Want to organise your paperwork but don't know where to start?
That's perfectly normal - paperwork is the easy winner of “the most disliked category to declutter and organise”!
The most quoted reasons as to why our clients want to hire a professional organiser to help them organise their paperwork are:
- I feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start!
- I can’t motivate myself to do it!
- I just don’t know what the best system is to organise my paperwork!
However, when their paperwork is decluttered and organised effectively, our clients exclaim:
- I can sleep at night - I feel like a weight has lifted off my shoulders!
- I can find everything I need so easily!
- It was so much quicker and easier doing this with you than on my own!
Impact of disorganised paperwork
Disorganised paperwork really impacts our headspace, time and energy. When paperwork is not dealt with it can lead to feelings of dread and overwhelm. However much we push that to the back of our brains, it is still there gnawing away at us. On a practical level, we can waste so much time and energy looking for paperwork and become disorganised e.g. paying bills late, missing deadlines and generally feeling like we are only just keeping our heads above water.
If you work from home, then having a dedicated workspace which is clear and free of piles of paperwork is incredibly important in order to be productive.
Our organisers often find that clients are blocked by the anxiety of getting rid of something we may later need. Often we just hold on to paperwork “just in case” we need it one day. More often than not, that day never comes.
1. Start by gathering and opening any unopened mail
Discard anything you don’t need and divide the rest into categories for filing.
2. Deal with your paperwork in categories, for example:
- Financial - including bank current and savings accounts, investments, ISAs, premium bonds
- House - title deeds, utility bills, insurance, renovation works
- Health - GP, dentist, optician
- Course notes / workshops attended
- Manuals / guarantees / warranties
- Bank statements
- Insurance documents
- Courses / workshops
Magazines + newspapers
3. Decide whether to discard or keep it
Start with the easiest paperwork such as junk mail, old action lists or post-it notes and then work through your different categories of paperwork.
- Ask yourself for each page, why are you keeping it? When it comes to financial or business paperwork our organisers cannot advise you what to keep. However, they will ask you the right questions so that you reach a decision and help you decide who it would be best to ask if you are unsure. For example, your accountant or lawyer. This in itself can help you overcome the hurdle of dealing with it alone. The Gov.UK website has useful advice if you are self-employed or running a limited company as to what records you need to keep.
- For magazines and newspapers, these can become a burden instead of a relaxing activity. Often people have a fear of missing useful information. How often are you really going to look through those magazines, papers or cuttings again? There are so many sources of information now that if you needed it, you could find it again online. Information also goes out of date. If you find it really difficult, set yourself a rule that you only keep the last month's worth or week's worth of papers / magazines.
- Can you scan certain items rather than keeping hard copies to save space? Make sure it is backed up! Ensure that you keep originals such as marriage, death and birth certificates and title deeds of houses.
- Can you find the document again online or request copies? For example, this is often the case for bank statements or utility bills and manuals for appliances.
4. Discard safely
To protect against identity theft, it is advisable to tear out or blot out your name and address from any discarded paperwork. This is particularly important for financial paperwork and if you are putting your paperwork in a recycling bin.
5. Keeping paperwork
There are many different organising solutions out there so it is worth considering which you prefer (everyone is different!). Consider whether you:
- have a filing system which used to work but for various reasons has lapsed? Perhaps you just need to clear the backlog and set up a better flow of paperwork through your home so it ends up in the filing system
- have a filing system which did not work previously so you need a new one or have never had one? Working with an organiser, they can help you decide what system would work best for you e.g. filing cabinet, A4 lever arch files
- Struggle to deal with the influx of paperwork into your home? Perhaps you need to reduce subscriptions or move to paperless settings on online accounts. If you receive post for previous tenants or owners or lots of junk mail try https://www.mpsonline.org.uk/. You may also need a better system for managing where paperwork lands when it comes through the letter box and how it is dealt with. This involves a combination of bringing in effective paperwork systems and new habits.
6. Desk / workspace
- Clear the surface of your desk so that you have a clean space to work from: remove anything that you do not use regularly every day.
- Consider where you can keep your extra stationery – could you have a small set of drawers under your desk? Labelled boxes on shelves nearby?
- Do you need an in-tray (vertical or horizontal) with labelled trays so that you have a place to put paperwork which needs to be actioned and paperwork which needs to be filed. Try to limit yourself to between 2 – 5 tiers: any more gets overwhelming!
- How do you remember things you need to do? Writing things down helps clear your mind and prioritise actions.
- Do you have a paper list?
- Is a list on your phone more convenient to jot down any items that pop into your mind when you are out and about?
- How do you prioritise what you do each day?
- Do you need to re-frame your lists as an accomplishment e.g. “ta-da!” list rather than a “to-do” list to make it feel less overwhelming? At any point during the day, list all the things you’ve already accomplished. Any win or task, no matter how trivial, gets recorded. It may surprise you how long your list ends up being. This can put things in perspective and show you where you may be prioritising things that are not valuable.
- Do you have too many lists?! Combine and bring together so you have one master list.
Help with paperwork
Many of our organisers can help you organise your paperwork. They will work together with you to reduce it (pointing you in the direction of who to ask about what to keep and let go of) and set up effective systems for keeping on top of it going forward. Book one of our organisers today to help you!
You can also get in touch by email: email@example.com if you have any questions.