Expiration dates for documents


Even though we’re in the middle of fall, I did some spring cleaning recently. In the process, I was reminded of the incredible variety of documents that we tend to acquire over the years. And if you’ve ever read up on the matter, you know that most of these papers are of little value after a few years. Yet we tend to horde them much longer than that.

Why the disconnect? Well, there’s no obvious way to tell how long to keep something. You can ask a friend or look it up online, but that takes work. Even a small hurdle means a lot more junk is kept in closets around the country. I think there’s a better way: put an expiration date on the document itself.

Much like the expiration dates on food packaging, I would like to see a universal standard adopted for documents. On every bill, statement, or receipt, there would be a little line on the bottom that says something like this: “We recommend keeping this document for 7 years, although your needs may vary.” Sure, the guidelines may change occasionally. But having basic advice close at hand would help people fight the urge to keep every document forever, enabling us to free up space and unclutter our lives just a little bit more.