Home Office Paper Organization: What Papers do I need to keep?

Keep your home office tidy with this guide on paper organization.

Store Records Electronically

It is a smart idea to scan, copy, and convert paper documents into a digital format. You can save these documents on a hard drive or in a secure cloud company. This allows you to save important documents and access them remotely in case of a natural disaster or emergency.

Prevent Identity Theft

Dispose of old tax documents, statements, or any papers with personal information by shredding. Do not simply toss in the trash. Although identity theft mostly takes place online these days, it is best to be extra cautious.

How long do I keep my tax records?

4 years from the due date of the return, or the date the return is filed.

6 years if you want to be extra safe. If the IRS suspects an underreported income (25%+) or indications of fraud, an audit may go back six years.

If I own a business, how long do I keep receipts?

4 years unless the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration gives written authorization for earlier disposal. This includes all records involving sales or use tax liability.

Should I keep divorce papers?

It is in your best interest to retain any and all documents related to your divorce, forever.

Personal Documents to Keep

One year

  • Pay checks
  • Cancelled checks

Three years

  • Medical bills
  • Expired insurance policies

Six years

  • Supporting documents for tax returns
  • Accident claims and reports
  • Tax related medical bills/bills
  • Sales receipts
  • Property records/improvement receipts
  • Mortgages, deeds, lease documents


  • CPA reports
  • Legal documents
  • Income pay checks
  • Income tax returns
  • Investment trade records
  • Retirement records

Special Circumstances

  • Car records (as long as you own the car)
  • Stock and bond records (6 years beyond selling)
  • Warranties and manuals (only keep if you still have the product)
  • Depreciation schedules and capital asset records (3 years after the tax life of the asset)

Personal Documents to Digitize

If you haven’t already, please opt-in to paperless settings. Typically, these papers end up compiling in piles causing more stress than good. You should be able to access all of your statements online, where the data is aggregated together.

  • Bank statements
  • Credit Card statements
  • Retirement contribution statements
  • Utility bills

Business Documents to Keep

One year

  • Purchase orders
  • Deposit slips
  • Requisitions
  • Receiving sheets

Three years

  • Employee applications
  • Employee records (after termination)
  • Employee time cards
  • Internal reports
  • Inventory log
  • Expired insurance policies

Six years

  • Accident claims/reports
  • Employee tax records
  • Expired contracts/leases
  • Inventory logs
  • Payroll records
  • Purchase orders
  • Sales records
  • Vouchers
  • Travel/entertainment records


  • Audit reports
  • Cancelled checks (tax payments)
  • Contracts
  • Leases
  • Deeds
  • Depreciation schedules
  • Investment trade confirmations
  • IRS reports
  • Legal records/correspondence
  • Mortgages, bills of sale
  • Property records
  • Retirement records
  • Tax returns
  • Trademark/patent registration

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    The information here is sourced from the Franchise Tax Board, California Tax Service Center, and CPA Rod.

    organize papers

    Organize Papers

    How to organize papers effectively

    Why are papers everywhere?

    • Even in our digital age, we accumulate receipts, tags, warranties, mail
    • Papers saved over the years for events like tax season
    • Coursework we intended to refer back to from seminars/classes

    The guide to success

    • Create a pending box for “to-do” items
    • Have a file folder or file box with dividers
    • Separate sensitive documents for shredding
    • Save shredding for last, shred everything at the same time

    How to set up to organize papers –

    • Gather a manageable amount of papers in a pile or box. Pile an amount that is reasonable to sort through in your set timeframe.
    • Ready your supplies
      • filing cabinet/folder accessible
      • labeler or labels to write down each category
      • Recycling bin/bag
      • Shredding bin/bag
      • Pending box (to-do items)
      • phone or camera nearby
    • Create labels for subcategories. A few examples are:
      • Tax
      • Medical
      • Auto
      • Work
      • Manuals/Warranties
    • Have extra blank labels on hand for new categories you discover as you go.

    How to Joy Check papers?

    • Step 1: Pile all papers on large surface
    • Step 2: Pick up papers or a binder one by one.
    • Step 3: Joy Check
      • What papers make life easier?
      • What documents are essential to keep for the future?
      • When did you last refer to these papers? (Seminars/Coursework)
      • Have you ever used this for reference?
      • Will you reference this? If so, when?
    • Step 4: As you sort, subcategorize keep papers in separate piles or a filing cabinet
    • Step 5: Separate and pile empty folders, binders, and notebooks. At the VERY END you will be able to see all of these together. This is the opportunity to joy check and pick the ones you want to keep and use!
    • Step 6: If you want to digitize your documents, I recommend to take photos at the end of each paper session rather than at the very end of ALL papers. This helps to break up the monotony of paper sorting while helping you to digitize your documents as you go.
    • Step 7: Recycle discards & shred sensitive documents
    • Step 8: Designate a home for your papers to live. Perhaps in the office or a cabinet.


    • Have a “pending box” for all incoming mail
    • Attend to your pending box regularly to avoid build-up
    • Store all papers in one spot ex. office

    Need help to organize papers?