Articles (Blog)

Your Year Of Decluttering – October (Paperwork, even if you love paper)

Snowed under? Having trouble locating the important stuff?

Using too much mental energy keeping track of where your important paperwork is?

Paperwork feels important doesn’t it? We have a horror of throwing out something REALLY important. Or worse, valuable!

Or you might be a Paper Lover, needing to feel the paper in your hands. Maybe you like to underline, and write on things. (Don’t worry this blog is not about throwing everything out.)

Maybe you’ve put a huge amount of love and energy into something paper based. It’s your strength of feeling that makes you want to keep it.

The truth is that you may never look at most of them again. But you still keep every piece of paper that comes into your sight, Just In Case. You end up with an overwhelming volume of bits of mushed up trees with ink on them.

You’re busy too! Running from one thing to the next, you open mail and shove it in the nearest file, bag or box. “I’ll get to that later” you think…

Or you just don’t have the brain-space to make a decision, so you just keep everything.

~ Note: If you have Business Paperwork or you’re required to keep records for legal reasons, you might like to consider keeping them separate from your Life Paperwork. 7 years of papers takes up a lot of room and you don’t need to refer to them. Put them somewhere far, far away, but safely. Shred the oldest files when the newest are stored. Go digital whenever possible.

There are loads and loads of paperwork systems out there.

Because it’s such a scary/revolting job to sort and toss mountains of paperwork lots of people look for systems that will save them from paperwork horrors.

But after a while the systems stop working. Or you give up after a week or two. Why?

Because there’s still too much. Organising 1000’s of pieces of paper is always going to harder than organising 100’s or even 10’s of pieces of paper.

You Don’t Have To Keep Everything.

If you love filing, pretty labels and files and can stay organised, hurray! But if not…

Now’s a good time to start sorting with an eye to discarding. Yes, I’m afraid it is important to go through them. I’ve had clients find marriage certificates and cash muddled up in school newsletters from 1998.

If you’re anything like some of my clients, you’ve got a rough system, where you sort-of know where things are. They’re bunched together a bit. Even if they’re in plastic supermarket bags or piles all over the house. But even if they are all in total chaos you can win this battle!

  • It really helps to gather all your paperwork into one room, if you can. A storage unit might be just the ticket if you don’t have space or time right now.
  • Have a few boxes ready to sort into.
  • Bring the recycling bin closer and maybe borrow or buy a shredder.
  • Decide what’s important to you and create rough categories, with a box for each.
  • Make sure you have a clearly marked box for special things and keepsakes.
  • Flick through manageable handfuls and divide them into their assigned boxes.
  • Try to put more in the recycling than in the storage boxes!

You might like to think about these things when deciding whether to keep a piece of paper or toss it:

  1. Will definitely need to use this document in the future (certificates, warranties, investments etc.) Scan and save a digital copy, store the paper in a secure place with other special documents. Make sure they’re easy to find when you need them.
  2. May need or want to read in the future. Also scan if possible. Bear in mind a lot of this stuff is possibly available on the internet, from the company or institution on request, is seriously out of date and is taking up a LOT of room.
  3. You realistically won’t look at it again. Remove names and addresses or shred, or if there’s nothing private on it, pop it in the recycling.

You Don’t Have To Print EVERYTHING.

Hello Paper Lover. Visual much? Love the tactile effect of paper between your fingers? Love to write stuff down? There’s nothing wrong with any of that.

But if you’re a wee bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of paperwork building up around you, you might like to think about these:

  • If you need to print something to remind you to read it, make a Must Read spot that’s so in your face you HAVE to read it. Or email it to yourself.
  • Just because you’ve printed something doesn’t mean you have to keep it forever. Make space in your Must Read spot for the next thing that interests you. Once you’ve read something, recycle it.
  • You know how to use a computer. Use favourites, bookmarks and lists to record website addresses that you’d like to go back to.
  • If you have a habit of printing something that you know you can easily access online, like newsletters, statements etc. Break that habit.
  • Make it a pleasure for you to read something online. Get your wine or coffee, tablet or laptop and get comfy.
  • Arrange for paperless statements, bills and store receipts. You can save the emails or attachments to your computer.

You Don’t Have To Organise It All To Perfection.

I have a lovely client who was a teacher many years ago. She still volunteers in areas of education that interest her.

The reason she called me?

Her flat was swamped with all her precious printed material from years of teaching various subjects. They lay in piles on every surface, and new papers were added every week.

She’d gone to a huge amount of trouble to create some of the resources she’d used. She even had her teacher’s college papers from 40 years ago. It was ALL precious to her. She occasionally referred to material she’d kept for 20 years.

She was also going to be a grandmother for the first time. She was beside herself with joy and excitement. She also realised that her flat was no place for a baby or toddler to visit.

“I’m not getting rid of ANYTHING” she said. “I just need help to get it out of the way and safe”.

She wasn’t kidding. In the end one small box full went into recycling.

The rest were divided into large plastic boxes with secure lids and large labels. Each category meant something to her. The papers were roughly organised file-style in each box, which was enough for her. Then we stored all the big boxes on shelves in her garage.

Her day to day paperwork was organised into smaller boxes which she kept in her room.

When her daughter and new grand daughter visited for the first time, her flat was clear of paperwork, safe and tidy.

It’s about making it work for you. It’s not about wholesale dumping of paperwork, unless you want to. Everything is a choice.



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