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Shred, Toss, Or Keep: De-Cluttering Your Personal Documents

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As you age, you'll likely find that your stash of personal documents (pay stubs, tax forms, deeds, and the like) has grown exponentially. Eventually, it may get to the point that you have to ask yourself what's actually worth keeping and what's safe to get rid of. However, the last thing you want is to shred something that you're going to need later on. By following this basic guide to storing, shredding, and throwing away documents, you can clear up some clutter in your home with peace of mind before the next garbage collection day.

What to Shred

First of all, understand that you don't want to throw away any document that has your personal information on it without shredding it first. From your address and phone number to account numbers and Social Security numbers, it's best to bring your unneeded personal documents to a professional shredding service (or use a store-bought shredder of your own) so that they can be disposed of securely. Generally, it's safe to shred:

  • tax returns (after several years have passed)
  • canceled checks and bank statements
  • pay stubs more than a few months old
  • ATM receipts
  • credit card and bank statements

It's also safe to shred any old insurance policy documents that are no longer valid, but be sure to keep documentation of any insurance claims.

What to Keep

Now that you know what's safe to shred, what should you go out of your way to keep on file? Any form of personal identification that's unique to you, such as a providence ID or driver's license, should be kept--even if your ID cards are no longer active or valid. Furthermore, be sure to keep physical copies of:

  • marriage licenses (even after a divorce)
  • business licenses
  • home or business deeds
  • vehicle titles
  • wills and power of attorney
  • passports
  • documents relating to your pension plan

What About Going Paperless?

These days, many people have begun keeping digital records of their personal documents as a means of reducing clutter from paper. However, anything that's worth keeping documentation of is worth keeping in its original, paper form. It may be a good idea to scan copies of your documents so that you have them as backup (in the event of a flood, fire, or other disaster). However, to best protect your personal documents, you really should keep them in a filing cabinet or safe that's both water tight and fire proof. This way, you'll never have to worry about the possibility of losing your originals.

When disposing of items, check with local garbage removal services, such as The Junk Box, to find the best way to dispose of each item.


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