April 5, 2019

How to file your documents and your bills

Are your drawers or tabletops overflowing with paperwork that you hesitate to get rid of?

To help, we have made a list of documents that should be kept and selected a few recommendations from organization expert Marie Kondo to help.

How long you should keep your papers

Whether it’s a simple receipt or a complex contract, your documents are not of equal importance.1

Here is a checklist the Quebec government recommends to help you decide between what is valuable and what is useful in the short term. Make sure to check what your home provinces’ standards are for keeping documents.

For less than 6 months
• ATM and Interac payment receipts: simply ensure that the transaction appears correctly on your statement
• Credit card statements: limit yourself to the last 2 or 3 months if you have not yet switched to electronic statements

For 6 months
• Repair receipts (appliances, cars, cellular, etc.)

For 1 year
• Bills (phone, internet, cable) Exception: if you are self-employed, your bills are supporting documents for tax purposes and must be kept for 6 years.

For 3 years
• Rent receipts
• Municipal, school or water tax receipts
• Electricity, gas or fuel bills
• Healthcare bills and professional fee invoices
• Bank statements

If you used any of the documents listed above for tax purposes, they should be kept for 6 years.

For 6 years
• Real estate sales contract
• Mortgage discharge
• Income tax returns and supporting documents (even those that do not need to be submitted with a tax return)
• Tax installments
• GST and provincial sales tax return (even if you had a small business of your own)
• Pay or employment insurance benefit statements

Things to keep for the length of ownership or use
• Lease, amendment notices and renewal notices
• Titles of property
• Car purchase agreements
• Loan agreements: until the loan is paid off. Check your credit report before destroying proof of repayment.
• Insurance policies (life, disability, liability, home, car, travel, etc.)
• Term deposits, registered retirement savings plans, investment or savings bond certificates.
• Receipts and warranty deeds (valuable property, appliances, electronics, etc.)
• Receipts and statements for items paid for by credit card
• Receipts for services or leisure activities
• Receipts for tuition fees
• Specific warranty deeds (tires, rustproofing, etc.)

For your lifetime
• Judgment of separation or divorce
• Marriage, civil union or common-law union contract
• Diplomas and transcripts
Will and notarial deeds
• Health and immunization records
• Birth certificate
• Relative’s death certificate

You can obtain copies of most of these documents, but it can be a long and costly process.

When in doubt, contact the company or organization from which the document was issued (i.e. your bank, Revenue Canada, etc.)

Use electronic documents

Most companies and organizations, both private and public, offer to send clients their bills and statements online. This is an eco-friendly and safe way to retain documents, and a good way to keep them archived and accessible for several years.

The electronic documents issued by your bank, your phone service provider or a public organization have the same legal value as those received in the mail. Save them on your hard drive, a USB key, in a cloud or on an external hard drive stored in a secure location, such as a safety deposit box.

Some original documents may be destroyed once they have been scanned, under certain conditions. Refer to the Act to Establish a Legal Framework for Information Technology for further details.

The KonMari method applied to paper

Have you determined which documents to keep and how long they should be retained? Now it’s time to sort through them and you don’t have to be a minimalist to apply the following tips:

Step 1: put all your papers in one place, from a parking ticket to your last income tax return, putting aside papers of sentimental value.

Step 2: organize your papers in piles.
o Papers to be processed (bills to be paid, forms to be completed, etc.): keep them within reach
o Papers to be kept on a short-term basis (warranties, banking statements, etc.)
o Papers to be retained on a long-term basis (real estate property documents, diplomas)
Shred or recycle anything that does not fall into one of these 3 categories.

o Step 3: Purge!

It’s good to use vertical storage over horizontal piles to avoid falling back into accumulation and losing sight of important documents.

Marie Kondo writes that the pending folder must be emptied. If it contains papers, it means that you have left things unfinished in your life, which she specifies is a “goal” she aims for and has not yet reached.

This big clean-up may not “spark joy” but you will have the satisfaction of finding your important papers when you need them.

Protect your personal information

It may be tempting to throw the papers away in a recycling bin once they have been torn up. But this could put you at risk of identity theft. Protect your personal information by shredding the documents containing personal information (i.e. bills, banking statements, income tax returns). Check to see if your province has any official organizations that deal with personal information and what they recommend as they best way to shred it.

This will help show you how to safely dispose of your confidential documents.


1. Quebec government recommendations
2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, 2015, p. 232


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