We know for sure you’ve had moments of waking up in the middle of the night, wondering: “Where did I put my birth certificate?!” You’re not alone in that because so many of us forget how to organize important documents at home and end up roaming through mountains of mail, paper, and drawers to find what we need. The time has come to think about paperwork with a little more care and attention and learn ways to classify them.
Which Documents Are Considered Important?
Before even talking about how to keep important documents organized, we should discuss which ones are important enough to keep. Learning which document means what is the first step towards making plans to organize. In that case, when it’s time to collect the moving essentials or plan out to move in a hurry, the paperwork won’t be displaced.
Personal Papers and Legal Documents
Of course, the most important documents anyone owns are personal ones, which are proof of ID. Legally, you shouldn’t relocate anywhere without them. Birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates and licenses, adoption documentation, and social security cards are vital documentation that any family needs to have in a safely marked and tucked away place, where you’ll always be able to find them.
Financial Account and Tax Documents
We all know the famous sentence about how nothing is certain except death and taxes, and you can freely count tax records into that as well. Any tax forms (like W-2 and 1099), receipts, records, and returns are essential parts of your documents list. Apart from these, any financial statements from your bank, as well as disability, retirement, and pension plan records, are to be kept in a safe spot to avoid losing them.
Health and Medical Records
Learning how to organize documents matters a lot with health records. Keeping medical histories of you and your family members is especially significant for people who suffer from chronic illnesses and require medical proof for them. Those could be hospital bills or simple doctor’s instructions that people typically get. Apart from these, health insurance policies, burial instructions and will count as medical documentation.
Keeping these is more about thinking for the long term because taking them out again in case of loss of the will take lots of money and time you may not have. These definitely fall on the list of things to keep.
Home and Other Property Records
Whenever you take your car for a service or renew its registration, you need to provide the ownership and service paper. This happens at least once a year, so they fall under vital property records. In case you’re a homeowner, keeping all the mortgage data and ownership rights nearby can significantly make life easier once they’re needed, say if you plan to rent out your home.
Warranties for Household Items and Appliances
Warranties for household appliances are mostly valid while they last, which could be one to ten years, depending on the appliance, brand, and warranty policy. You’re free to toss them out with the rest of the trash only when they expire. Otherwise, make sure to find separate folders to keep them in because if something malfunctions or you experiment with packing electronics and fail, expect a large sum of money for repairs.
How to Organize Important Documents at Home In A Few Steps
Now that you’re a bit more aware of which documentation requires safekeeping, the moment is right to try to classify it. If you’re moving and want every paper filed in order, it’d be best to store them in a separate container. You may have to decide how many moving boxes it’ll take to pack everything, but make sure one is for important documentation.
Otherwise, there are different ways on how to store important documents at home, and the following three are the most common.
Divide the Paperwork With Color Coding
This may be the most logical and creative way to store any important paper. Color coding also gives the most freedom for filing stuff however you like since you can pick a color for each category of documentation according to preference. Personal records can be stored in your favorite-colored binder or folder, tax records under a color that signifies importance, like red, for example, financial statements can be stored under a color that reminds you of money or payments, and so on.
The good part about color coding is that you’ll automatically know where to reach and store new stuff that comes along after a while. After arranging the documentation by color, make sure to put them in a safe place that’s easily accessible. We recommend colorful folders and binders that fit on shelves or desks. With that, all the documentation you need to survive, including the checklist for moving to another state, can be stored in a visible place.
File Them in Alphabetical Order, Separate Or By Category
Who said organizing important documents couldn’t be fun? We all know our ABCs, and alphabetical order is typically how any papers or items are filed. Now, the options for organizing in alphabetical order also depend on preference – would you rather alphabetize every single file or group of documentation with a similar role?
These two options present some freedom in filing, but they could be confusing, too. We’d recommend alphabetizing groups of files rather than one by one because that could cause more confusion. Putting a medical bill and then the list for your college move next to each other can seem strange, but if you get used to the order and prefer things to be that way, that’s great.
Organize Them by Importance (Most to Least Important)
Just like with preparing for a move or in the case of going to a new city, there are things to do that have a hierarchy. Paperwork can also be stored in order of importance, it just depends on what’s important to you. If you’re currently moving into a new house, then the ownership documentation and policies for all your appliances are the main files to store right now.
If you’re moving out for the first time, then the files of utmost importance would be the relocation contract you signed with the cross-country moving company, personal papers, and ownership documentation or rental agreement for the new place. This is a good opportunity to categorize files by importance, but other ways may be better for that if they have to sit tight in one place.
After Organizing, Use Shelves to Store Written Records Right
It matters how, but it also matters where to store important documents. After picking out the perfect way to categorize, finding a good place for the paperwork to stay in is vital. That could be the desk at your office, the storage or filing cabinet in the living room, or the top of the dresser in the bedroom, just use the most accessible place to keep them.
We recommend designating a special shelf or getting a shelving system to put in a room where files would be the safest. If you have a family, maybe it’d be a good idea to post the shelves a bit taller than child-height levels because kids don’t know what is important and what isn’t. Mainly, if you color code them, that could entice kids to roam through and cause a mess. If there aren’t appropriate storage areas to use, we recommend creating your DIY floating shelf for essential documentation.
You can learn how to make shelves all by yourself from the video below.
How Long Should You Keep Paperwork?
While it’s good to arrange everything, it’s sometimes better to declutter. While figuring out how to organize important papers, see if there are any that you don’t require anymore. This mostly applies to receipts for purchases and expired warranties. However, some files must be kept for a while, so it’s good to verify all of them before filling up the bin.
Here’s how long you should store all the essential and non-essential documentation:
- Personal records – these should never, ever be thrown away, and we hope this makes sense. They are proof of life and identity and the first kind of document anyone will ask you about. In case you do lose your birth certificate, you need to know what to do.
- Property records – you won’t need these for eternity, but ten years is a reasonable period. This is due mainly to mortgages and loans that last about ten years, or however long it takes to pay them off.
- Tax statements – these have a definite recommendation, and that’s keeping them for seven years. Within a seven-year period, there could be various random checks from the IRS. If you make any property purchases or rent an apartment, having this information could save you.
- Bank statements – keep these for at least a year, as you may need them for checking recent transactions. They may also come in handy in cases of disputing expenses or making big purchases.
- Medical file records – these can also be stored for at least a year because they’re usually a thorn in the side. Keeping proof of making payments to a hospital will come in handy if there are any disputes.
- Utility bills – keep these for about a month since they arrive in the mail monthly. Toss the old ones after thirty days unless there are extraordinary sums you need to pay or have disputed.
- Receipts – keeping receipts is recommended but not necessary. Hold onto them for a few weeks if you want, but when it comes to throwing them out, you may as well do it after each purchase. When it comes to receipts, keeping them depends on preference.
What to Do With Documents When Moving
It’s good to know how to classify all your documentation while arranging things at home, but when it comes to moving cross-country, you should make a definitive move-out list and itemize everything you want packed, including them. Any tips for relocating you find out there could help make relocation and packing easier, as well as handling relocation stress.
If there’s a lot of paperwork to pack, the best thing to do is keep them categorized and arranged in the same way and put them in a separate box like that. The container shouldn’t be large but not tight either. A tight, small box can make paper fall out during transport, and a large box could get misplaced and end up in a storage unit.
The most recommended step to take here is to find a laptop bag, pack all essential documentation and mail into it, and have it at your side at all times. This makes it easier to store and find documentation when you finish moving in. Later, you’ll only have to think about not making any relocating mistakes, and once you’ve settled, how to make friends in the new city.
Can Movers Help With Important Papers?
Cross-country movers may give you information on how to store important documents when relocating, but not how to arrange them once you’re settled into a new place. While they can offer packing services and help with moving services without a hitch, there’s no need to ask them about papers. In any case, moving across the country will become easier with experts, but packing documents won’t. There are actions you’ll have to take on your own.
While a cross-country movers group is preparing to move your furniture and making sure they secure the TV for transport, you can gather essential papers to pack. There should be a separate stash of items you’ll require immediately upon moving in, so we recommend making space for a ‘most important’ pile, which essential paperwork will be a part of.