Declutter By Shredding

Do you ever feel like your home is being taken over by paper? I know I can't be the only one. Between bills, papers from school, instructions, loan documents, deeds, papers from church, calendars, warranty documents, and everything else, our homes are overwhelmed by paper.

Paper keeps flooding in and then staying. Because we don't know how long to keep things, we end up saving everything.  We fall behind with filing things and we end up with stacks of paper all around the house.

Today we are going to break down the different documents and papers we have filling our homes and how long we actually need to be holding on to them.  Some things need to be kept forever, while others can be thrown away immediately.  Still others are somewhere in the middle. Lack of knowledge on what needs to be saved and for how long is often what causes us to hold onto everything indefinitely.  Let's start off with the things we really need to hold onto forever.

Hold Onto These Documents Forever

  • Academic Records - Diplomas, transcripts and any portfolio work which could be used when applying for a job.

  • Adoption Papers

  • Baptismal Certificates

  • Birth Certificates

  • Death Certificates - These can sometimes be needed for tax purposes.

  • Driver's Licenses

  • Employment Records - Any clauses, agreements, disciplinary files and performance reviews.

  • Marriage Certificates

  • Medical Records

  • Military Records

  • Passports

  • Retirement and Pension Records

  • Social Security Cards

  • Wills

Most of the items on this list should generally be placed in a safe or a secure filing cabinet. This obviously excludes your driver’s license which would probably be in your wallet.

Save For a Moderate Period of Time

  • Bills - 1 year for anything tax or warranty related

  • Home Improvement Receipts - Keep until home is sold.

  • Investment Records - 7 years after you've closed the account or sold the security.

  • Leases - Keep these until you've moved out and have received your deposit back from the landlord.

  • Paychecks / Pay Stubs - 1 year until you've received your W-2

  • Sales Receipts for Major Purchases - Keep for the life of the warranty. This applies only to major purchases like appliances and electronics.

  • Tax Documents - 7 years including your filing and all accompanying documents like W-2s and receipts.

  • Vehicle Records - Keep until boat, car or motorcycle is sold.

These items can be kept in a file or binder for reference when necessary. You should go through these items annually to determine if anything can be tossed.

Keep For A Short Time

  • Credit Card Bills - Shred immediately when paid.

  • Other Bills - Should be shredded as soon as they have been paid.

  • Bank Statements - 1 month

  • Sales Receipts for Minor Purchases - Keep receipts for things like groceries and clothing only as long as you know you are not going to need the receipt for a return.

These items can be kept in a bin or basket that you go through regularly and toss what you don’t need.

When you do get rid of these documents, the best method is to shred anything with account numbers, birth dates, maiden names, passwords and pins, signatures, and social security numbers.  This can include bank receipts and statements, copies of birth certificates, credit card bills, cancelled checks, old passports, legal documents and more.  Most other papers can just be recycled.  When in doubt, it does not hurt to shred it.

This should help you go through your paper and start recycling and shredding the documents you don't need. If  you would really like to get a handle on all of your paper clutter from mail, to recipes, to work projects to instruction manuals, let me know in the comments.  I would love to do a series on paper organization to help us all get a real handle on the paper clutter in our homes.