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How to Organise Your Paperwork Once and For All in 5 Simple Steps

Do you find yourself buried under piles of life admin or drowning in a sea of bills, statements and miscellaneous documents?  Don't worry, you're not alone! Follow the simple guide in this blog post to help you get on top of your paperwork and stay organised. With a little effort, you'll create a simple system that will make it quick and easy to sort, file or discard all the paper that comes into your home. Keep reading to discover how.


Paperwork organisation before and after photos

How to declutter and organise your paperwork

Before you dive in with the bin bags and shredder work your way through the following paperwork organisation steps to ensure that you don't discard anything important :


Firstly, remember that this is time well spent! Take a look at the benefits of organising your paperwork.




The benefits of organising your paperwork

Spending just 4 minutes each day searching for misplaced items adds up to a staggering 24 hours a year!


  • You'll Save Time: Rummaging through stacks of paper for that one elusive document isn’t just frustrating - it's time-consuming.  Reclaim that lost time by establishing an organised system for your paperwork.

  • You'll Save Money: Late payment fees, missed refunds and subscription magazines you never read can drain your finances. With a well-organised paperwork system, you'll never miss a payment deadline or overlook a refund opportunity again.

  • Gain control:  No more frantic searches for important documents or worries about misplaced paperwork. Creating an effective filing system means you'll have peace of mind knowing exactly where everything is – making it super easy to file and find everything you need.

 


Take Action!

It’s taken a while for your paperwork to build up so it’s time to take action and confront the paperwork chaos head-on. 


Sorting paperwork into piles

Marie Kondo advises “My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away.” 


While this may seem like extreme advice it’s a reminder that we often hold onto papers out of habit rather than necessity.  NAPO (the US National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) estimates that we never look at 80% of the papers we keep once filed.  That slow accumulation of paperwork soon adds up.

 

 

I'm not suggesting that you follow Marie Kondo's advice completely. Most of my rightsizing clients prefer a happy medium, keeping enough papers to feel confident they have everything they need.



5 simple steps to create an organised paperwork system in your home

Breaking down the process into smaller steps will help you work through organising your paperwork one step at a time.


  1. Gather all your papers

  2. Sort them by category

  3. How to declutter unwanted paperwork

  4. Set up a system to organise and file the paperwork you keep

  5. Simple maintenance habits to manage the paper coming into your home


Study with paperwork in files


How to decide what paperwork to keep

To confidently decide what paperwork to keep, you need to first understand what you have. So, your first task is to gather together all the paper in your home - this is the same method used when decluttering any category with the KonMari Method.


1. GATHER - Collect all the paperwork from around your home 

Gather all the papers in one place to sort and categorise them.  This includes any paper that’s already filed, loose bits of paper, envelopes (opened and unopened) and direct mail.  Include all the paper piled up in the kitchen, study, bedroom or hidden behind the sofa. 

 

If you find any paper that is not needed, you can recycle it immediately instead of keeping it with other important documents.

 

Paperwork organisation tips:

  • Set aside space – organising paperwork can be time-consuming so it’s a good idea to gather papers in a room or space where you can 'shut the door' on the pile (or cover it with a sheet). This will enable you to take time away from going through the papers without tidying everything up. 

 

  • Take breaks – working through your paperwork can be more tiring than you realise so take frequent breaks to rest your eyes, make a cup of tea and get some fresh air.  This will help you refocus and work more efficiently.

 

 

2. SORT your paperwork into different categories

This can be a dull task but it’s important to stick with it.  Doing it properly now will save you time and effort in the long run.  You’ll need to look at every piece of paper and decide whether it needs to be kept, actioned or discarded.

 

Sort papers into broad categories using Post-it notes to label each pile.  Create additional piles (eg: named bank accounts) as needed – you can have as many categories as you need, the key is to make it easy to file and find any paperwork that you keep.  You may find it useful to start with the paperwork category checklist below or use a mindmap to come up with your categories.


Paperwork organisation categories

Always build your piles before making decisions about which papers to discard – you won’t know which is the latest statement or letter until everything is together.


Keep – as you decide to keep pieces of paper categorise them in piles (I use Post-it notes for category headers).  See the paper category checklist to help you get started.

 

Discard – Any papers that are old or have information that’s no longer needed.  Shred anything that shows personal information (name, address, financial details, medical records etc), everything else can either be recycled or binned. 

 

Action – create an action pile for important papers that you come across that you need to take immediate action on – you don’t want to lose them amongst all the other bits!

 

Paperwork Sorting Tips:

-       Open and discard envelopes and unwanted marketing flyers

-       Set aside sentimental items for later review so you can focus on practical documents first.  

-       Establish an action pile for urgent tasks and set aside important items like cheques, money or gift cards.


Sorted piles of paperwork with labels

 

3. How to DECLUTTER your paperwork

When deciding what you need to keep ask yourself “What role does this piece of paper or information have in my life going forward?”

  • Sort each category pile in date order so you can easily see your most recent document. 


  • Keep important identity documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, civil partnership certificates, passports, and qualifications for your entire life – you may also want to keep copies of these documents for reference.

  • You must keep any relevant information that may be needed for tax purposes.  In the UK, this differs depending on whether you are employed or self-employed - the latest government advice for each situation is linked below.

 

  • Keep at least one document for every account/pension/policy you have.  It’s up to you how many months’ worth of documents you keep, some people feel comfortable with 3 or 12 months whereas others discard everything as all their documents can be viewed online.

  • I recommend keeping the closing statement for old accounts and storing them together in a separate category for closed accounts.  

  • Warranties are only valid for the length of time stated on them – if they are past this date let them go.


For guidance on how long to retain important documents and paperwork refer to my guide: Do I need to keep this?  How long to keep bank statements and other important documents

 

Organised paperwork filing system

4. How to FILE your paperwork

Now you’ve streamlined your paperwork it’s time to set up a filing system using the categories you've created.  You don’t need to buy a filing cabinet if you don’t have a lot of paperwork – a simple system with four magazine files or level arch files usually works for most people. You may find it useful to have some cheap plastic folders to group similar documents, such as receipts or car documents in each file. 


Your files: 

  • Action file or basket:  Store items that require attention, such as bills, school letters or RSVPs in an easily accessible file.  Empty it weekly to stay on top of pending tasks.

  • Short-Term File:  Keep items you need to access within the next few months, such as warranties, utilities and holiday plans, in this file.  Rotate papers on a one-in-one-out basis to prevent build-up. 

  • Long-Term/Keep Forever:  Reserve this file for essential documents like passports, birth/wedding certificates and contracts that require long-term storage.  This can be stored away somewhere safe as it’s not something that you’ll be accessing every day.

  • Sentimental File:  Keep special items like old diaries or love letters in a special file separate from your practical paperwork. 



5. MAINTAINING your paperwork system - keeping on top of the paper coming into your home

Keeping your paperwork organised is easy if you put in place a few ground rules to stop it from getting out of control.

  • Open and process any incoming mail every day – deal with it straight away if possible (a 2-minute RSVP, online bill payment) or put it in your pending file to be dealt with later in the week. 

  • Recycle flyers, catalogues and envelopes you don’t want as soon as they come through the door.

  • Consider buying a redactor roller* to cut down on the amount of shredding you need to do – you can simply roll over any personal details to hide them.


*As an Amazon Associate I earn a commission from purchases without any additional cost to you



Creating some quick and easy habits, like the ones above, that you do every day is the best way to keep your home clutter-free.


Ready to get organised? Take a look at the following posts that will help to kickstart or continue organising your home:



If you liked this blog please let me know in the comments below & share it with someone who'll find it useful!


 

Sue Spencer - professional organiser and Konmari consultant

Hi! I’m Sue, a professional home organiser and KonMari Consultant based in Hampshire, UK. I had the privilege of training with Marie Kondo and by using her methods, I help growing families and empty nesters Rightsize their Homes.

We declutter and organise to clear space and time so they can get on with the important job of enjoying life.

 


Are you ready to start living A Life More Organised?

For a no-obligation chat about how I can help, please get in touch



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Sue Spencer KonMari Consultant
KonMari Master Consultant Badge

Hi, I'm Sue!

I love all things decluttering and home organisation and trained with Marie Kondo to be a KonMari Consultant after experiencing the benefits of tidying my own home using the KonMari Method.

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