Paper Overload? What to File, What to Digitize, and What to Shred or Recycle

Paper. It’s one of the things we just can’t live without, though most of us try to minimize our use of it, and recycle or shred what we can. The U.S. Mail brings us an excess of paper daily, most of it junk. When any major life event happens—marriage or divorce, purchasing or selling a home, starting a business—there will be a small mountain of paperwork to contend with. And when tax season rolls around, the paper pile-up is inevitable, especially if you’ve got a complicated tax situation requiring receipts and forms. Should you keep all this paperwork in a giant file cabinet, or can some things be digitized or shredded? Our guide will help you begin the process of lightening your paper load.

What to File

Keep the original paper versions of anything pertaining to city, state, federal, or institutional matters. Basically, if you need to spend a tedious amount of time on the phone or going to an office to obtain a replacement copy, then you should keep it. 

  • Birth, adoption, and death certificates
  • Social security cards
  • Marriage, domestic partnership, and divorce documents
  • Child custody documents
  • Immigration and citizenship certificates
  • Passports and Green Cards
  • Wills, trusts, healthcare proxies, and powers of attorney documents
  • Military records
  • Academic certificates, diplomas, and transcripts

Paper records of your physical assets

  • Vehicle title, registration, and loan documents
  • Deeds and loan documents for house, land, boat, and RV
  • Timeshare documents
  • Rental and lease documents

Documents of your financial, insurance, and business accounts

  • Home, Auto, Umbrella, and Life insurance policies
  • Brokerage documents – the most current year-end statement and tax-related forms
  • Tax returns and receipts from the last 7 years
  • Year-end statements from a pension plan, 401k, or any other retirement plan
  • Business licenses, certificates, or permits

Documents you may need for taxes

  • Medical invoices and prescription receipts for the year if you will have enough to claim a tax deduction
  • Utilities and equipment invoices if you run a business out of your home and expect to write these off on your taxes
  • Home improvement receipts for capital gains tax if you plan to sell

What to Digitize

Digitize and safely store electronic copies of documents that are important, but are easier to obtain a copy of if you need it. Once you have a digital copy, shred any documents that show your address, birthdate, Social Security number, account number, credit card number, and any financial information.

  • Warranties and related receipts (recycle once you no longer own the item)
  • Receipts for big ticket items (e.g., electronics, jewelry, art)
  • Business cards (use CamCard instead)
  • Pay stubs
  • Vehicle repair and maintenance records
  • Social Security statements

If you are able to access documents online through a personal account, you don’t even need to do anything—you’ve already got a digitized copy in a safe place. Bonus points if you’ve gone paperless on these accounts! You have also lowered your chances of identity theft by simply eliminating these documents from coming into your mailbox.

  • Medical records, invoices, and payment information
  • Bank accounts
  • Utilities accounts
  • Credit card accounts
  • Home or auto loan accounts
  • Brokerage accounts

What to Shred or Recycle

Again, shred any documents that show your address, birthdate, SSN, account number, credit card number, and any financial information.

  • Bank documents: ATM receipts, deposit/withdrawal slips, canceled checks, monthly statements
  • Miscellaneous receipts
  • Credit card offers (shred the one document with your personal information, and recycle the rest)

Recycle pretty much everything else!

  • User manuals (a Google search will yield an online .PDF version of most manuals)
  • Magazines
  • Coupons and catalogs


Before beginning this process, organize your documents first. As you are organizing, you can separate your papers into the groups above. The New York Times has a well-written guide on how to digitize your most important documents. If your paper organizing becomes overwhelming, don’t hesitate to reach out for some help!


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