Last weekend, I cleaned out our four-drawer file cabinet. I do this every year according to advice from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It’s no fun to have drawers filled to the brim that won’t fit new files. With no room for more forms, papers pile up elsewhere.
Project: Clean the file cabinet
Time Needed: 2-4 hours (sometimes longer depending on your cabinet)
Prep: Get your shredder ready or find a place to drop off papers that should be shredded. Grab at least two bags: one for papers that must be shredded and one for recyclables. Read below for tips on what to throw out.
This year, I did some research on how long to keep certain household files, so I could maximize the cleaning. Here’s what I discovered.
File Cabinets: What to Throw Away
One Year or Less
In general, keep the following items one year or less.
|Pay Stubs||Throw away after reconciling with your W2|
|Credit Card Records/Statements||Until paid, then shred (major source for stolen identities)|
|Credit Card Receipts||One year|
|Bank statements||One year, keep your annual statement with taxes|
|Home, Rental, & Car Insurance Policies||Keep until you renew|
|Retirement Plan Statements||One year, or keep your annual statement with taxes|
|Social Security Statements||Shred the old one once you get a new one and have double-checked the math|
|Tax Returns||Seven years – more information here|
|Household Inventory||Forever – Many recommend taking a video of your possessions once a year for insurance purposes|
|Life Insurance Policies||Forever|
|Roth IRA Statements||Forever – To prove you’ve paid the taxes|
|Home Improvement Receipts||As long as you own the property|
|Investment Statements||Keep annual statements as long as you own the investment / shred monthly statements|
|Receipts for large purchases/warranties||As long as your own the item|
|W2||Until you start claiming social security since this is the best estimate of your entitlements|
|Medical Insurance Papers / Explanation of Benefits||If you’re healthy or for routine check-ups, you can discard these after they are paid and a year has gone by. If you have a serious medical condition, keep the papers as long as the condition persists.|
|Supporting Patent Documents||Keep these for the life of the patent, which in most cases is 20 years|
By the end of the weekend, I completely emptied 52 files.
I sent a huge stack of papers to the shredder and another one to the recycling bin.
My horribly-crammed top drawer went from this:
and the whole process probably took 3-4 hours spread over three days. What are your tips for cleaning out the file cabinet?