There are many records that are going digital, but there is still a lot of paper clutter that people have to deal with in their lives. Knowing what types of records you should keep in physical form is a difficult decision for many people due to the hassle you could create if you throw away the wrong thing. Beyond that, many of your older documents may have predated electronic formats and still only exist in physical form, which means you need to find a long-term, if not permanent, storage location in your home.
Here’s what documents can safely be disposed of right now, how long to keep other things, and all the rest of the documents that you need to keep forever. Hopefully you will be able to throw away some of your paper clutter today with no regrets or fear that you’re making a mistake.
Papers to keep forever
Find a safe yet easily reachable location for these documents to be stored, because they need to stay with you for the rest of your life. We suggest storing the items that you won’t need constant access to in a safe deposit box at your local bank, so that if you are robbed or your home is damaged your vital files will still be safe. Safe deposit boxes usually cost only about $20 to $30 annually, and they will be secure in a place that is much more theft-proof, natural disaster-proof, and damage-proof than your own home. Here’s what you need to keep with you or near you forever:
- Birth certificates, adoption papers, and custody papers
- Citizenship and/or naturalization papers
- Social Security cards and/or other national identification cards
- Marriage, separation, and/or divorce papers
- Diplomas and transcripts
- Medical history documents
- Property appraisals
- Appraisal and inventory of household goods
- Insurance policies
- Tax returns
- Real estate documents such as deeds
- Living will
- Estate planning documents (wills, trust documents)
- Audit information/results
Items in bold are strongly recommended to be stored in a safe deposit box.
Papers to keep for a limited time
Most documents on this list are only useful for you to keep for the duration of the life of the item they refer to. When the underlying item or the document expires, safely dispose of the documents. This should become a regular routine to help you avoid paper clutter taking over your life.
- Passports: keep until they are replaced
- Automobile titles, along with warranty information and receipts for purchases and servicing for the automobile: keep until you sell the car
- Stocks, bonds, and savings accounts: keep until you sell them or close them, plus six years for tax purposes
- Bank account documents: keep until you close the account, plus six years
- Canceled checks: keep for three years
- Credit and debit card information, plus account statements: keep until you close the account, plus six years
- Income records: keep for six years
- Records of tax payments: keep for six years
As you can see, there are plenty of papers that are truly necessary to hold onto. Paper clutter is an annoying but unavoidable aspect of life, but you can reduce the stress of thinking about all that paper by addressing the situation today. Sit down and go through your papers and set aside everything you will absolutely need to keep. If you haven’t signed up for a safe deposit box yet, go get one. For the other important documents you will keep in your home, a paper file chest like the fire and water-resistant one at right can keep your documents as safe as possible in your home.