Banish Your Paper Clutter in 5 Easy Steps

It is possible to regain control of your paper clutter!

If you have paper clutter about your home, you’ll know how it makes you feel. Your home always feels messy, it’s stressful trying to find what you need and you risk missing important events or deadlines.

There is no denying we live in a digital world, but physical paperwork remains a fact of life. Letters, leaflets, tickets, manuals, kids artwork, official documents and other papers continue to come into our home every day. This paper clutter can soon build up, gathering on surfaces and getting in our way.

If this sounds familiar, you’ll know how it can make you feel!

If we don’t keep a handle on this paperwork deluge it can quickly have negative consequences for our home and our health. Messy unsightly piles can cause stress and embarrassment when visitors come around, and clutter can affect our ability to focus on tasks and our work. Plus, we risk impacting our family, finances and health if we end up missing appointments or payments when we can’t find the documents we need.

If your paper clutter is out of control, know that you’re not alone. 

And, with some work (it’s well worth doing, I promise) it’s possible to get it back under control using my simple system to manage your paperwork.

5 Easy Steps to Regain Control of Your Paper Clutter

Gather your paperwork together from all over the house and bring together on one clear surface where you have a bit of room. If you’ve built up a lot it may be easier to do this on the floor.

Recycle (shred personal details) all envelopes, leaflets, old notes and documents you don’t need. Any documents you were holding temporarily but are now finished with can also go. This step will thin out the pile of paperwork, reduce any overwhelm and enable you to give thought to the remaining documents.

Organise your remaining documents into piles using the following categories:

  • Action: These are the documents that you are currently using or will need soon (e.g. forms you need to complete, letters that you need to take to appointments, I also keep name tags for kids items in my Action section as I always need to label something )
  • Keep long-term This pile will contain these would be documents that you need to refer to again in future or, that you can’t easily be replaced (including Identity documents such as passports and, birth, adoption, or marriage certificates; education and employment documents; important information and contracts related to your car, house, finances and health.)  If you’re unsure of whether you should hold on to something, do so for now and get advice
  • Memories should be managed separately.  Whilst you may wish to keep some school reports, children’s artwork, personal letters etc, make sure that you store these separately so that they don’t hinder your search for important documents when you need them.

The idea is to create a holding space for all of the paperwork you’ll need soon. The things you put in here should only be there temporarily, until you use them or no longer need them, and then they should be thrown out or stored in your long-term filing system.

Many people like to use a letter rack in the entrance hall, a noticeboard, in-tray in the home office or magazine file in the kitchen. Alternatively you may not need to keep the document but instead can save a screen shot to your phone or cloud drive, or note the details in your calendar, a digital notebook or a secure filing app. Whatever works for you!

Whatever you choose to use, keep it somewhere you can easily access when you acquire new paperwork to deal with, and where you won’t forget to deal with what you’ve put in there!

Now it’s time to create homes for all of the paperwork that you need to keep. You may want to invest in a safe or off-site storage for some important documents.

Take a moment to consider which documents you need to keep but aren’t necessary as hard copies stored by you. For example, you may be able to download some paperwork for your utility bills, subscriptions, online purchases, bank statements from your accounts as and when you want them. Don’t forget to get copies before you close any accounts if you may need them later.

Whether you store documents in hard copy or electronic form, it’s important to review them periodically and dispose of anything that you no longer need to keep. You might do this when you add a document; 1 in, 1 out.

You may have heard that bank statements should be kept for six years, but Martin Lewis now recommends you keep them for longer than this. You can read his thoughts on the subject here Don’t throw bank statements away after six years

Reduce your physical paper storage by going digital

If you want to keep physical storage to a minimum, you could consider filing original documents you’ll need for evidence in a concertina folder, filing box, or safe and digitise the rest. One example of a digital filing cabinet solution is the FYIO app.

How to manage your paperwork day to day

Now you’ve regained control of your paper clutter, it’s important to keep on top of it or it will only build up again. The key is to manage it quickly and as soon as it comes into your home wherever possible. 

Here is my quick and easy process for how to do it. 

  1. Dispose! -Recycle/shred anything you know you don’t need. If you put it down and come back to it later, you’ll handle it more than once which wastes your time
  1. Do it quickly! -If it will take 2 minutes, take action immediately – book the appointment, complete the return slip, schedule the bill for payment
  1. Schedule -Diarise any task that will take more than a few mins and store any related paperwork for easy access
  1. Give it a home -Pop it into your action folder or into your long term filing system!

If you loved this article you may also be interested in: Discover how the Apps I love could make you better organised.

Paperwork can feel overwhelming because we usually have a lot of it. If you’d like help with an initial sort, setting up your filing system and reviewing your paperwork or advice on storage options, contact me for practical advice and support.

Note: get advice if you are unsure about whether you need to keep a document and for how long.

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How to organise paperwork

If you have yet to find the best way to manage your paperwork, I’m writing this just for you! Paperwork is a fact of life but it doesn’t have to be the cause of so much clutter! The good news is, it is possible to keep it all under control if you dedicate a little time to setting yourself up with a simple system so that you tackle it as it comes into your home.

If you have yet to find the best way to manage your paperwork, I’m writing this just for you!

Paperwork is a fact of life but where does it come from and does it have to cause so much clutter?

Like death and taxes, you can’t get away from it! Anything from owning a gadget, to holding a bank account, store card or mobile phone, being employed, having a family, running a home or car, all generates paperwork! And that’s the important stuff! Then there is the paperwork that just arrives without cause or invitation; the leaflets, marketing materials, menus, catalogues and magazines that come through our doors all the time!

Do you also generate your own paper? I know I do; hand-written notes, printed documents, tickets, itineries to take to events, because you may need them, or simply because you prefer to read a real document sometimes.

In a bid to hold on to paperwork that may be useful, you stash it in a drawer or file it in away but it soon mounts up.

According to US National Association of Professional Organisers:

we don't look back at 80% of the paperwork that comes into our homes

Searching through mountains of paperwork to find that one important document you need is so frustrating!! At best it can cost you time searching, at worst it can cost you the price of a holiday when you can't find your passport!

The good news is, it is possible to keep it all under control!

And it's not that hard to manage if you dedicate a little time to setting yourself up with a simple system so that you tackle it as it comes into your home. Make sure you take 10 mins every day to do the following (don't just stack it up to deal with 'later'!)

  • Open envelopes and sort out the useless paperwork
  • Recycle envelopes, leaflets, menus, instruction manuals (unless you intend to sell items in future) and anything else you can find online
  • Take action:
    • add any key dates and appointments to your diary
    • schedule payments, make phone calls, book appointments
    • login to your online banking and other accounts and indicate that you’d rather receive online bank statements
  • Once actioned, recycle or shred the document (unless you need to take the letter along to the appointment, e.g. hospital appointments)
  • If you don't have time or can't take action straight away - assign one shelf, basket or noticeboard for the paperwork that is Waiting to be Actioned

Then each week tackle your Waiting to be Actioned pile - ensure you go back to this location every week and take the actions needed (perhaps it's a Saturday breakfast-time job)! Once the task is complete, file, shred or recycle the document

Now you've got a system set up to take tackle your paper clutter each week, it's time to sort out your existing paperwork

  • Prepare - Choose a table or floor with space to spread out, grab a recycling bag, shredder and a folder with dividers
  • Gather all paperwork from around your home
  • Sort through it, shredding, recycling or filing
  • File the documents in sections in your folder

Don't forget to use a system that is as simple as possible but feels logical for you - afterall you need to use it!

If it's a huge task, do this for each room, then bring everything together in one and have another pass and it.

I've created an Important Paperwork Checklist that outlines sections and lists all the documents I'd want to keep safe to refer to in future. It offers a guide to how you could organise your filing and the types of documents you might file. I'm sure there will be other important documents that you'll need to refer to or keep as evidence for something and you need to decide whether to keep them. If in doubt, keep it and gain some advice!

What are you waiting for?

So get started and do let me know how you get on! I love to hear how you get on with my tips.


By the way, just so you know, I'm an Amazon Associate so I earn from qualifying purchases. 


About OrganisedWell

Would you like help getting organised?

Laura Williams, Founder and Professional OrganiserIf you need guidance, ideas and practical support to make more of your home, organise your possessions in a way that supports your best life or to get started with your decluttering project, then give me a call.

We provide tailored advice and practical support to clients looking to make changes, to create calm, ordered space and free up time and money to focus on the important things in life. We specialise in organising rooms, garages, wardrobes, paperwork and much more; see our services or get in touch.