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paperwork | Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers – Decluttering and Organising across the UK

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Drowning in paper: How to organise your paperwork

Does paperwork have a habit of piling up around your home or workplace? Liz Gresson, professional organiser and owner of Hampshire-based organising business www.allorganisedforyou.co.uk has been there too. In this post she shares her thoughts about paperwork – why it piles up, how it makes us feel, and what we can do about it.

Drowning in paper!

I hate paper!  I don’t mean books or magazines, although I make sure newspapers and magazines are recycled straight after reading and not allowed to pile up.

For years I worked in solicitors’ offices which don’t seem to have changed much since the days of Charles Dickens, with stacks of bulging files piled up on shelves and on the floor round the desks.  Every morning my boss would put fresh letters and documents which had arrived in the post or been printed off from email on to my desk.  We went through reams of paper in the printer every week, often duplicating documents, in my view unnecessarily.  Some days I felt as if I couldn’t breathe for all the paper around me.

Many people work in offices like these and don’t want to come home to a house which resembles them in terms of piles of paper everywhere.  Working from home is a great option, but there is the ever-present danger of paper building up.

drowning in paperwork organising decluttering paper desk2

Freedom from paper

Now that I’m a professional organiser, my mission is to provide freedom from the paper that seems to come into our houses faster than we can deal with it: leaflets advertising all sorts of things from pizzas to conservatory blinds, letters from the bank, charity requests, renewal reminders from insurance companies and many others. We print off emails and attachments, planning to read them at our leisure.  It doesn’t take long for a stack of assorted paperwork to pile up.

I use a number of strategies to organise and minimise paper in our home as well as effective storage solutions. I have methods for dealing with paperwork in ways which reduce stress and increase efficiency.

drowning in paperwork organising declluttering paper magazines

Liz’s Top Tips

My top tips are:

  • Keep all paperwork in one place.
  • Go through it once a week, recycling or shredding what you don’t need and dealing immediately with anything which needs to be actioned.
  • Always select the paperless option with your bank, utility company, pension provider, insurer, etc. An added benefit here is that this can result in lower bills.
  • Scan important documents e.g. insurance policy schedules and shred the paper copy.
  • Sign up to the Mail Preference Service (mpsonline.org.uk) to filter out junk mail.

One client, an editor, told me he felt that I’d edited his life when I dealt with his paperwork and I think it’s an appropriate analogy.  Editing means cutting out what you don’t need and tidying up the rest.

I don’t believe we can become totally paper-free, but we can drastically reduce what we have and manage effectively the paper we do need to keep.

I offer to my clients help in reducing the amount of stuff they have, making their lives run more smoothly.  Tackling the tide of paper achieves both of those things.

If you need some help to start organising your paperwork, you can find your local professional organiser here.

rows of files

The Secrets to Managing Paperwork

Mel Carruthers is the owner of southern Scotland based business, More Organised

Mel, a former military museum curator, loves filing,‘rainbowtising’ and getting things done. Since paperwork/memory-keeping is one of her specialisms, she is brilliantly placed to share this guest blog.


Paperwork…

Despite living in the digital age, we are swamped with more paper than ever before;

    • bills to pay,
    • forms to sign,
    • newsletters to read,
    • timetables/magazines/newspapers
    • junk mail that we didn’t even want in the first place!

What to do with it all? 

paperwork

1. Take stock of the papers that come into your home and stop as much as you can.

  • Cut it out: There is no single agency to stop junk mail in the UK. Instead, register with the Mail Preference Service, the Fundraising Preference Service and the Direct Marketing Association’s “Your Choice” scheme. You can also fill in the Royal Mail’s “Door to Door” opt-out form.
  • Go digital: Banks and utility providers are going digital – you can too. You’ll be helping to save the planet as well as your sanity (as long as you keep on top of your email).
  • Limit magazine purchases: Be honest – how many of those magazines do you really read cover to cover? Give yourself a magazine detox and commit to buying only one title (or none at all!) for a period of time. Join your local library instead, or save money with a digital subscription.
  • Pin it! Many clients tell me they need to keep magazine cuttings for inspiration. Are they really inspiring you, piled up in the corner of the sitting room?  Go digital here too and use a platform like Pinterest to save, share and plan your projects.

paperwork in tray

2. Now that you have reduced your incoming papers, what next? What happens to your paperwork when it comes into the house?

  • You need a landing area:  Defining a place to put all your paperwork will help you tidy up your home, as well as organise your “personal admin”. Choose one place to put incoming papers, and make sure everyone in the household joins in.
  • Bin it!  Shred, recycle or bin envelopes, unnecessary flyers and catalogues as soon as they arrive.
  • Deal or defer: If it can be dealt with it in 2 minutes or less, do it now! School permission slips, event RSVPs, paying a quick bill – get them out of the way and you’ll have one less thing to worry about.

get organised

3. Schedule some time.

By now you should be left with only the paperwork that needs action or filing, all stacked neatly in your landing area. This is where the magic happens! Grab yourself a cup of tea and schedule some “me time” (well, some “me and my admin time”) and let’s get that paperwork sorted!  Schedule a regular appointment with your paperwork. For me, it’s an hour each Sunday evening, but whatever works for you. The key is to ring-fence that time and make it a habit.

  • Get it done! Work swiftly through your paperwork pile, trying to only touch each piece of paper once. Pop appointments in your diary, pay outstanding bills, write birthday cards and complete any other actions needed in order to have an organised week ahead.
  • Needed later? If a piece of paper needs to be deferred to another week, pop it back in the landing area (and for extra organising points, add it to your to-do list so you don’t forget!)
    Finally, it’s time to file. Filing works best if you have all your files together in one place, be it a filing cabinet, concertina file or cute boxes.
  • Be ruthless: Only file what you really need. A much-used statistic states that we only retrieve 20% of what is filed. So birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies and school reports are a definite “Yes!”. Bank statements, utility bills and anything else that can be found online, not so much. And definitely no need to file the insurance documents to the car you sold in 1993, however much you loved it!
  • Categorise: Label each folder with the main categories to keep it simple (you can always use sub-folders to divide it up if you need to).

And that’s how to keep your paperwork under control! Keep it together, and schedule a regular time each week to tackle it.  As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “For every minute spent organising, an hour is earned”. That’s another 59 minutes for you to be doing what makes you happy (and not frantically searching for an overdue bill!).