Paper, file, paper: How long to keep documents

After the runaway success of Netflix’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, a lot of people have been obsessed with cutting clutter and minimalizing their homes.

It makes sense: living in an organized home feels good. But folding pants and throwing out unused clothes is one thing, figuring out how long to keep documents is a completely different ball game.

It’s hard to know what documents you have to have, how long you have to have them, and what you should get rid of.

But don’t worry, we’re here to help. Keep reading to find out how long you need to keep important documents and what things you can throw in the trash.

How long to keep documents and what you should keep

There are certain things you have to keep your whole life. Who knew being born came with so many lifetime commitments?

In general, you want to keep all your official records. Here’s an idea of what you should think of as official records:

  • Birth certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Adoption papers
  • Marriage licenses
  • Divorce Decrees
  • Social security cards
  • Passports
  • Records of mortgage payments
  • Military discharge paperwork
  • Wills
  • Car loan records (until they’re paid off)

These items are all difficult (and expensive) to replace.

Also, keep academic records: your diploma, transcripts, and anything you might want to use for a portfolio or resume. Consider putting some of these on display too, they’re things you should be proud of!

You should keep the insurance policy paperwork. You’ve already spent all that time shopping around for home insurance, you should definitely keep a record. Consider scanning these and storing them on your computer, though.

Keep all these items safe and secure. For paper documents, put them in a safe deposit box at your bank or a fire safe box in your home. For electronic documents, store them on an external hard drive or a flash drive. Never store them online!

“How long do I keep utility bills?” Things you can safely get rid of

I know what you’re thinking: “I know I should keep my birth certificate, but how long should I keep bank statements and bills?”

With the rise of online documents, you can keep a lot less paper! Consider enrolling in paperless billing whenever you can and view your bills online to help avoid clutter in your home.

With that said, if you’re still receiving bills in the mail, you can safely shred them after they’ve been paid.

That goes for credit card bills and bank statements too. Though you may want to keep your annual statements to get a better idea of your budget.

Be sure to always shred these, especially if it contains sensitive information! It’s always worth taking a quick and easy precaution to keep your identity from being stolen.

Also get rid of appliance manuals. When was the last time you looked at the instruction manual for your microwave? If it hasn’t happened in the last two years, it probably never will! Do keep warranty information until it expires, though.

How long to keep paystubs and tax forms: The complicated stuff

Of course, there are some less cut and dry items out there.

Keep your pay stubs for at least a year to help with taxes and budgeting. If your employer doesn’t give you pay stubs, or you work independently, consider using a paystub generator to create your own.

According to the IRS, you should keep your tax documents for three to seven years depending on your circumstances. You’re safe to get rid of them after seven years, but be sure to shred!

As far as medical documents are concerned, you should keep bills until both you and your insurance have paid them in full. After that, it’s safe to get rid of them if you’d like.

For pets, you should keep immunization records. Most people don’t have pet insurance, but if you do you may need to keep your pets medical bills. Otherwise, get rid of them or keep digital copies.

Cutting clutter and keeping what you need


Knowing how long to keep documents can help you cut clutter and minimalize the number of things you have to keep track of. The fewer paper items you’re keeping, the easier it will be to find what you need!

Be sure to check us out for more great articles on saving money and keeping your financial life on track!