I’m a big believer of the fact that when your house is decluttered and organised, your mind feels lighter too. I know this isn’t true for everyone, but it definitely is for me. And one thing that always gets left behind when I tidy up is filing paperwork.
I really dread it. When the post comes through the door, I open it immediately and then throw any promotional items and envelopes in the recycling box. But then I end up putting anything I need to keep or action on the stairs! And things pile up and pile up. Until the day I need to hoover the stairs, and I move it elsewhere. Over time this pile of paperwork and mess following us around the house and gets bigger and bigger. Until I get fed up with it and stuff it in a big drawer upstairs. It’s the black hole when my paperwork ends up. It’s a drawer I don’t want to open. Because the last time I sorted it out was nearly 3 years ago. Yes, that long.
I knew I needed to tackle it, so I decided to speak to Professional Declutterer and Organiser Zoë Short, who I interviewed back in May. More recently, Zoë also inspired me to create a home office for myself, so I knew that she could share some invaluable advice that would help me to tackle something I had been dreading for years!
So without further ado, this is what I learnt (and implemented) thanks to Zoë.
1. Gather everything together and create a backlog box
If, like me, you have tons of paperwork you haven’t sorted in years, the first thing Zoë advises to do is to get everything together. I went around the house and collected everything I could see. I picked up the pile from the stairs, some paperwork from the kitchen and even found some in my bedroom! And I added it all to the drawer where it’s been piling up for nearly 3 years.
Zoë explained to me that getting everything together isolates the problem. And actually, it felt great! Any smaller bundles of paperwork from around the house were gone – yeay! And now that I knew that everything was in one room, I felt more prepared to tackle it.
2. Sift through it and reduce your backlog
Zoë advised me to start dedicating 20-30 minutes a day to go through that backlog. That way I could eliminate anything that needed to go. For example, things that were too old too keep, expired, no longer relevant etc. And this is the bit I really like – seeing things go makes me feel happy. So choosing this as my first step was great, because the backlog was a bit scary, but I got started with a part of the process that came easily to me and that actually quite enjoyed!
Within an hour and a half, I had considerably reduced my backlog and shred a lot of paper, with my 2 youngest sons acting as my little helpers. (Isn’t it lovely when they’re still young and want to help you do everything?)
3. Create a system for filing paperwork
In order to keep on top of the post coming in, Zoë advised me to create a paperwork station by the door. The idea is to collect and separate items addressed to each member of the family. Seeing that our children are still young, we should be ok with 3 trays or are: one for me, one for The Husband, and one for the children. So I’ve now cleared up the area between our 2 front doors, and that’s where all post goes now.
A key piece of advice that Zoë gave me is to process things as soon as possible. So if you have a bill to pay or a phone call to make to book an appointment, for example, do it as soon as you can. And then ideally you can get rid of the paperwork you no longer need.
But what about archiving?
The tricky bit for me is archiving. When I make the decision to keep something, I then need to work out where to put it. We have a few different binders already (house-related documents, bank statements, car papers etc.), and I find taking them out to file one letter or statement at the time too much of a pain! That’s why I don’t do it, and let things pile up for 3 years!
Perhaps I need to reconsider my archiving system, as now that I’ve been through my huge backlog, I have to start archiving them. Oh, and by the way, the whole process of gathering all our paperwork and going through it (including shredding) took approximately 2-2 1/2 half hours for 3 consecutive days! And 3 black bags of shredded paper later, I feel like a new, ‘lighter’, more organised person! Knowing that all that paper (who knew it’d fill 3 big black bags once shredded?) is out of my house give me huge relief.
And if you’re after some more useful tips…
Here are a few other gems that Zoë shared with me:
- Keep your systems simple – if it’s complicated, you’re not going to stick with it. (See my archiving solution, which clearly is too fiddly for me to keep up with).
- Keep your paperwork somewhere accessible but safe – if possible, having your filing system near the door (where post comes in from) and by your diary or family planner will help you to keep things organised.
- Share the load – don’t be the only one in the house following the system or doing the work. If everyone is involved, they’ll do their bit, and hopefully you won’t end up with a huge paperwork black hole like I did!
- Scan items – if archiving or filing doesn’t work for you or your family, could you perhaps scan things and keep digital files organised instead? Would that work for some things? Would you consider it?
- Decide how long you need to keep each type of correspondence for. For example, you may want to keep personal bank statements for up to 6 month, but you’ll need to keep mortgage statements or business accounts for longer. If in doubt, Zoë advised it’s always best to check the latest recommendations on Money Saving Expert to ensure you’re keeping the right items for the amount of time they’re required for. Business papers, for examples, at the time of writing, should be kept for 7 years, so Zoë told me she encourages her clients to keep 7 boxes or folders (one per financial year).
And now to keep on top of it all…
As always, I can’t really thank Zoë enough for giving me the inspiration and motivation to tackle something that had been on my mind for so long! I now have a tinier backlog of paperwork that I need to go through again (having established that these are things to keep and archive), and I need to either scan them or file them. Hopefully, I’ll now come up with a way to file things straight away (digitally perhaps?) to avoid having creating another 3 years’ worth of paperwork!
How do keep your paperwork organised? Do you have a filing system that works for you? Can you share any tips? Or do you also have mountains of paperwork to tackle?