When tackling paper clutter, the most common question is, “How long do I need to keep this?” Sarah of Home Simply Organized created a nice infographic that covers the basics.
Keep this guide handy as you start decluttering your papers. Sarah also recommends storing some things online using Google Docs instead of keeping physical copies. I’d add to that suggestion by mentioning that there are a number of places you can store things like this online — Google docs (google drive), Microsoft OneDrive, DropBox.
I do this a little differently, I like to take pictures of the important documents and create a category in my photo app. I use an iPhone, so they get stored on my phone, computer, and on iCloud. That makes it really easy to retrieve them when needed. (I also do this with items I removed from my wallet.)
I’d also like to modify two of her categories, as I have some differences that work better for me. A key part of successful decluttering is to choose the methods that work best for you. It might be mine, it might be Sarah’s, or it might be something you create on your own.
I would change the one month category to “as soon as you paid the bill or looked at the statement.” The problem with keeping something for a month is that you have to be super diligent about disposing of it after a month. I’m not good at that, and I’m guessing many of you aren’t either. By disposing of it immediately after taking action, you prevent the clutter from building up and you eliminate the need to maintain that folder/pile. (Side note: the best time to take action on bills/statements is right away — as soon as you bring them in from the mailbox.)
The is a small amount of risk with disposing of this stuff right away. Every once in a while you need a utility bill as proof of residency, or you may need to reference your last bill or account statement for some reason. This happens so infrequently that I usually just deal with it when it happens, by waiting for my next bill or asking if I can substitute another document.
In the one year category, I would make every effort to store these things online. Often your insurance policy is available online through your provider. For warranties, you typically just need the receipt. Keep these just for the big ticket items. If you buy a 10 dollar something that comes with a warranty, I’d take the risk and toss the receipt. If you ordered the item online, you should be able to download the purchase info/receipt if you ever need to. Lastly, this is the category where taking pictures of the papers works really well.
You can read more on Sarah’s blog post: Sorting Important Papers