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I wouldn’t consider myself a hoarder but as much as I like the idea of minimalism, the reality is I can’t quite part with everything. One area I’ve always particularly struggled with is paperwork. I keep things for sentimental reasons – cards, notes etc – even though I never go through these things and look at them again. I keep letters and paperwork ‘just in case’ (although I’ve never been asked for my P60 from 2008)… and I also tend to keep things like receipts and guarantees (even when they’re out of date), instructions, appointment letters – all because throwing them away makes me feel a bit anxious, because what if I need them.
I knew it was something I wanted to tackle though, as the junk drawer in our living room kept getting crammed with unsorted paperwork. The expanding file folder I was using to ‘organise’ sorted papers was full to bursting and we had old birthday cards coming out of our ears.
So, I sat down and took some time to get it in order. Here’s how I did it and how you can also organise your paperwork.
Before you can sort anything out, you need to make sure you’re doing this once and once only. So to do this, you need to make sure you’re sorting all your paperwork. Gather it all together in one place. And I mean all of it. Check bedrooms, cupboards, bookshelves, drawers, handbags, the car – anywhere you may have stashed a letter or piece of paperwork. Collate it all into one place and tackle everything in one go.
Spread yourself out on the floor or the dining table and create 3 piles. We’ll properly categorise them later, but for now just sort them into ‘Definitely Keep’, ‘Not Sure’ and ‘Bin’.
‘Definitely Keep’ will be your important documents such as birth certificates, passports etc.
‘Bin’ will be the stuff for shredding/recycling – the stuff you know you definitely don’t need to keep and you’re probably wondering why you even kept it in the first place. eg. junk mail
‘Not Sure’ is all the stuff in between, you don’t want to bin it just in case, but you’re not really sure that you need to keep it.
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I knew that the expanding file wasn’t working for me at present, so I made a deal with myself that I would only keep what was absolutely necessary to have in physical format.
Sentimental items would be stored separately.
Everything else would either be binned or converted to a digital format.
I bought a plastic storage box for our sentimental items, which when sorted would then be stored in the attic and I bought an external hard drive for everything else that didn’t need to be kept physically.
Once I had sorted the paperwork into the 3 piles mentioned above, and decided how my new storage system was going to work, I got to work purging my ‘not sure’ pile.
When you do this, you need to be a bit ruthless – it can be tempting to hang onto things ‘just in case’ (world’s worst right here!) but you’re just creating clutter.
When you have created your digital versions of the papers you feel you need to keep, you need to organise them so that you can reference them quickly should you ever need to.
I probably went a little overboard but I created a folder called ‘Paperwork’ and made subcategories within that. The categories I have are:
Again, I’ve probably kept far more than I need to, but scanning things has allowed me to completely declutter the physical stuff, but still have piece of mind that it’s there if I need it.
I also scanned all the important documents, even though I’m obviously keeping the physical copy. Reason being that Luke and I have needed copies of these various documents over the past year and every time we spend ages looking for what we need, now there’s a copy readily available on the laptop to print out or attach to an email.
Create categories that suit your needs – you can always change them later.
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It’s all well and good whittling down your physical paper collection, but digital copies mean nothing if your PC/Laptop was to break. I had intended to buy an external hard drive anyway to house the hoards of baby pictures I’ve taken over the last 15 months and as my laptop is 5 years old, I’m pretty certain it’s going to die soon and I didn’t want to lose everything along with it so I transferred it all across.
There’s no logic behind my method here – anything I wanted to keep for sentimental reasons, I just put in a plastic storage box and up into the attic.
What’s in my box? Our engagement and wedding cards, cards Luke and I have exchanged (not that Luke EVER gets me a card!), new baby cards, scan photos, Elise’s footprints, Thank you cards from my friends who had babies etc.
What went? Birthday cards that weren’t from me, Luke or Elise.
Now the only physical paperwork in the expanding file is the important documents I mentioned earlier, Luke’s DBS and both of our qualification/achievement certificates.
They fit neatly into the file without it bursting at the seams and each section is labelled so whatever we are looking for, we’re able to easily put our hands to.
Now when any paperwork comes into the house, I put it on top of the sideboard. I hate clutter on surfaces so leaving it there forces me to deal with it. Any takeaway menus/junk mail goes straight into recycling, appointments are put in my phone calendar and either scanned or binned, and anything else is dealt with as above.
Now that we’re all nicely organised, I don’t want to have to do a big job like this again so I’m trying to prevent paper entering the house where possible. Here’s how to limit the amount of post you receive:
Hopefully you’ve found that helpful and I’ve inspired you to tackle your paperwork. I follow lots of organisation accounts on Instagram and I often see people buying filing cabinets to house their papers and I just think is it really necessary? We’re living in a digital age now and I think sometimes we need to remember that and get with the program. Companies are always looking for ways to cut costs and not having to communicate with customers by post saves them a lot of money, so most suppliers/vendors will offer a paperless option if you ask for it.
I started Katie Saves while on Maternity Leave to document our adjustment to living on less. Now back in work - I blog about making extra money, saving money, getting my life organised and being a new mum. Join me!