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The White Shelf Approach to Home Organization

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Declutter Your Life: Mastering Receipt and Document Organization

Even though our world is steadily moving away from paper and physical office tools, one of the problem areas in most homes still revolves around the storage of paperwork, specifically in the home office. Fortunately using the right type of document organization system can help improve this area of your life. 

What Type of Organizer Is Best?

It’s important to shop for document organizers that will fit your personality and lifestyle. It has to be something you can pretty easily incorporate into your life or you may not use it at all, or at least as well as you could. Take some time to honestly evaluate your current habits to determine what type of document management system would work best for you and your household. Of course to improve organization you need to be prepared to adjust some of your habits too.

Document Organizer

For many people the best way to adequately organize documents and receipts is to have a two-step filing system:

  • Step One: Collect and save important receipts and documents. You can do this physically or electronically.
  • Step Two: File your receipts and documents in a long-term document management system. This system can be paper or electronic depending on your preference.

A Document Organizer is Key at Tax Time

If you want to take advantage of all the business and personal deductions available at tax time, it’s crucial that you have the backup for them accessible. To help with this there are a few different types of document storage and organization systems available, as well as digital document management or cloud storage.

Once a month (or more often), take all of the tax paperwork you’ve gathered and organize and/or scan it. Some accounting programs, like Quickbooks allow you to attach scanned documents to invoices and other transactions making it particularly easy at tax time. There are also digital or electronic document management programs that will keep track of keywords or tags so that documents are quick and easy to find whenever you need them. If you get digital receipts via email create a label or folder for those receipts so they are all in one place and easy to find.

If you file your documents electronically you can physically file the originals and still have a quick reference electronically that is easy to access. Keep in mind electronic files can become corrupted so it is good to keep the originals too. If you use the electronic method for long-term storage you’ll want to have a robust backup system in place in case of hard drive failure or data corruption. Always store one copy off of the premises in case of fire; if you use cloud or remote servers for digital document storage your files will automatically be stored off site so your backups won’t be vulnerable to fires or other possible home disasters, but you’ll want to encrypt the data for additional security.

With the right type of file organization you’ll be in a much better position to track down records and receipts that will allow you to deduct as much as possible on your tax return.

Portable Document Organizers

Portable Document Organizer

There are a few types of portable document organizers.  You may find yourself using a few different styles depending on your system and your needs.

  • Travel Document Organizer – Travel document organizers help keep all the necessary documents and paperwork together when you travel. Quality organizers should have a place for a passport, boarding pass and receipts. Some also work as a wallet and provide storage space for identification, credit cards and cash.
  • Portable Paper Organizer – You can find these in several styles. If you’ll be in a situation where you’ll be gathering letter or legal sized documents, be sure the organizer you use will accommodate that size paper. Many professionals find that zippered binders or accordion organizers work well.
  • Desktop Document Organizer – You may want to have a desktop organization system that you integrate with a longer term storage solution.

Long-Term Organizers

The most common long-term paper storage solutions are filing cabinets or file boxes. For best results, be sure to file by date as well as by subject so that you can archive or destroy paper documents once they are no longer needed.

Find time on a regular basis to file your documents and receipts into your long-term document management system.  If you do it regularly, like monthly or weekly, it shouldn’t take long.  Make it a simple task so it’s not something you dread doing or something you procrastinate.

Go Electronic With Online Document Storage

If you have limited space, or if you’re looking to streamline your filing processes, consider going digital. Instead of using a file cabinet, scan your documents and store them digitally using document management software.   Another option is to use online document storage, or cloud storage, instead of storing the files on a single computer or network. There are a number of advantages to storing your documents online, but you also need to take some extra precautions for security when storing sensitive information.

Using cloud storage for your documents allows you to access them from multiple locations and on multiple devices. It also allows you to access these files even if your computer is destroyed in a natural disaster or fire. Services like Dropbox or SugarSync make storing and accessing documents from multiple locations easy. But if you are storing any documents with sensitive information like account numbers or your social security number you will need to encrypt those files with something like TrueCrypt to make sure they are secure and inaccessible by others.

More people are choosing to go electronic. The benefit of electronic files or online document storage is that these electronic files don’t degrade over time and they don’t take up valuable physical storage space. Also, finding those elusive business receipts and personal documents is quick and easy when you have them properly named and organized.

Document Organization Pays Off

They key to home office organization and getting the most deductions is to keep track of all your expenses and receipts. With a streamlined filing process you’re more likely to remember your expenses and have the proof to claim them on your return.

The monetary and time investment required to set up a good document management system is well worth it when you consider the tax savings and the time you will save searching for paperwork.