Why and How to Shred Old Documents

shred old documents clutter

Why and How to Shred Old Documents

You’ve decided to clear your clutter from your home or office — congratulations! It can feel great to get useless things out of your way and refocus on the here and now. However, when you de-clutter, paper often poses the greatest obstacle.

You could quickly find yourself drowning in paper, especially if you’re not someone who does a lot of things electronically. You may have file cabinets full of old tax returns, credit card statements, or other paper with personal information. Do you need all of this stuff? Probably not? But should you throw directly into the recycle bin? Absolutely not!

Read on to learn why and how to shred old documents safely.

Do You Still Need These Documents?

Some people tend to hang on to paperwork much longer than they need to. You may harbor a fear that one day you will be audited or face a problem with a bank that only years-old documents will solve. So first, learn when it’s okay to chuck things.

The IRS advises that, with some exceptions, you can dispose of tax returns after three years. If you claimed any bad debt, wait seven years. For retirement savings, keep only annual summaries. Bills and receipts for everyday purchases can go. Conversely, keep records of big purchases for insurance reasons. Consult this list for more details on how long to keep things.


Why to Ditch the Paper

Paper takes up a lot of space and could pose a fire hazard. It’s heavy and adds to the overall weight of your belongings if you move. Also ask yourself, if you truly needed access to an important document, could you find it? By keeping only the important things you won’t risk losing them in a mountain of other papers.

Remember, you can scan important things if you need to. Shred the paper and keep only digital files. Just take precautions to keep your computer safe from hackers, or store the files on an external drive. In a future post, we’ll tell you more about safely digitizing your records.



The Danger of NOT Shredding

In the age of rampant identity theft, shredding documents is imperative. Even something with only your name and address provides a usable start to thieves.

Yes, thieves rifle through trash cans and recycle bins. That person could then sell the collected information on the black market. Someone could use that information to set up accounts, such as utility or bank accounts, in your name. Or, they could call you and pose as a bill collector. With so much identifying information, they might convince you to send them a payment or still more personal details.

Thieves can even to steal the ID of a deceased person. If you want to dispose of records for someone no longer around, exercise the same precaution.



How to Shred Old Documents

If you have a small amount of paper and time on your hands, you can shred things yourself. A microcut shredder creates the smallest shreds and thereby the safest results.

That being said, you may not want to devote an entire weekend–or longer–to ridding yourself of old papers. Some retailers, such as office supply stores, shred documents free of charge. For example, here is information from Staples office store. There are also businesses set up exclusively for shredding, like this one in Cincinnnati. Check review sites like Angie’s List to find and compare others.

Finally, look for shred events. Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District offers one-day events throughout the county. Clermont County, along with other Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana counties offer similar opportunities.

Another option is to burn old documents. This blog explains a method for burning them safely.


Bonus Tip: What to Do With All That Paper

If you choose to shred old documents yourself, and you’re moving soon, keep the confetti. It makes great packing material. You can also use it as bedding for certain small pets, as long as its free of staples. Even use it for crafts! If you don’t have a use for it, put it in the recycle bin. Click here for more tips on how to reuse or recycle your old clutter.


When you shred your documents, you will say good-bye to a lot of clutter. This one project represents a big step toward home organization. Once you tackle your mountains of paper, you will feel better having less clutter.


PHOTO: Mariadelapenia / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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