Paperwork(Photo: Tom Prout\iStock)

Once I've finished most of my seasonal chores (swapping my winter and spring wardrobes, deep-cleaning the apartment), I have to face an even more daunting task: dealing with my overstuffed paper files.

I've tended to err on the side of caution with important (or at least important-looking) documents, mostly because (full disclosure) I've never bothered to learn what I should keep and what I can toss. Luckily, I didn't have to look far for this info: I found out how long to keep important papers right here on GoodHousekeeping.com.

What I need to keep:

  • Tax returns from the last seven years. That's the length of time the IRS would possibly look back if I were to be audited. And my W-2s from even before that (the expert advice is to keep them until retirement age, for proof of income over the years).
  • Bills from the current calendar year, if they'll be needed for tax purposes. (And ones from previous seven tax years, as needed, attached to the pertinent tax returns — again, for auditing protection.)
  • Warranty info for electronics and appliances that are still under warranty (hopefully with the original sales receipt stapled to it).
  • An "emergency" kit of my birth certificate, social security card, passport, and list of bank account numbers. I should probably invest in a fireproof box to hold these items as well.

What I can toss:

  • All old bank statements and credit card bills. I switched to paperless online statements ages ago, so the heaps of old ones can be shredded and trashed.
  • 401K statements from 2010 and before, though I may consider keeping them in case I'm curious to look back and see how its earned. Another one for the shredder.
  • Information that pertains to appliances, electronics, and cars that I no longer own. The manual for my first cell phone, for example, can definitely go.

What cleaning or organizing task have you been dreading? Any tips to manage the mounds of paper you've likely accumulated over the years? Leave them in the comments.