Similar to an overflowing email inbox, continuously having to deal with piles of papers can just be overwhelming. Thus, it makes sense to declutter and reduce paperwork to a minimum.
When you’ve read some of my posts, you probably know that I decluttered my entire home a few years ago. I did it like Marie Kondo suggests, category by category. Admittedly, I had a lot to discard. But looking back, I’m still surprised how much paperwork had accumulated. Honestly, it filled a huge recycling box – which is about two bathtubs full of paper. Since then, I’ve changed the way I deal with paperwork entirely. Today I keep important documents in a small box. And I maintain two folders with current papers and notes, one for business and one for personal purposes. That’s all.
I can’t tell how good it feels getting this stress factor out of the way. Hence, I’m happy to share some KonMari inspired tips on how to tackle this often challenging category.
Subcategorize and Sort Your Papers
Similar to other decluttering projects, it’s necessary to gather everything in one place. Especially as paperwork tends to accumulate in different locations around the house. Once you have everything together, start sorting your papers into piles. When you have a lot of paperwork to declutter, it’s best to divide everything into subcategories and then roughly sort them by type. This gives you a better overview and makes it easier to decide what to keep and discard.
- Decide on the subcategories. These can be, for instance, business, school, home, personal, or similar.
- Sort papers roughly by type. Examples include contracts, receipts, other tax-related documents, credit card statements, warranties, manuals, course materials, etc. Do this within every subcategory.
- Sort papers by date. This can help to decide what’s old or obsolete and can be discarded.
- Mark all seemingly important documents. I used stickers in different colors for this purpose.
- Discard immediately what you indeed no longer need, such as old newspapers, grocery lists, coupons, postcards, notes, etc.
Depending on how much paperwork has piled up and how it was organized, all this can take a while. But stay committed. It’s worth it!
Decide What to Keep
Now it’s time to take a closer look at the documents that you’ve marked while categorizing and sorting. Ask yourself if they fall into one of these categories:
Documents to Keep
- Legal documents, such as certificates and contracts
- Tax-related documents, like invoices and receipts
- All other papers for which retention periods apply
- Anything you’re currently working on or want to deal with soon
- Valuable information that can’t be found somewhere else
Everything that doesn’t match these criteria can probably be discarded right away.
Organize the Remaining Papers
The best way is to consider how long you have to keep these papers. There are only three different types of documents:
- Essential documents that you have to archive indefinitely, such as legal documents, certificates, or similar.
- Documents that you have to store for a limited period. These are, e.g., tax-related documents or contracts for which retention periods apply.
- Papers you need until you’re done with them – for instance, letters you want to reply to, credit card statements, and more.
How I Organize Documents
Whether you prefer boxes, folders, or anything else – it is really up to you. Take my storage tips only as inspiration.
- I store all documents I have to keep indefinitely in a paper archive box. Plus, I scanned the most important ones and saved the digital copy to my cloud storage.
- I put documents that I have to retain for a certain period in a folder. I maintain two folders, one for business and one for personal use. Once a year, I go through both and see what can be discarded or needs to be archived indefinitely.
- Everything that’s pending, meaning there’s a todo attached or waiting for a response, simply stays on my desk. I keep these papers in an accordion-style folder. And because I tend to forget these papers when they’re tucked away, I schedule the corresponding todos in my Google calendar.
Let Go of All Other Papers
When I first read this, I thought never ever! I live in a ‘red tape country’. There’s nothing more important than forms and documents. How could I possibly throw away everything, anything? But after a while, I understood that it wasn’t about literally discarding everything right away. It was more about becoming aware of the (un-) importance of paper. Most of it is plainly clutter. Only a tiny amount of paperwork is worth our attention. Realizing this changed my relationship with papers thoroughly. Once you’ve filtered out the essential things, feel free to throw out the rest. Here are some examples and reasons why:
- Everything available electronically. This is an obvious one. You don’t need to keep all these manuals and other stuff you can easily find online. And honestly, google is much quicker than searching for the paper copy in your drawers.
- All that you’ve saved for the day when you’ll have time to deal with it. I know from my experience, this day most likely never comes. This is particularly true for course material and other information you keep just because you want to review it someday. It’s ok to discard all this. Especially when it continuously reminds you of something you haven’t yet managed to do.
- Expired documents and outdated information. Warranties are good examples. You don’t need them for appliances you no longer own or if they have expired. The best is to keep something like this in a section of your pending box or folder (see above). Quickly check them every time you add a new one. Apply the same to all other informational material you keep. Information nowadays gets stale very quickly.
Reduce Paperwork and Keep It From Piling Up Again
If you apply the above organizing tips, you already do a lot to keep paper clutter from piling up again. However, the best strategy is to reduce the number of papers you’re confronted with every day.
Here are some tips on how to stop the flood of paper clutter:
- Switch to electronic communication. Most banks, insurance companies, providers, shops, and other businesses offer the possibility to go paperless and use, e.g., apps, downloadable pdfs, or similar. But make sure you don’t accumulate digital clutter then. Check out my tips on how to better organize computer files!
- Opt-out from paper-based communications. It’s good to throw out old coupons, advertisements, catalogs, newspapers, and magazines. However, a fresh copy will be in your mailbox shortly after. Thus, take the opportunity to opt-out of paper-based communications. Usually, it takes only a few minutes to contact customer service and ask to remove you from their mailing list. Since GDPR and other data protection acts came into play, it became relatively easy to opt-out. In some countries there also services available that help you with that.
- Place a paper bin next to your mailbox so you can instantly throw away everything you don’t need. This is a simple yet effective way to reduce paper clutter.
You’ll certainly see once you stick to the above tips, papers will not pile up again – or at least not as quickly. Reducing paper clutter to a minimum definitely lessens stress and makes space for the things you love. Aren’t these good reasons to get started today?
More Tips and Inspirations
Reducing paperwork shouldn’t result in growing digital clutter. Here’re some posts that can help to avoid this:
- Declutter and Better Organize Digital Files in 5 Steps
- How to Declutter Your Inbox and Reduce Email Stress
If you’re not familiar with the KonMari Method yet, this post is for you:
And when you’re ready to start your decluttering journey, get my free printable checklist to guide you through and track your progress.
Printable KonMari Decluttering Checklist
Declutter once and for all and create a home, wardrobe, and life that sparks the most joy.
To gain a broader overview, check out my post on how to live a decluttered life. This comprehensive guide explains 5 reasons why it’s worth it to declutter and shows 5 different ways to do so (KonMari plus 4 other decluttering methods). The article also dives deeper into decluttering specific areas like your personal belongings, home, and workplace. And I added tips on how to deal with mental clutter and which new habits can help maintain a decluttered life over the long run.
If you like the ‘less, but luxe’ idea, follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more tips and inspirations. And don’t forget to join my email list to receive weekly updates plus content that’s exclusively available to my readers.
Do you have similar experiences decluttering and organizing your paperwork? Are there any tips you’d like to share with other readers?