Tag Archives: Paperwork

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

a box of sentimental papers and letters

Sentimental Paperwork: How to sort it out and keep only the things you love!

In this post, Carole Reed, owner of organising business HappySort, shares her insights into dealing with sentimental paperwork – items such as letters, cards and drawings that can be difficult to address when we are decluttering.

How to sort sentimental paperwork

When talking about sentimental paperwork, I’m referring to letters, cards and drawings. These items are notoriously hard to deal with and many professional organisers recommend that you leave everything sentimental to the end of the decluttering process.

Julie Holland, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University talks about sentimental clutter being the “adult equivalent of a teddy bear.” Jennifer Baumgartner, a practising clinical psychologist who runs a wardrobe consulting business, notes that, “we infuse our junk with the spirit of a moment in time, associating the tangible with the intangible. Our junk becomes the object upon which we project our internal experience.” This is why some people find it almost impossible to throw anything away.

Why do I need to get rid of things I find it hard to part with?

Try and think about this process as keeping the pieces that mean the most to you, not about getting rid of stuff.

If you have an enormous house with lots of cupboards and storage space, then holding onto a lot of things may not be a problem. However, the reality is that most of us don’t have the luxury of space so we are forced to streamline our possessions.

Many people justify holding onto sentimental paperwork by thinking they are preserving memories and connections, and they find that comforting. Holding onto something and then storing it in an attic or cupboard is not the same as preserving it. Such an item has no meaningful purpose; it’s just stored and often forgotten about.

If you don’t dispose of your sentimental items, one day your children or other family members will have to go through them. Try to teach your children good habits about only keeping the most precious and special items. Don’t burden them with the task, and associated guilt, of having to throw away the things that you found difficult to deal with.

If you keep EVERYTHING then nothing stands out; special things get lost amongst all the other things you have attached sentimental value to. If you keep back a manageable number of items that mean a lot to you, you can display them or keep them in a way that means you can still look at them and enjoy them.

Sentimental items can bring joy, but they can also prevent you from moving forward with your life. Why do you need to keep hundreds of letters from your first love? Choose one or two at most and discard the rest. People often keep things even though it makes them unhappy or guilty to look at them. Nobody needs to keep things that make them feel bad about themselves.

Sometimes we feel guilt over discarding sentimental paperwork. Perhaps there are cards from deceased family members or artwork from long grown up children. We fear that the memory of that person, or those times, will disappear with the item. In reality you are getting rid of the item, not the memory. You are not feeling sentimental or nostalgic about the object, but about the person, place or time.

a pile of organised letters

How do I start?

There are many different ways of tackling this kind of project; here are some of them:

  • Just start! Pick the box/table/drawer that you think that you will find the easiest.
  • Maybe set a time frame/limit for each session so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Put items into dump/keep/revisit piles. Work quickly. If you don’t know what to do with something, put it in the revisit pile.
  • Ask yourself, does this item evoke happy memories? Is it helping me to live the life I want to live? If it doesn’t, get rid of it.
  • If you have multiple letters which you want to read, put them in the revisit pile. The first session is to try and get rid of some of the easy things initially.
  • Put only the cards with meaningful messages in the revisit pile and discard the ones with no message.
  • Keep only the best ‘artwork’ your children have done: the pieces you like best or that you know they have spent the most time on. Plan on keeping 50% during the first session and discarding more at a later date.
  • If you are keeping hold of items because you have not had a chance to process what the memory means to you, then think about the item and the times associated with it to discover if it’s worth holding onto.
  • Revisit the difficult pile. Read all the letters, enjoy the messages in the cards. Don’t feel guilty about getting rid of them. Remember that you are doing this to free up physical and mental space. If it is still impossible to get rid of something, put it in a box for 3-6 months and revisit it. If, at the end of that time, you have not missed the item, or thought about it, it is time to let it go.
  • Work in layers and don’t go for the hardest things first. It’s fine to go back to items. Keep your goal in your head; remember why you are doing this.
  • Keep going. Yes, it will be hard but the more you do, the easier it will get.


hands holding three greetings cards

Re-purposing sentimental paperwork

Much sentimental paperwork can be re-purposed, you don’t need to throw it all away. This is harder to do with paperwork than it is with say books,  clothes or family heirlooms but it can be done. It can be a lot of work to repurpose something but hopefully this will be part of the process of helping you to realise whether an item is really worth keeping after all. Here are some ideas:

  • Keep only the best and most memorable pieces. How much you keep is up to you and your capacity (mental and spatial) to store it.
  • Photograph the items (letters, photos, art) and keep the images in a folder on your computer or phone.
  • Gift artwork to relatives or friends.
  • Use drawings as wrapping paper.
  • Make a collage and hang it on the wall or a door. This can be done with your child if you’re working with their drawings. Cut out the best bits and stick them on a large piece of card.
  • Open an Instagram account or blog to showcase your child’s artwork. I know parents who have done this. This way family and friends can enjoy the art too.
  • Digitise it into a coffee table book. There are numerous companies that do this. A simple Google search will bring up lots of options.
  • Frame it/them. Change the displays every year or so.
  • Re-purpose pictures into cards to send to people.
  • Make place mats. A Google search will show you how.
  • Put cards into a ring binder. This allows them to be enjoyed and stored neatly.


If this post has inspired you to get to work with your own sentimental items and you would like some help, you can find your nearest APDO-registered professional organiser on our Find An Organised database.

pile of black and white photos

9 easy steps for organising printed photographs

Do you have drawers, boxes or even an attic full of printed photos? Can you imagine having them organised and digitised, ready to share with family and friends via the internet or on memory sticks which you can hand down to future generations? Jo Jacob of Benella Home Organisation takes us through her 9 easy steps for organising printed photographs.

Organising your printed photographs

It is often said that in the event of a fire most people would save their pets and their photographs because both are irreplaceable, regardless of how much insurance they have. Our lives are operating at a slower pace post lockdown, so this is a great time to tackle the job of sorting out your printed photographs and putting them in a shareable format.

a photo scanner, laptop and box of photos on a desk

Here are some simple steps to help you get the job done:

  1. Clear a dining table or large flat surface ready for sorting.
  2. Gather all your photographs together, including those in albums and envelopes. Be careful when taking photographs out of albums, especially if they are stuck down. You can use dental floss to slide gently between the back of the photograph and the surface of the album or you can use a hairdryer to soften the glue.
  3. When you’ve collected everything together, you are ready for the first stage of sorting. You will need to have a binbag or shredder to hand for the photographs you are getting rid of and then take a deep breath, you can do this! Go through the photographs and dispose of any which are:
    • Duplicates
    • Blurred
    • Have a finger across the lens
    • Showing people you can’t identify
    • Multiples of the same scene
    • Featuring a location you don’t recognise
  4. You are now ready for the second stage of sorting, and can follow this basic system:
    • “A” Photos: Create a pile of photographs you love and want to display or put in albums
    • “B” Photos: Make a second pile of photographs that you don’t necessarily want to put into albums or out on display but which you feel you should back-up
  5. Now go back through your A and B piles. Working at a table, and using Post-its to jot down your notes, start to put the photographs into date or story order. Ascertaining the date of an image can sometimes be difficult, so take note of the size and age of the people in the photograph and look for clues as to when it might have been taken. I often play detective and use a magnifying glass to count candles on a birthday cake or the printing on celebratory balloons.
  6. Once you have your photographs sorted and thinned out you need to scan them. You can do this yourself using a scanner or an iPhone or, if you have a lot of photographs, you can use a scanning company or an individual who offers this service. This is quite cost effective as scans work out at about 10p per photo.
    a box of organised photos and laptop on a desk
  7. Now it’s time to back up all your scans. You can use iCloud, Dropbox, other sharing websites or memory sticks to store and share these precious memories.
  8. It is important to label the photographs on your computer so people will know what they are. This is called adding metadata.
  9. Themes such as school trips, birthdays, holidays, family celebrations work well if you are making a photobook as a gift or for your own collection because they tell a story.

I hope you find these tips useful and that you are able to get going with sorting out your collection of physical photographs.

If this post has got you thinking about organising your precious photo collection or memorabilia, you can find an APDO-registered photo organiser here.

drowning in paperwork organising paper decluttering desk

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.


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? 


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!).