This is Part 1 of the 3-Part series: Get Rid of Paper Clutter Once and For All. You can find Part Two right here. And Part Three right here.
I recently recevied an email from one of my loveliest readers, Tam:
“Do you have any tips for organising and filing paperwork? I have a spare room full of all the clutter, bits and bobs and a mountain range of many years of paperwork. I’m freaking out as we move out of our house this weekend and I don’t wanna drag all this with me…
Any advice and tips would be greatly appreciated.”
After a quick survery on Facebook, it seems many of you are battling with the paper clutter too. So I thought I would share with you the same information I shared with Tam.
You Can Get It Under Control!
I used to have piles and piles of papers. Things to action, things to file, bills to pay, bills that had been paid – there was a pile for each of them.
I had no system and even though I thought my piles were straightforward, whenever we had people visit, the piles would inevitably be stacked on top of each other and shoved in the spare room, where they would stay indefinitely. Until, of course, I added another pile to the collection.
Last year, I had had enough. I got stuck in, spent half a day wading through years of paperwork and eventually gained control. And it remains that way today.
So I sent a quick email to Tam, letting her know what steps I had taken to wrestle the paper clutter monster to the ground.
I must admit, when I replied to Tam it was in a flu-induced state of funkery and I’m quite sure much of it didn’t make sense.
But something of use made it through because Tam wrote back the next day:
“Brooke, I did it!!! I’m bloody hungover and my eyeballs are hanging out of my head, but I bloody well got stuck in and got it done…… AND IT’S ORGANISED!!!!
Thank you soooo much for your words of wisdom.
much love and blessings
Tam has given the OK to me sharing her emails with you, and I really want to for one main reason:
I want to help you get rid of your paper clutter and the stress that comes with it. And this week I’ll be running a 3-part series to show you just how I did it.
A side note:
Currently, I am not a “scan it and discard the paper” kinda girl. Call me old-fashioned, but I like having my bills on paper and my bank statements too. So if you’re looking for a high-tech solution to solve all your paper clutter troubles – this isn’t it.
Women’s Day has a fantastic post on how to digitise your records here. It’s well worth a read.
Getting Rid of Paper Clutter – Part One.
1. Bring it All Together
Go through your home and pick up any paper clutter you see. Any at all. Make sure to check the kitchen (particularly the top of the fridge) and benchtops. Also thoroughly check the office, the desk and any papers floating about in your drawers.
The most important thing is to bring all the paper clutter into one place.
That way, when the time comes, you’ll know what you need to make a space for, and how best to organise it.
2. Understand What You Need to Keep
(This list will differ sightly from country to country, and even perhaps state to state. There are also additional considerations if you run a business or have kids. If you have any particular questions – Google it or perhaps ask an accountant.)
When it comes to the paperwork you need to keep, it all falls into two categories. If it doesn’t fit either of these – you can safely recycle it:
- Papers to keep on file (this includes identification, mortgage/lease papers, tax information, insurance papers, etc)
- Papers requiring action (bills to be paid, forms to be completed, school papers, health receipts to claim, etc)
Firstly – Papers to Keep on File
This is a list of papers that need to be kept in your filing cabinet. Papers you may need to refer back to later or to provide when applying for a loan, or a job, or other types of credit.
In general, keep the last 12 months worth of bills, statements and accounts and keep the most recent version of insurance policies and contracts.
- savings account statements
- transaction account statements
- mortgage papers and statements
- personal loan papers and statements
- credit card statements
- health insurance
- car insurance
- home and contents insurance
- life insurance
- one folder per person
- current tax year (receipts, etc)
- 5 previous years (tax returns, letters, etc)
Utilities – Contracts and Paid Bills
- mobile phones
- home phone/internet
- council rates
- a folder per person if necessary
- one folder per child
Papers Requiring Action:
This category includes bills that need paying, letters that require sending, forms to complete, school permission slips, medical receipts that you need to claim, etc.
Basically anything that requires an action on your part.
You need to find somewhere specific to keep these. For me it needs to be in plain sight. If I file these “to do” papers out of sight, I am far less likely to actually do anything with them. (And this can mean bills not paid on time, letters not sent, etc).
I have a specific place in our admin area – right next to the computer – that I keep these papers.
Wherever you choose, ensure it is somewhere that makes sense to you. Make sure it’s somewhere that will encourage you to action them regularly.
And For the Lazy (Like Me) – A Papers to Be Filed Box:
I am essentially quite lazy and while I understand I should just file my papers once they’ve been actioned, that rarely happens.
So I have a lovely little box next to my computer where I store anything that has been actioned or needs to be filed. I leave it to fill up and then file everything in one go.
It works for me, it looks tidy (being hidden in plain sight) and takes one step out of the process.
3. Get Prepared
At this stage you don’t need to sort any of the paper you’ve collected – that part comes tomorrow. Today you are simply getting prepared – so that when you do sort out the piles of papers, you don’t waste time shuffling them around.
Your filed papers should be kept somewhere organised, out of the way and relatively secure.
A one or two-drawer filing cabinet is the best option, but you could also use a collapsible concertina file or archive box. Whatever you decide – it needs to be orderly and easy to access each individual file. If it’s not easy, you won’t use it.
Preparing the Filing Cabinet
- Invest is some hanging file dividers and manilla folders. They aren’t expensive, are readily available and make keeping the papers in order as simple as possible.
- Using the list above, label each hanging divider with one of the category headings and use a manilla folder for each of the relevant subcategories listed below it. (Eg. Label a hanging divider “FINANCES” and individual manilla folders “Savings”, “Transactions”, “Mortgage”, “Car Loan”, and “Visa”.)
- Consider if you need any additional folders. If you do, label those too.
I know this seems like a huge amount of information – but don’t freak. All you need to focus on is:
- gathering your paperwork in one place
- establishing what records you need to keep
- buying some folders to store your records
- preparing them for storage – by labelling a folder for each type of record
If you can do these four things, you are more than halfway to getting your paper clutter organised. Nice one!
Tomorrow we’ll roll up our sleeves and sort those piles out once and for all.
Do you have a paper filing system? Or do you like to keep everything digital these days?