I want to do a major purge of papers. I have credit card bills, phone bills, etc., going back about 7 years. I really would like to get rid of these. I'm never sure how long to keep things.
Here's a link to a good list about paper retention. You can also find more information on the IRS website.
Here is a link that might be useful: Real Simple Magazine
When I worked for the federal government, we were told to keep W2 forms forever. While the IRS normally considers tax returns permanent after three years, they can re-open ANY return if fraud is involved. Your W2 forms can also be used to prove eligibility for Social Security Benefits at any future date, there is no "Statute of Limitations" on wage corrections if you have your W2s. I used to be really anal about keeping records. I had phone bills back to the 1980's. What was I saving them for? Heck, I paid the bills and I wasn't getting late notices. Did I expect a rebate as a good phone customer? I finally decided to shred paid bills after two months. I now rubber-band them and mark the planned destruction date with a sticky note. On an even more bizarre level, when MIL died last year, her daughters cleaned out her house. She had every household bill going back to the mid-1950's. I think her oil heat cost about 30 cents a gallon. They found old savings bank books for banks that no longer exist. We could only assume the banks merged with others and that the in-laws had not lost any money.
but unless it's income tax related, you can throw those things out almost any time. If I have credit-card receipts that are income-tax-related, they go in the folder w/ the tax returns. And those, I keep forever. But they don't take up much space.
If I buy a major appliance, or another thing that I want to keep a record of its purchase, I staple the credit-card receipt to the inside of the cover of the owner's manual.
So those sorts of "I might actually need them later" receipts get moved out of the general stash of old receipts.
But utility bills esp., and even most credit-card receipts, are just not needed.
I tend to keep a year's worth, and at the end of the year, purge a bunch and start over. But I have to say, I have never needed old bills. Maybe I've wondered when it was I purchased something, but if I hadn't had the receipt, it wouldn't have mattered. I've thought of just throwing the bill away after I've paid it, but...
I *do* need to keep phone bills, bcs my DH works from home as a freelancer and can deduct the phone calls he makes for work. I nearly messed him up once by purging a bunch of stuff without remembering that. So now I try to do the purge after tax time (just in case there's something in there that I suddenly realize I need for itemizing, or that DH needs bcs of his particular work set-up).
I just read the Real Simple article. I'm going to follow their advice. I have way too much paper. Thanks for the advice!!
"If I buy a major appliance, or another thing that I want to keep a record of its purchase, I staple the credit-card receipt to the inside of the cover of the owner's manual."
Now THAT'S a smart idea! Mine tend to get lost among all the receipts...
For items that you don't really need to have in hand (i.e. receipts), have you thought about scanning those bills and keeping them electronically? Takes up much less space that way and things are much easier to find. Burn the files onto a disc and you can file away the disk. If you don't have a scanner, a cheap one would work just fine. Scanning seven years worth of bills would be time-consuming, but may be a good solution going forward.
I suffer from the mindset "I know I'll probably never need this, but as soon as I throw it away, I'll need it"!
Happy filing! :)
I would consider that scanning to be "chore clutter"--I'd rather have paper clutter than chore clutter. (for one thing, w/ chore clutter, I usually have paper clutter around until it's done, so it's TWICE as much clutter)
I'd rather say "Oh, well, I don't have that bill, and I wish I did. How can I get a copy of it now?" than have some horrid boring chore nagging at me.
We scan bills that we need for tax purposes. DH has an office in the home and I don't want to hang onto the receipts. We have found many of the things which we need for taxes come out with a yearly statement for us.
Guess I'll be putting any new appliance receipt in two places now. Sigh.
If I owned my own business, I'd probably scan receipts. But not for my personal life--my utility bills, credit-card bills, etc. As it is, I stash what few receipts are tax related in the tax folder.
The "chore clutter" (great term, btw!) is exactly why a task like this would be best implemented going forward. It's certainly not for everybody, but it definitely works for me. It soothes that cringing feeling I get when I put something into the trash and have to fight the urge to reach down and pick it back up because *I just don't know*! In the time it takes me to go through that whole decision making process, I can scan it, save it, and shred it. The original never touches my desk. It goes straight from the scanner to the shredder. I find that I am most organized when I don't give myself a chance to be indecisive.
Of course this process also developed because a packrat (that's me) married a habitual trasher (that's him). I've nicknamed my hubby the Tasmanian Devil because when he goes throught the mail, papers go flying into the trash without even getting a second glance. I've actually caught things in mid air just because I'm scared we *might* need it! My scanning is our compromise!
help! i need to throw out tons of stuff like this, but i'm chicken.
part of why i have tons of old papers is because i knew they needed to be shredded. but i took forever to buy one. now that i have one, shredding 7 pages of paper at a time is going to take forever. my mom gave me the solution--a roofing company near her "recycles" paper into their products. even the school system takes their sensitive "to be shredded" papers there for safe disposal, so i feel comfortable with that. the thought of getting rid of it all in one fell swoop REALLY appeals to me.
now i just need to know what i can toss. i read the recommendations at the link above, but i'm always confused after reading those. or maybe i'm just chicken.
i have utility bills from the apartment i lived in during 2001. i bought my house in 2002 and plan to be here for a while. can i get rid of the old bills?
can i get rid of utility bills from my house? phone bills? can i toss anything more than a year old?
what about credit card statements? i feel like i should keep those. i've never had more than 3 at a time, so it wouldn't be all that much paper.
my tax stuff i know to keep. but everything to do with my taxes comes to me at the end of the year and i keep that all together.
then there's the health insurance stuff. i've been through five different companies since 2000, what with being a student and then a university employee--the university switched nearly every year for a while. do i have to keep all of that stuff? for instance, i went to a chiropractor at least three times a week for a while. after EACH visit, my insurance company would send me paperwork, "just for reference." how much of that crap should i keep? all of the paper they send me really makes me want to scream!
sorry, i just realized my questions turned into a mini-rant. thanks for letting me spout off. :) any advice would be greatly appreciated!
Julie, if you paid the bill in 2001 you have our permission to get rid of it. Why even bother to shred that? Wrong address and nothing sensitive on it. Before we needed the office in the home deduction, we threw them away the day they came.
We only keep items needed for tax return purposes, retirement and stock information. As soon as your statement shows the they have credited the account you can pitch it. 3 credit cards, times 12 months is 36 pieces of paper a year. Before long you have a ream of paper. What's the point in keeping them? We basically hang onto one if we have charged something and it hasn't arrived and we think we may have to dispute a charge. When that is resolved, it's trash.
You don't need to keep the health insurance stuff if you are no longer with the company and all bills are paid...no disputes in the works and no health problems you feel needs documentation. The average healthy person can pitch it.
I'm assuming everything is fairly straight forward. No self-employment and that kind of thing. We don't even shred much. Since we have a business, our name, address and phone number are all over the place. As long as the paper doesn't include a SS# or a birthdate, we just tear it up. I know one big swoop sounds good, but why not just grab one handful an evening and tear it up? Start with those old utility bills. Stuff you would shred makes really good compost when mixed with your kitchen scraps. LOL
I'm so glad this post reappeared. It always puts me into a shredding mode, which is good.
Julie - Once you get the paper under control, just keep your shredder handy. I used to "save" up my daily accumulated papers for a shredding marathon. Now, I do it daily so I've eliminated the pile on my desk.
The shredding I did today was months worth of cancelled checks (non-tax related) and old health insurance Explanation of Benefits. They don't contain any health info.
When a box is full, I put it in the shed. After that it's out of my hands and up to the mice ;-)
before I bought a shredder, i used to rip things w/ account numbers, etc., into htree pieces, being sure to rip through the account number each time. Then I'd toss them into 3 different wastebaskets. In my house, they get emptied at very different times (and one goes into paper recycling, the others into regular garbage). Nobody outside the house was going to end up w/ the full account number anyway--I suppose w/ my cheapo shredder, if they REALLY wanted to, they could piece my bills back together.
And Julie, nearly everythign you mentioned can just go in the garbage. Whichever garbage appeals to you. It has no major security risk.
(I shred daily, too. and you'll NEVER catch me scanning anything! For one thing, if it's TRULY crucial to keep, I want paper, which will never undergo a format change and become obsolete and inaccessible)
"(I shred daily, too. and you'll NEVER catch me scanning anything! For one thing, if it's TRULY crucial to keep, I want paper, which will never undergo a format change and become obsolete and inaccessible)"
I'm with you 100% Talley Sue!
thanks for the responses! you guys are helping me get motivated!
now i just have to repeat to myself: "i'm not chicken, i'm NOT!" and then just dump it all. whoo!
by the way, i've been meaning to say something about the whole issue of keeping certain papers, especially receipts. i once had a receipt from best buy that faded to almost nothing within a year, though it stayed in the envelope provided. if you have access to a photocopier, i would highly recommend photocopying the receipt. you never know whether receipts are printed with archival-quality inks and papers. i should probably post this on the receipts thread, too.
but then i'm going to get rid of most of my receipts--i am, i am, I AM!
What's wrong with scanning?
Are you worried that the disks will get in the wrong hands?
It is a lot easier to destroy a disk than paper.
It's work to scan it--I either have to put it somewher eto do later, or I have to drop everything and scan it right now--since my computer is not on 24/7, that's a pain.
. It's work to figure out where and how to store it--both the electronic file (what file name, what folder, etc.), and the disk itself.
It's work to retrieve it and print it out (more work that just digging it out of a file)
I don't need lots of extra work. I have better things to do w/ my time. If it's really important, I just file it as a piece of paper. If it's not worth space in my filing cabinet, it's not worth keeping.I already HAVE paper files for the important stuff--having an electronic version means TWO sets of files--bad, bad idea, organizationally speaking.
A receipt won't take up any MORE room than a disk would! In fact, it'll probably take up less.
I honestly see scanning as simply adding an EXTRA level of difficulty.
You want to keep it? File it. Handle it ONCE.
and the medium will get obsolete eventually. Then that's MORE work--either figuring out how to retrieve it after all, or transferring it to another medium.
Yay, Talley Sue!
I feel the exact same way...
I continue to just file it and forget it!