Oprah and Aunt Mary may be responsible for massive piles of paper in the United States.
That's the assessment of Deniece Schofield, an author who specializes in home organization and cutting clutter.
Oprah does her part, Schofield says, by telling horror stories.
"It's, 'This person forgot to save her paycheck stub and look what happened - she's homeless now,'" Schofield says.
Meanwhile, Aunt Mary is the generic name Schofield uses for a seemingly wise relative who once told you needed to keep a certain document for a decade or longer. Your aunt may be named Ellen, or perhaps Catherine.
Truth is, Schofield says, people keep way too many documents in their files.
"We err more on the side of keeping stuff," she says. "We're so afraid."
Schofield, who lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, tours the country giving seminars on how to eliminate clutter and organize the papers and other materials that are worth keeping.
She'll be in Lawrence Tuesday for two seminars at the Quality Inn, 801 Iowa.
As thousands of Lawrence residents prepare to move with their leases up Aug. 1, Schofield says there's no better time to think about weeding out your files.
"It's cheaper and faster if you do it before you move," she says. "You're just wasting time if you pack stuff you don't want."
She says the digital age has made it unnecessary to hold onto many paper documents.
The important things to hold onto are proof of ownership papers (in case something gets stolen) and official papers such as medical, divorce or military records. Those items - along with must-haves such as car titles and lien releases - should be kept in a safe-deposit box, Schofield says.
Tax records and materials backing up your tax return also should be kept for at least three years, generally the period of time the Internal Revenue Service has to audit your returns.
She says people only need to keep their utility bills or credit card bills until they receive their next bill - to make sure their last payment got registered - and should keep paycheck stubs only until they get their next one, assuming the records on the paychecks include a cumulative total of pay for the year.
Banks and employers can easily print out another paper record for you if it's needed.
"Be very generous with what you get rid of," Schofield says.
As for the items you are keeping, she suggests storing them in two expanding files with multiple pockets.
One can be for financial records stored by month, for easier access when it comes to tax time. The other should be for warranty papers and receipts stored alphabetically by the product you purchased.
Schofield says younger generations typically find it easier to discard paper than older folks.
"The younger people say, 'What's this piece of paper?'" Schofield says. "It's the computer age. As kids get older, they won't even be having paper bills."
How long do you store it?
How long should you keep documents? Here are some suggestions from the National Association of Federal Credit Unions: Items to keep in a safe-deposit box: ¢ Automobile title and lien release - Keep until vehicle is sold or traded. ¢ Credit or installment records - Keep until debt is paid. ¢ Will and trust documents - Keep indefinitely. ¢ Property ownership documents - Keep until property is sold, then keep a copy of purchase and sale agreements indefinitely. ¢ Investments - Keep until sold, maturity and/or redemption. ¢ Records in case house is robbed, damaged or destroyed - as long as you have items. In home files: ¢ Automobile payment book - Keep until car is paid in full. ¢ Automobile repair records, receipts for parts and record of gasoline purchases - Keep until car is sold or traded. ¢ Financial records - Keep for three years. ¢ Receipts for major purchases - Keep until item is sold or discarded. ¢ Home improvement receipts - Keep three years. ¢ Termite inspection policy - Keep until property is sold. ¢ Record of traffic violations or accidents - Keep for six years after incident. ¢ Investments - Keep until third year after the asset is sold. ¢ Paycheck stubs - Keep until checking against W-2 totals at end of year.