Part of living a simple life, to me, is decluttering. While I’m not into the magazine-spotless almost Spartan look, I hate having stuff everywhere. In my house, everything has a place and while it might wander, when I’m ready to clean, everything has a spot. If it doesn’t have a permanent home, then I either find one, or get rid of it. There is one exception to this rule, though: papers.
For some reason, papers (especially mail) tends to build up at my house and no matter how many folders I create to try and keep it under control, it’s like they breed when I’m not looking. I have papers coming out my ears! I knew that some of them I ought to be keeping, but which ones? How long?
Well, I decided to look it up, and things seem to break up into six categories, which we’ll go into below.
Documents to Keep Forever
Not only should you keep these forever, but you should have a hard copy stored somewhere safe like a deposit box or a locked, fireproof box at home.
- Birth and death certificates
- Social security cards
- Pension plan documents
- ID cards and passports
- Marriage license
- Divorce decree
- Business license
- Wills, living wills, and powers of attorney
- Vehicle titles and loan documents
- House deeds and mortgage documents
- Investment information, like stocks or bonds
Documents to Keep for 7 Years (or more)
These documents are not quite as important, but close and should be kept in a file somewhere for at least seven years.
- Tax information (W2, W9, 1099, etc)
- Business phone and utility bills
- Cancelled checks
- Property tax receipts
- Property purchase receipts
- Property improvement documents (Keep for six years after you sell)
- Warranty documents (keep as long as you own them)
- Bank statements
- Tuition payments
- Charitable receipts
- Brokerage statements
Documents to Keep for 1 – 3 Years
Most of these should be reconciled with your taxes at the end of the year, and then you’re free to get rid of them.
- Pay stubs
- Medical bills
- Credit card statements
- Mortgage statements
Documents to Keep the Newest Version Of
These documents will be updated frequently, and you should keep it until you get the newer version. Then compare, and shred the old.
- Any insurance policy (good to keep even if they have a digital copy in case problems come up)
- Social security statements
- Annual insurance policy statements
- Retirement plan statements (401(k), 529, IRA, etc)
Documents to Keep for 1 Month
Keep these only until you’ve confirmed it with the next bill or paper, then throw them out or shred them.
- Sales receipts
- Utility bills
- phone bills
- ATM receipts/deposit slips
- Credit card receipts (not statements)
Make sure that if the document has any sensitive information (like account numbers or card numbers) you shred it. Things that simply have account balances and your address on them are fine—as long as there isn’t any other identifying information available.