Do not organize what you can toss!
Are you overcome by papers but don’t know how long to keep them or if it’s safe to throw them away?
Set aside 45 minutes and turn on good music. Get a bag or a recycle bin ready, and borrow a shredder if you don’t have one. It’s time to make some big progress.
Start with the obvious.
Go quickly through your house and throw away all the junk mail, expired coupons, catalogs, and old grocery lists that you see. Any little scribbled notes that you no longer need should be tossed.
Take it one step further and prevent useless paper from entering your house in the first place. Open your mail over the recycle bin. Opt out of credit offers, and remove your name from catalog mailing lists.
Magazines and newspapers
Save individual pages from magazines instead of the entire issue. Give magazines away to a friend or donate them to the local library. Put yesterday’s newspaper in the recycle bin. Cancel subscriptions for newspapers or magazines that you never get around to reading.
You really don’t need more than three months of past bills that have been paid. If the company has a reputation for frequent billing errors then it might be worth keeping more, but otherwise it’s safe to toss them.
When the transaction has been entered in your checkbook and has cleared your account, you probably don’t need those little slips of paper any more. The only reasons to keep them would be:
- the possibility of returning an item
- insurance valuation for expensive items
- for taxes, such as sales tax credit or home upgrades
Almost all other receipts can be tossed after you’ve checked your bank or credit card statement.
Only keep the most recent few until you get the last one for the year. Then compare it to your W-2 before you toss it.
Bank or Credit Card statements
I’d say this one is a personal judgement call. Most statements probably do not have long-term significance, but keeping them helps me to toss other paperwork. I can easily throw away paid bills and receipts because I know there is a record of them on the bank statement.
Retirement Account statements
You don’t need the monthly statements if you’ve received a quarterly or annual statement. It’s also fine to toss the Annual Report and Prospectus for an investment. Never toss a letter or document that confirms your right to a future retirement benefit.
In most cases, you should keep tax returns for at least 3 years, since that’s the time limit to amend a return or for the IRS to audit good-faith returns. (There’s no time limit for the IRS to audit fraudulent returns.)
Keep maintenance records until you sell the car.
Auto and Property Insurance papers
When you get the new insurance card in the mail, throw away the expired cards. You don’t need to keep insurance paperwork that expired or that covered property you no longer own.
Health Insurance Papers
Instead of storing a bulky directory of physicians, see if your insurance company lets you search online for network doctors. You can likely find the list of preferred prescriptions online as well. Keep medical bills for the current year, and then toss them if you don’t need them for tax deductions.
Are you keeping old school notes or research papers just because you worked hard on them? (You’re not keeping them to show how smart you are, right?) Unless you actually use them in your current career, you don’t need them anymore. They have already served their purpose. Keep a small sample if you must, and then let go of the rest.
Warranties and Manuals
If you have any warranty paperwork that is expired or manuals for appliances that you no longer own, give them a toss.
What about cards, letters, and keepsakes?