Conquering Paperwork in the Home Office

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Most households have far more paperwork than they need, incorrectly believing that they need to have it.  Paperwork gives people a sense of safety, confidence, convenience and even sentimentality. But these attributes are untrue when one can't easily put their hands on the needed paperwork, and it has built up causing stress and tension in the home.  With today's technology, we can exchange piles of papers and stuffed cabinets for just a handful of documents plus the cloud, a USB Key/portable hard drive and online accounts.

Instead of thinking of paperwork as something which must be kept, think instead of it as something which should be diminished and avoided wherever possible. By doing so, not only will you reduce the impact on the environment, you will save your sanity and prevent storage and organisation hassles. 

Digital copies of your paperwork are always preferable to hard copies wherever possible. The great news is that almost all your paperwork can be discarded in favour of either online account access, receiving bills via email, sourcing information online or as a last resort, scanning.

Steps to getting started in paper reduction

  • Opt for your bills to be delivered electronically to you via email

  • Stop paper statements from being generated and mailed

  • Create online accounts wherever possible

  • Put a No Junk Mail sticker on your mail box

  • Subscribe to digital versions of newsletters and magazines

For the remaining paper in your life, approach it from the point of view of emergency preparedness. Consider what you might need and want if you ever had to leave your home within quickly and without warning.  As emergencies effect 1/3 Australians, it's best to assume it will happen to you at some time.

When the bushfires swept through Victoria on Black Saturday in 2009, during the aftermath many victims encountered difficulties making insurance claims without their identification and policy details which has been lost in the fire. Forward planning such as the below helps to reduce issues and delays when you need help most. 

What you actually need as hard copies. Vital Personal Documents

Have all your hard copy Vital Personal Documents together in an enclosed, waterproof container which is easy to grab (or even better, a fireproof box). Include the following:

  • birth/marriage certificates

  • wills and trusts

  • powers of attorney

  • funeral plans

  • passports

  • a list of your insurance policies and their providers (not the full policies themselves)

  • valuation certificates

  • a list of your bank accounts/credit cards/loan details and their providers

  • citizenship papers

  • property deeds

  • a list if your logins/passwords

  • medical records

  • vet records

  • any anything else you would deem a Vital Personal Document.

Everyone in the family should know where this is and be able to get it in an emergency. You should also scan these documents and have them available to you on the cloud, on a USB key or on a portable hard drive.

If you don't have a printer with a in-built scanner, download the Scannable App to your phone for excellent quality scans which can then be emailed or stored digitally. 

Personal Taxes

In Australia, you are required to keep personal taxation records for 5 years. 

The ATO advises: “Documents that you are required to keep can be in written or electronic form. If you make paper or electronic copies they must be a true and clear reproduction of the original. We recommend that if you store your records electronically you make a backup copy to ensure the evidence is easily accessible if the original becomes inaccessible or unreadable – for example, where a hard drive is corrupted.” You can learn more from the ATO HERE.

Therefore you can scan your taxation documents and have them available on the cloud, on a USB key or on a portable hard drive. Destroy your hard copy personal documents of this nature carefully by shredding or using a secure destruction service. Places such as Officeworks offer this service.

Business Taxes

In Australia, you are required to keep business records for 7 years.

The ATO advises: “You can keep invoicing, payment and other business transaction records electronically or on paper. The principles are the same for each, but keeping electronic records will make some tasks easier”. You can learn more from the ATO HERE.

Records kept for the ATO and ASIC can be stored electronically. Therefore, you can use electronic record-keeping software where possible and keep any other business documents electronically scanned to avoid hard copy paperwork in your office. 

Managing Digital Documents

Insure all your digital documents (Word, Excel etc) are backed up to a cloud storage system, and accessible from any online device. Make sure the process works properly and automatically. Alternatively, have an external hard drive or USB key with your backups which you can grab quickly.

Hard copy paperwork to discard, digitise or source online

Banking - Opt for internet banking. Then you only require a list of your bank account details including the Bank Name, BSB and Account Number. Add this list to your Vital Personal Documents and securely discard the paperwork. Stop paper statements wherever possible. 

Insurance - You only require a list of your insurance policy details including name of Insurer, policy number, subject of cover, type of cover, value of cover and special inclusions. You do not require full copies of your Certificate of Insurance or associated Product Disclosure statements, although it is your responsibility to read and understand the information. All the information about your policy and coverage is kept on file for you with the insurance company, and PDS's can be reordered at any time. Add this list to your Vital Personal Documents and securely discard the paperwork.

Warranties - Warranty cards are only used once a year, if at all. Keep them all together in one place; do not separate into categories. Clean out this collection annually and turf anything out of date.

Manuals -  Manuals which come with electrical appliance and similar type items are not necessary to keep, as copies are available online. Conduct a quick Google search to ensure your manual is online, then discard your hard copy. You might like to keep a 1 page list of the different products and their model numbers/manual names as a quick reference.

Pay slips - There is no need to retain pay slips, as this information can be re-sourced from your HR department or is likely available in digital form at work. If you’re concerned about dishonest behaviour by your employer, then scan your copies onto your computer.

Study notes - It is highly unlikely that you will ever re-read study notes or review paperwork from seminars and exhibition. The information you needed from these events has already been absorbed into your mind. When sorting through old documents of this nature, ask yourself to honestly identify what you have used since the event (such as a process flow/cheat sheet/definitions etc). Compile this small percentage of information into 1 file for easy access. Discard the rest.

Receipts - Keep for 2 weeks if you might return the item; then discard. 

Coupons - Only keep current ones you will actually use. Keep them in your hand bag.

Used Cheque Books - There is no need to retain used cheque books.

Business cards - Record all business card info and related notes onto 1 small notebook and discard the cards.

Gift cards - Put them in your purse and use them!