The Second Tuesday of March is National Organize Your Home Office Day.
Over the past 13 years, I’ve learned a lot from my clients and experiences in home offices. Why are Home Offices a Challenge?
- Home offices are still evolving, as more workers move out of brick-and-mortar offices.
- With a blend of both home and office, there is just more paper to deal with, plus the boundaries between professional and personal papers blur.
- Industries often provide Document Retention Policies, with clear instructions about what papers to keep, and how to confidentially get rid of documents when they are no longer needed (consider medical records in a hospital). However, personal papers do NOT come with document retention policies, and we have to create them.
Most of the papers we have in our homes and offices fall into three categories:
- Passive; and
Your home office undoubtedly contains all three types, and each type requires different handling and storage. Here ‘s what you need to know about each type:
Active Papers are defined as papers that require some action to be taken. Examples of Active Papers are: a bill to pay, a greeting card to send, a form to complete and send back to school. The actions required might be a bit more complex, too, for example: a sports schedule to be entered into your calendar; a business card from a new contact that needs to be entered into your contacts and also an email sent; a reminder to call someone or make an appointment.
The most important thing to know about Active Papers is to ACT ON THEM, and then move them on. So, pay the bill, send the card, complete the form, enter the info, make the call, send the email. And them move the papers along, either into Passive storage, Archival storage, or the shredder or recycling bin.
Passive Papers are Active Papers whose actions are complete. Now, they require no further action except for retention for a predetermined amount of time (for reference or just in case), and then safe and confidential disposal. For example, you may decide to keep one full year of receipts, paid bills, statements and the like until you file your taxes for last year. Some people may feel more comfortable keeping 2 full years, and that’s OK, too.
The important thing to remember about Passive Papers is the “keep for an amount of time and then dispose of them” part of their definition. Often my clients and I unearth grocery receipts from 4 years ago, maintenance records for cars they no longer own, or the electric bill from 7 years ago. None of these papers have any bearing on our life today, and are just cluttering up our office and files.
Set up your Passive Paper files to store each month’s info together (no more micromanaging your filing), decide how long – 1 year or 2 years – to keep your Passive Papers, then put an annual date on the calendar with your shredder for old Passive Paper destruction.
Archival Papers are the papers you will need in 5, 10, 20 or more years. Archival Papers may include, but are not limited to: mortgage papers, car titles, certificates (birth, marriage, sacramental), passports and original social security cards, etc.
There are two tricks to handling Archival Papers. The first is to be able to identify what is TRULY archival. A couple questions to ask yourself: Who else needs to know this info? Will it have bearing on my life or decisions in a year or 10 or 20? Will someone ask me for this information some day? How important was the transaction attached to this information?
Very few papers actually make it to Archival status, so you don’t need to dedicate too much space to them. But the other important tip you need is to keep your Archival Papers SAFE. Invest in a portable fireproof safe, or a safety deposit box at the bank.
Invest a little time to day and this week to restore order in your home office. Consider the various piles of paper in your space, determine what type of papers you have, and plan your work and storage accordingly.