How long to keep every type of important document + home inventory checklist

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

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Most Americans have a junk drawer – or two. Our lives are full of work, obligations and above all, stuff. The average American home has around 300,000 items in it, so it’s natural  for clutter to accumulate. 

While a bit of disorganization is normal, it’s still important to clear out the clutter every once and a while so you can focus on what truly matters in your life. Plus, taking a complete home inventory can prove invaluable should you ever need to file a home insurance claim. In case of a fire, a robbery or natural disaster where your belongings are damaged or destroyed, the home inventory makes it easy to get back on your feet. (Oh, and damage from a flood is not included in home insurance, so you should also take this time to ensure you have the right coverage for your needs.) 

Taking inventory of your home can also help get rid of documents and knick-knacks you don’t have a use for any longer. Some of the most overlooked items in the home are important financial documents that should be protected in the event of a fire or robbery. By organizing your papers, you help ensure they’re stored safely, and may even realize you’ve been holding on to documents you no longer need.

Keep reading to learn which documents you actually need to hang on to, and how to take inventory of your home.

How long to keep documents

Whether you keep your important documents in a folder or a fireproof safe, now might be the time to go through them and make sure you have the essentials protected and the unnecessary papers removed.

Though in general, you don’t need to keep receipts or bills after you ensure a card statement is correct or a bill is paid, you should hold on to any documents relevant to filing your taxes.  These exceptions include: medical bills, utility bills for a home office or receipts for large purchases or work related expenses

In addition, you should never get rid of documents from important life events such as: 

  • Social Security card
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate
  • Will
  • Adoption papers
  • Death certificates

Here’s how long to keep every type of document:

Documents How long to keep
Tax returns, tax return supporting documents (if you do not file a return), record of mortgage payment Indefinitely
Record of loan payment Seven years
Tax return supporting documents (if you do not report income) Six years 
Tax return supporting documents Three years
Quarterly investment records, quarterly retirement savings statements, credit card statements, pay stubs, medical bills, receipts for large purchases (or until the warranty expires) One year
Credit cards bills (or until paid), receipts One month 
Utility bills  Until processed
Loan documents  Until paid 
Home and auto insurance documents  Until you receive new ones
Home improvement records While you hold the house

Printable guidelines for keeping documents
Download here

How to create a home inventory checklist

Whether you’re moving to a new place or just taking stock of your current home, having a record of your valuables is important if you ever need to file an insurance claim. It’s also critical for ensuring that you have enough personal property insurance

Here’s how to account for the contents of your home:

1. Break up the task by room

Since it may be daunting to inventory your entire house, make the task more manageable by breaking up your home inventory by room. This helps simplify the task and streamline a claims process if only a certain room was damaged or robbed. 

Though it there’s no ‘right’ place to start, it may be easiest to begin in a small, contained area like a jewelry case or entertainment center. Remember to account for valuable items in your backyard or lawn, like an equipment shed. 

You may also want to note items in storage. Though there are often insurance limits on off-site items, it’s still important to include valuables kept in a place away from your primary residence.

2. Write down details

It’s important to include specific information when recording high-value items. If you have a collection of designer purses, include the brand name and style. For electronics, be sure to record the serial number and pertinent model and year information.

You should also record an estimated value of the item. Ideally, as you purchase larger items, you may also want to hold on to the receipt to prove the item’s worth. Keep in mind that depending on your insurance coverage, you may only be able to be reimbursed for the actual cash value, which takes into account wear and age. 

3. Take photos or video

One of the best ways to inventory your home is right in your back pocket: Your phone. Photos and videos are an easy way to create a record of your property. In addition to a written inventory, consider taking photos of important closets, drawers or storage areas to supplement your list. A video walkthrough is another great way to record your home’s contents. While you record each room, consider talking aloud which items are currently being recorded, their brands and models and when you bought them.

4. Understand what your insurance covers

Once you understand the value of the items in your home, it’s time to look into your insurance policy. Whether you’re getting insurance coverage for the first time or simply updating it, it’s important to check that your big-ticket items have the amount of coverage that you’re comfortable with. 


Printable home inventory checklist
Download here

How to protect your important documents

Just as important as your expensive electronics or valuable art, your financial and personal documents contain critical information that you should safeguard. Here’s how to protect them: 

Fireproof safe: To protect your essential documents like your passports and birth certificates, consider a fireproof safe. The fire safety rating of the safe you choose will depend on how close you are to the nearest fire department, and if you’re storing electronic documents, which are even more sensitive to heat. 

Safety deposit box: A safety deposit box has the benefit of being away from your home at a bank or credit union, decreasing the chances of a disaster affecting both your home and your documents. However, if you need to access your documents regularly, this storage  method can be inconvenient. 

Digital copies: Keeping electronic versions  of your documents on your computer or a USB drive can ensure they’re not lost forever if originals are damaged. But, treat them as the backups they are: Drives can fail, and computers can be hacked – so don’t leave it solely up to technology.. 

Cloud storage: For documents that only exist digitally, save copies in the cloud or in secure online storage. Use safety measures like a firewall or secure passwords to ensure your files are safe. 

Plastic bags or page slips: For items you want to keep safe from water damage or mold, consider sealable plastic bags. This is a simple way to add an extra layer of protection to the documents you keep at home. 

Home filing cabinet: Proper home organization is in itself a method of protecting your documents. A filing cabinet ensures papers stay in good condition and that you can easily find them when you need them. 

An in-case-of-emergency grab bag: Consider creating an emergency grab bag or binder that contains all your must-have information, like account numbers, where to find important documents and contact info for your power of attorney. 

Family emergency binder printables
Download here

Whether it’s the sports equipment tucked away in your garage, a brand-new computer or loan documents filed in a cabinet, it’s important to make sure that the items in your home are accounted for – and protected. Take this time to inventory your home, and make sure you have the best home insurance coverage to protect your stuff. 


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