You Don’t Need to Hang onto Paperwork Forever. Here’s When It’s Safe to Toss It.

Step inside most homes and you’ll see a common sight: stacks of papers. Invading spaces everywhere are cards, bills, junk mail, schoolwork, receipts— we could go on and on. Even if you’ve signed up for paperless correspondence, paper still creates its own clutter storm in your house.

Instead of throwing it away, some of us decide to “save it for later” which turns into an indefinite length of stay. More of us either let it collect where it sits or relocate one pile only to start a new one in its place. When does it end?

Your wish is to declutter and organize, but then you have to decide what to do with all of it. It’s annoying. It’s overwhelming. And it’s no fun. But you know you need to get a handle on it, so that’s why we’re sharing some paper slaying ideas with you today.

The first thing you need to do is gather your crowd of documents together and sort through them. Next, you can look forward to saying goodbye to some and holding on to others.

  1. What to Keep Forever

    The obvious ones are things like legal documents, medical records, and payments to government agencies. Also in this group are insurance-related papers, wills, marriage, birth, death, and adoption paperwork.

  2. What to Keep for 5-7 Years (or Slightly Beyond)

    IRS paperwork and other documents related to running a business if you own one should be kept for years. Financial documents related to retirement, loans, or major purchases should also be retained. After someone passes away, keep for two years.

  3. What to Keep for 1 to 3 Years

    Your paystubs can be kept on file for a year or until after you’ve filed your taxes, but some legal pros recommend holding them up to four years or so in case you have a legal disagreement with your employer.

    Receipts for major auto or home repairs may also be retained for at least a year or much longer than 1 to 3 years should you anticipate a need for supporting documents with future transactions.

  4. What to Keep for 10 to 60 Days

    If you still get them in paper form, bank and credit card statements can be disposed of once you’ve checked them, unless you need them for business or tax reasons. The same goes for ATM receipts and utility bills after they’ve been reconciled against your accounts.

  5. What to Toss Immediately

    Hello, junk mail.

  6. Miscellaneous

    Things like owner’s manuals, magazines, or shipping slips should be tossed at your own discretion or until you no longer need them. Do you really need the washing machine manual 8 years after you bought it? Warranties, greeting cards, or your kids’ first grade kindergarten assignments should be viewed with either a business or sentimental eye, but consider where exactly you’d like to store these things.

When we say keep, it doesn’t necessarily mean in a paper format. You can certainly set up a filing system to keep hard copies of documents, but your other option is to scan these items to preserve as digital files. There’s also software available that takes the place of having a metal filing cabinet in your home. Check it out and don’t be afraid to shred, scan, trash, or file your stacks away!

Are you guilty of having a mild paper hoarding issue? What’s your system for addressing paper piles? How old is your oldest set of “irrelevant” documents?