Paperwork Getting You Down?

Deciding what to keep, what to toss, and how to digitize.

I recently spent an entire afternoon organizing and filing paperwork. Those are lost hours I will never get back! Once the job was done I committed myself again to keeping up to date with my filing, and put in place a number of systems that should make it easier for me to keep my commitment. Years ago we were promised that the world would become paperless. More than a decade on, many companies are beginning to see the financial benefits of going digital with their communication, invoicing and reporting.  So much so that many (though not all) of the services I use now provide me with a login to access my digital paperwork on the company’s system.

But living half-way between a paper and paperless environment raises questions about what financial and other personal documentation still needs to be kept, and for how long.  Below I have outlined the recommendations for retention of various documents (according to Dutch regulations) along with some strategies to manage the “paperwork”, whether it arrives in your real-life or digital mailbox.

What to Keep

Last Statements

  • Monthly utility statements for Gas, Water, Electricity.
  • Monthly statements for TV, Internet, Phone, Mobile.

One Year

  • Salary statements, until you have your annual statement, then dispose of the monthly specifications.
  • Yearly statements for Gas, Water, Electricity.

Two Years

  • Rental contracts.
  • Mobile phone contracts.
  • Health insurance policy (renewed yearly) and related reimbursement declarations.
  • Local tax authority charges and statements.

Five Years

  • Annual salary statement.
  • Bank statements.
  • Tax submissions.

Indefinitely, upon renewal or termination

  • Pension statements.
  • Mortgage documents .
  • Title to your automobile.
  • Notarial documents (marriage or divorce contracts, birth records, wills, etc.).
  • Passports, visas and travel or residency permits/documentation.
  • Employment contract/s.   
  • Insurance Policies (exclusive health insurance)

What Can Go

  • If it doesn’t meet the criteria above, it’s time for it to go!
  • De-clutter as you file. Recycle envelopes, fliers, and manuals (anything void of personal information) and toss or shred/recycle paid invoices.

Go Digital

  • Check with all your service providers, local council and bank to determine if you can receive invoices, statements and/or communication via email. You will be provided with a personal login to access your documents.
  • Set up automatic payments via your bank or service providers. This will reduce those monthly reminders via post.
  • Scan your documents and save in an “Important Documents” Folder in the cloud. Vital documents such as passports are convenient to have scanned and saved, both for security in case of loss or theft, and to save time when you need to provide them for a new job, mortgage, etc. Bank or salary statements can be saved digitally and the paper versions recycled.
    • As an alternative to Dropbox or Google docs try the Docady app, a secure and safe application to store and organize your important documents.
  • If you live in the Netherlands sign-up with Mijn Overheid, a nationwide digital messaging service used by nearly all townships and government institutions. It will notify you when your driver’s license expires, when the tax office has made a new childcare supplement calculation, or your township has determined your latest home-tax valuation. You will be required to login with a DigiD.