Declutter Your Life, But Don’t Throw Away the Important Stuff

Don’t shred important records you may need when it comes time to retire.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I can still remember coming home from school at this time of year to find the windows open and all the curtains taken down and hanging outside on the clothesline. My mom loved to keep her home smelling fresh and clean, so spring cleaning was an important task to her. 

For many people, part of spring cleaning is getting rid of the clutter around their homes. My dear friend Georgia has been on a decluttering frenzy as she prepares to sell the home where she and her late husband raised their two daughters. She was inspired by the book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter. Georgia calls this process “letting go,” and admits decluttering is not easy. But once you get started it gets easier.

Georgia has been posting inspirational pictures on FaceBook of the latest load of stuff she has placed on her front porch for pickup by GreenDrop. Decluttering, she says, is a “necessary evil, and I know how painful it is to purge when a loved one dies. I don't want my girls to go through that.”

When it comes to decluttering, in addition to getting rid of the stuff that you’ve collected over the years, it’s tempting to shred documents taking up space in your home office. But be careful with this part of the job. Just as you’ll want to keep some of the treasures and memorabilia you’ve collected over the years, there are some documents you’ll need to keep. This is especially true for federal employees, who may need to have their own copies of key records when it comes time to retire. 

Here’s a list of some of the documents you should be sure to hang onto:

  • Designation of beneficiary forms for Federal Employees Retirement System or Civil Service Retirement System benefits, your Thrift Savings Plan account and Federal Employees Group Life Insurance.
  • A copy of your completed retirement application.
  • Documentation of your federal service, including any SF-50 forms documenting your appointment into federal service, separation from service, changes in your work schedule, changes in your retirement coverage, salary rates over the highest three years of your federal career, military service records, and documents showing service credit deposits.
  • Insurance documents, especially records showing you’ve been covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program for five years.

You might also want to keep your performance appraisals and position descriptions, in case you decide to take another job after your retirement from federal service.

Other records that you should keep indefinitely include:

  • Birth, death, and marriage certificates
  • Adoption records
  • Citizenship and military discharge papers
  • Social Security card
  • Estate planning documents, such as your will or family trust records

You can store your records the old-fashioned way, in cardboard boxes or file folders. Or you can keep them electronically. Just be sure not to throw them out with the junk you know you have to get rid of.