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Call me old-fashioned, but I love handwritten letters and scraps of paper memorabilia. The bits of paper I’ve saved over the years tell the story of my life, of first loves and time-tested friendships, of places seen and memories captured.   

One particularly precious memento is a slip of paper with a phone number written on it.

I gave it to my husband the night we met, and he’s tucked it away for almost 13 years.

Had we met more recently, however, it’s very likely there would be no record of the night he asked for my phone number; he probably would have just stored my number in his phone.   

My affinity for all things paper is unabashedly sentimental, but sentimentality aside, there are many good reasons to maintain paper records. It’s true that digital records are often easier to send, store and manage, but well-organized paper records are still necessary.

In fact, the more information becomes digitized, the more important it is to have access to paper copies of your records.

Anyone who has ever been unable to access a digital storage system, or had a computer or cellphone crash or malfunction, knows just how important a paper trail can be.

You may need paper records for a variety of reasons. Digital storage systems can fail. You may need to provide documentation when you challenge incorrect information, when you file any sort of claim with an insurance company, when you file your taxes or if you must undergo a tax audit.  You also will need good paper records when dealing with a medical issue, or when you must establish your identity or ownership of something.

Even upon your death, you will need to have the appropriate records in place so that your family or executors will be able to locate and distribute your possessions. 

Paper records are often necessary when unexpected or unfortunate circumstances arise, making it all the more important to keep papers well-organized and on hand.

You can start a basic filing system by focusing on 11 core categories. These include bills paid, bank statements, credit card information, tax records, home and property records, medical records, insurance records, receipts and warranties, automobile records, retirement information and personal family records. 

If you’ve never had a personal filing system, or if you would simply like to streamline your paper records, start by getting 11 file folders and labeling them with the categories I listed above.

If you have your personal documents scattered around the house, gather them in one place where you will have plenty of room to sort and file them.

One obstacle to creating a filing system that works is to know what to keep and what to toss. If you’ve been in the habit of throwing out all of your paper documents up to this point, commit to getting a filing system in place before you throw out any more.

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If your boxes of files are full to overflowing, you will need to find time to sort through all of your paperwork. 

People often wonder how long they should store important documents.

You’ll need some, such as home and property records, for years.

Other documents, such as receipts, may be needed only a few days or weeks. Before you start or reorganize your filing system, go to, where you’ll find a list of documents you should keep, and for what length of time.

The next time you need to access some essential document, you’ll be glad you took time to create an easy, efficient filing system.

Carey Denman is a writer and editor with the American Center for Credit Education, a nonprofit publisher of financial education materials.  Contact her at 348-4550 or

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