I crave an organized home, but there is one area in which I seem to be constantly fighting an uphill battle: how to get rid of paper clutter. Every week we receive piles of bills, statements, etc. that I have to deal with or they start to overrun my kitchen.
I thought I had it under control with my old system. As soon as mail comes into the house and I’ve opened it, it goes into my catch-all “incoming” box for me to deal with later. About once a week I go through this box and set up a to-do list of things that need to be paid and put all the rest into another tray to be filed.
My filing setup consists of folders stored in file boxes. A folder for insurance statements, a folder for pay stubs, a folder for tax documents, etc.
I thought I had it under control. My folders were neatly labeled and stored. But then the folders began to get full, and then stuffed to the point that I could barely cram them into the boxes when I had new papers to add. And if you’re like me, the mail never stops and the papers just keep coming. But I was too afraid to throw anything away– what if I needed proof of something years down the road??
Finally I decided enough was enough! Surely I didn’t need old electricity bills from my apartment six years ago! I decided to do a little research about what I absolutely needed to keep and what I could toss to clear some space in my office.
Apparently, you don’t need to keep nearly as much as I had been! Imagine my excitement as I realized just how much clutter I could finally get rid of!
Here are things that you can toss after one year*:
- Utility Bills
- Cable/Entertainment Bills
- Phone Bills
- Bank Statements
- Monthly Investment/Retirement Statements
- Pay Stubs (or after you’ve reconciled with your W2)
- Credit card bills
*Some sources say that you can pitch monthly statements when you receive the next month’s, others suggest waiting until you receive a year end statement (especially for bank/investment/retirement accounts). Just to be safe, I would keep these for a year (which is much better than keeping them indefinitely like I used to!) If any of these things are claimed on your taxes as a business expense, you’ll want to hang on to them for three years after filing.
TIP: If you don’t have one, it’s a good idea to invest in a paper shredder (like this Amazon #1 Best-selling Paper & Credit Card Shredder) to protect against identity theft. Trash is one place that identity thieves look, so it’s best to make it difficult for them!
How long to keep tax documents?
You DON’T want to throw your tax returns (and supporting documents) away! My dad always told me to keep these for at least seven years, and he’s right. The IRS can audit you for up to six years after you filed, so you want to make sure you have everything you need!
What else do you need to keep longer than one year?
- Medical Bills are recommended to be kept for three years
- Vehicle Titles (as long as you are in possession of the vehicle)
- Year-end account statements (investment, retirement, etc. — for as long as you maintain assets in these accounts)
- Home Purchase or Lease Documents (for as long as you live in or own a property)
- Insurance Policies (for as long as the policy is in force — if you receive an updated policy you can toss the old one)
What should you NEVER throw away?
This probably goes without saying, but any personal and identification documents/records (birth, marriage, social security, passports, etc.) should be kept forever. Ideally, you’ll want a fire-safe (and/or water-safe if you’re in a hurricane prone area like us!) storage container.
You’ll also want to hold on to any loan documents and contracts for as long as these are in force, or you are paying on them. Keep any payoff statements forever as proof.
I’ve put together a handy FREE printable “cheat sheet” to help you get rid of paper clutter in your home too!