Now watch as I try to break my attachment to paper clutter. It ain’t gonna be pretty…

Every time I sit down at our desk I have a little panic attack.  Because I’m being swarmed by piles upon piles of paper like a hive full of angry bees.  (Shudder…)

You see, I’m one of those people that’s afraid of paperless billing.  (However, if you give me $10 off my bill, I’m all over it…)  So, I have mounds of unchecked credit card statements, utility bill stubs, and vet receipts going back as far as 1987.  Well, not quite.  But it sure feels like it.

While some of the piles can be attributed to pure laziness, others are caused by not knowing what to do with said paperwork, and the rest?  Well, I just can’t fit them in the file drawers.  Because I’ve been saving bank statements since 2001.  For accounts I don’t even hold anymore.  (And that’s not an exaggeration.)

Rather than continue to be paralyzed by the enormity of my mountain o’ paper, I’m going on a purging spree!

But what do I legitimately need to keep?  I’ve referenced paystubs from three jobs ago.  I’ve compared utility bills for accuracy six months later.  I’ve gone back in my medical records to confirm dates of service.  So.  How.  Do.  I.  Decide.  What.  Needs.  To.  Go…?

According to the powers that be (The IRS, CNN Money, and Good Housekeeping) these are the guidelines for cutting through your paperwork clutter.

  • Tax returns and proof of filing:  Forever.  In case you’re audited, and to have a history of your finances.
  • Tax Documents (1099s, W-2s, statements, and receipts):  3 years.  Unless you have unreported income that equals more than 25% of your gross income.  Then keep records for 6 years.  Or if you filed a fraudulent (or no) return; keep records indefinitely.  Although, if that’s the case, then I think you’re screwed either way.
  • Receipts:  Until the warranty expires for big-ticket purchases.  Unless it was for a tax deductible purchase.  Or you need proof of value in the event of a catastrophe that destroys said item.
  • Investments:  7 years if you claim a loss on your tax return.  Which I think we’ve all had some experience with in the last few years…
  • Medical bills:  Typically one year, unless, of course, you claimed medical expenses on your tax return.  Or you’re kinda creepy and like to reminisce about the time you had a colonoscopy in 2002.
  • Pay stubs:  Until you receive your W-2.  Or until you die.  Just kidding.  I don’t need my kids seeing how little I was financially appreciated in 2004.
  • 401(k) & IRA statements:  Until the year-end summary arrives.
  • Bank statements:  Until the end of the year.  They say to confirm your 1099, however, I don’t think that’s applicable to me, so I’ll probably keep the previous year on hand for awhile longer.
  • Utility bills:  Until the end of the year.  I need to take baby steps here, so I’ll get rid of anything from 2009 or earlier.  That’s a good compromise, right?
  • Credit card statements:  One month.  Ha!  You’re kidding, right?!  My OCD can’t handle parting with all that paper at once.  That’s like giving up my lovie…  But I think I can manage to get rid of anything older than a year… ish.
  • Automobile records:  As long as you own the vehicle.  I actually added this one myself because I have a lot of space allocated to loan statements, personal property taxes, and service records.  I’d imagine that you can cull things down by saving only annual loan statements and getting rid of old tax bills, but I really like having service records on hand.  That way if I take my car to the shop and when tell me I need a new right front tire, I can say, “What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?  You replaced that tire 4 months ago!”  And it also looks good to potential car buyers if you’re looking to push your jalopy onto some poor schmo.  Not that I would ever try to take advantage of someone that way…  (Nah, that switch is for making the car invisible to police…  It has nothing to do with turning on the fuel pump…)

Stay tuned for before/after photos!

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One Response to Now watch as I try to break my attachment to paper clutter. It ain’t gonna be pretty…

  1. Mom2three says:

    Thank you for posting this! We just finished our taxes last weekend and I so wish my husband would read this. He's a keeper, and I'm not talking about what a fantastic husband he is. He doesn't want to get rid of tax records, statements, utility bills, etc. We're talking 20 years! We still have his college textbooks! Is there a self-help group for this???