Stinky Documents

When we store food well past its expiration date, it starts to stink.  That bad smell reminds us to put it in the trash.  But unlike food, documents don’t send a clear and obnoxious signal when they should be thrown out.  The staggering volume of paperwork clutters our homes.  But it doesn’t have to.  The table below shows five bulky records we tend to keep past their usefulness.




Credit card bills and receipts After you check and pay each bill, unless needed for your tax return or a warranty.
Bank statements At the end of each calendar year, unless needed to support your tax returns.
Pay stubs After you verify them against your annual W-2 statement.
Tax returns and supporting documents After seven years.  But see the exception below if you keep investment documents with your tax returns.
Investment purchase confirmations and 1099s Seven years AFTER you sell the securities.


Of course if you have the time and equipment, creating electronic versions of your paper records is a great way to eliminate clutter.  Want to learn more about the “shelf life” of various documents?  This post was inspired by a Consumer Reports article that you can find here.



  1. Guilty as charged, I throw everything away I am the anti pack rat. But, when it comes to mail I can’t part with it. I box it up and just feel better that it’s there and then about every 3 years I purge and have a nervous breakdown! I guess we all have our quirks! I will use this guide what is the time limit on birthday cards ha ha.
    This has come in handy at my 20 year reunion, I had all the letters from my 5 best friends there were about 100 of them and we poured through them and laughed and cried!

    • Hi Kelly,
      You have great instincts about saving the personal letters -they should never be thrown away. Someday those letters will be worth big $ on Antiques Roadshow. (Museum curator: Look at the quaint way people used to communicate. And it took days for the message to arrive and people didn’t mind!)

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