worse, I was starting to spend lots of time digging through the boxes. So, I came up with a better idea.

    Plan B entailed having two boxes for "current" stuff -- one for things I knew I'd probably never look at again, and one for things I thought I might need again. This strategy worked surprisingly well for a year, but became unwieldy early in year 2 because I THEN had to deal with five banker's boxes of papers: this year's dead and useful papers, last year's dead and useful papers, and a box to throw everything else into (because I knew, deep down, that I would never, ever file them properly, and the alternative was a pile on my desk that would sit forever). So, I spent some time thinking of ways to distill its essence and still keep my filing minimal and manageable, but a little more portable than five boxes that were all mostly empty.

    That was how I came up with my current system. Everything still gets filed by "this year", "last year", or "anytime", but I now have a place to explicitly put things that previously fell through the cracks... things that were kind of "timeless" go in "anytime" as well. The "anytime" category actually ended up being useful in another way. Even though it means I technically have to look in two places to find something I think might be related to a specific year, it also means that the few papers I really, truly DID need to access again tend to stay in the main filing area (where I can get at them easily).

    The biggest problem I had was switching to legal-size folders. Why legal-size? Because 99% of the bills I get are legal size. I can barely even remember the last time I got a bill that was small enough to fit in a letter-sized folder without having to

  • by Ritchie70 (860516) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @06:19PM (#35993386) Journal

    I can't imagine why i would keep most of that at all, but thie method for such things that works for me is a 12-month accordion file. Just keep reusing it. When you come to a month that has papers already, throw most of it away, shredding the sensitive stuff. If there's something you feel you need to keep either start a file folder for it elsewhere or leave it in the accordion pocket ntil next year to reevaluate.

  • by TechForensics (944258) on Sunday May 01, 2011 @06:52PM (#35993584) Homepage Journal

    Most dumbfounded I've ever been after reading any thread on Slashdot in at least a decade. There are paper filing cabinets galore, and even PaperPort has its merit, so who with any technical ability would muck with files when every filing cabinet you own, hundreds if you have them, can be on your desktop and every drawer icon a different color for selection by mouse and re-creating in printed form from where you sit??? Tell me about just *one* modern hospital that doesn't store, organize and re-create medical records just like that?

    Underutilization of this technology has been one of my largest battlements. Now that I see even Slashdot isn't more into it, I think something more than technophobia is going on here. I'm really scratching my head but I can't see what it is.

    The one profession that CAN NOT do without this software is Attorney. Pretty good for CPAs too. Doctors have eClinicalWorks. *What is the excuse* for being so far behind the curve, Slashdot?

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