Eternal Paperwork: How Long Should you Hold onto Documents?

Long before paper became the medium of choice, humans used parchment (or treated animal skins) to record their most important details. Before that, it was clay. In fact, one of the oldest documents known to historians – the Kish tablet – was etched into limestone somewhere between the 32nd and 35th centuries. Put another way, we’ve always been keeping documents around the house.


Thousands of years on, paperwork in both digital and physical formats is one of the untidiest types of clutter. Yet, given how much personal info is included in bank statements, payment reminders, and other letters, it can be difficult to decide which pieces of paper go in the bin and which ones ascend to an eternity in the filing cabinet. There’s also the question of which documents are worth keeping copies of. 

Source: Pexels

On that latter point, the ExpressVPN website stresses that homeowners should keep two flash drives for copies of important documents in an emergency tech kit. A backup resource enables people to access pivotal documents that can help to prove their identities or validate their ownership, with examples including passports, insurance information, licenses, deeds, and other things that could create problems if they’re lost or fall into the wrong hands. 

A medical drive that contains salient details like blood type and medical conditions should be created, too. Logically, these are the documents that you should keep for either your or their lifetime. What about items that don’t require such a commitment to their safety, though? The Hungry Shedder site outlines paperwork into several categories and sections depending on whether they should be stored for a year or two years before being thrown away. 

Pet Passports

In the former case, payslips and utility bills should be held onto both as a means of proving your address and as an accounting reference. In the UK, any document pertaining to a TV license should also be kept for at least one year. Holding on to something for two years might seem like a strangely specific thing to do but anything that can help with your tax affairs, like a P60, falls into this bracket.

Source: Pexels

Documents concerning vehicles are a different matter altogether. Paperwork for cars tends to expire so these should be saved until that date. This includes insurance, tax, and MOT certificates. Of course, your driver’s license should be kept forever – and, ideally, on your person, especially when you’re out and about. As one of the few guaranteed forms of identity, it’s one of the most important things you have. 

One of the most overlooked categories of paperwork is those concerning animals. The official EU website indicates that all pet passports issued in the UK expired on January 1, 2021.

This guidance refers to dogs, cats, and ferrets. Previously, pet passports were valid forever. Changes like these can be difficult to keep abreast of but they emphasise just how important it is to keep your paperwork drawer up-to-date. 

Overall, while seemingly an innocuous part of life, paperwork can be a difficult area to navigate, especially when you have documents spread all over the house.


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