Are you looking for tips on how to declutter paperwork? You are in the right place! Individually, paper doesn’t take up a lot of space, but once you start accumulating more and more of it, it can begin to feel overwhelming.
Do you waste time searching through piles of papers and stacks of old bills? Sifting through junk, looking for that one piece of paper you need? If so, it’s probably time to declutter your paperwork and clear out your space.
Read on for our best strategies on how to declutter paperwork. This will help you eliminate the stress and overwhelm covering your kitchen table, filing cabinets, desks, and whatever other spaces in your home have turned into paper clutter zones.
Why it’s important to declutter paperwork
Decluttering, in general, has so many proven benefits. These benefits hold true for decluttering paperwork, too. The main benefit is to your overall mental health and well-being and for your family's benefit, in the case of an emergency.
Decluttering papers is good for your mental health
Not only does decluttering clear your mind, reduce stress, and improve focus, but it also gives you back your time.
How many instances have you wasted endless amounts of time searching for the one bill you were supposed to pay? Or your kid’s field trip permission slip? Or that wedding invitation you need to RSVP to?
Once you declutter and develop a system for maintaining a clutter-free state, you won’t have to worry about those stressful, time-wasting searches anymore. Your space and mind will be clear to focus on what’s actually important, not on looking for lost slips of paper.
Decluttering papers helps your loved ones and puts your mind at ease
While nobody likes to think of it, there may come a time when your loved ones will need to access your records on your behalf. People who are incapacitated or have passed away still have bills to pay and important documents in their names.
By decluttering papers, particularly your financial documents, you will make it so much easier for others to help you.
Just like how purchasing life insurance helps you put the right plans in place for your family, decluttering your paperwork can bring the same peace of mind.
It will put you at ease and help your loved ones deal with your important documents in the event of an emergency.
When you’re decluttering papers, what should you keep?
Before you start decluttering, it’s good to have an understanding of what documents to keep, what to shred, and what to recycle. Here are some guidelines you can follow:
What to toss vs. shred
You can safely toss anything that doesn’t include any personal information. Things like scrap paper, junk mail, catalogs, old receipts, product manuals that you can find online, and expired coupons can go right into the recycling bin. You should shred anything that has sensitive information.
What to shred vs. keep
So you’ve decided something is sensitive enough that you can't just throw it away. How do you decide whether to shred something or keep it?
When it comes to deciding what to keep, probably the most important category of documents is your financial documents. Some documents, like a record of your paid-off mortgage, should be kept forever.
Others, like tax returns, should be kept for at least seven years. A good rule is that you should keep the record if the contract or matter is active. Otherwise, use your best judgment when deciding whether to shred it or save it.
How to declutter paperwork – 6 steps to take
It’s time to begin learning how to declutter paperwork. We’re not talking about decluttering a stray paper here or there; we’re talking about getting rid of a lot! When you’re ready to get to work, here are the six steps to take to declutter paper:
1. Prepare to declutter paperwork before you begin
It might be tempting to declare that you are fed up with your paper mess once and for all and immediately start tossing paper.
That might get rid of the surface-level stuff, but it’s not a good long-term solution to decluttering papers. Instead, prepare before you begin the process. Preparation looks like this:
Gathering any tools you need
We recommend getting a paper shredder for sensitive documents and three bins (or cardboard boxes) to separate your papers in (more on that next).
If you don’t want to buy a paper shredder, look into where you can take your sensitive documents, like a FedEx or local store that will shred them for you.
Setting aside the time in your schedule to go through everything
Sorting through your paperwork is best done in one fell swoop if your schedule allows. You might need an entire afternoon (or more), so intentionally choose a day where you can devote enough time to decluttering, so you don’t start and fail to finish.
2. Get in the right mindset
Often overlooked, the right mindset is crucial for success when decluttering papers. You might think of paperwork as just old bills, but it’s so much more than that. Papers can be sentimental, too, and some of those things can be hard to let go of.
That’s why it’s essential to get in the right mindset before you begin. Prepare yourself for discarding things and letting go of the past.
A great way to start this is to get clear on your end goal. Perhaps it’s to have a calm workspace or more control and understanding of your finances.
Whatever it is for you, understand your underlying goals for decluttering and remind yourself of those goals while you’re going through the process. It will be so much easier to stay motivated and let go of what you no longer need if you have those goals top of mind.
And, remember, as the decluttering guru Marie Kondo writes, the goal when decluttering papers is to get rid of almost all of your paperwork.
While you will keep some, the default expectation should be that you will get rid of the majority of your paperwork when decluttering.
Going into the task with the expectation that you will discard almost everything is key to following through and keeping only what is truly necessary.
3. Gather all of your papers in one place
Now, you’re ready to sort some papers! First, gather every piece of paper you have. That means bills, receipts, cards, letters, artwork, loose sheets of paper, post-it notes, and anything else lying around.
Go through your junk drawer (you know you have at least one!) and your office and dig up every last bit of paper in your home. You’ll probably be surprised by just how much paper you have hiding around.
Once you’ve gathered everything up, spread out your paperwork on a large surface like a dining room table or even the floor if that’s the best space for you.
4. Sort your papers
Next, it’s time for the most time-consuming piece of the process: sorting. To declutter paper the right way, grab your three bins or boxes and label them recycle, shred, and keep.
Everything that’s trash, like expired coupons, bills you also receive electronically, and letters you’ve read and are ready to toss, goes into the recycle bin.
Anything with sensitive personal information, like your name, address, social security number, or account numbers, goes into the shred pile. You’ll shred everything at the end, or will take that bin to a store to have it shredded for you.
Whatever you plan to save gets placed in the keep bin. If you’re doing it right, you won’t have that much to keep! And, you’ll have even less after you complete the next step of going digital.
5. Declutter paperwork by going digital and paperless where possible
Once you have sorted your paperwork and have decided what to keep, determine what you need an original of and what you can digitalize. Anything you’d like to keep a copy of but don’t need the original of, you can scan and toss.
If you don’t own a scanner, head to a local copy store or FedEx and you can do it there. Once everything is scanned, be sure to label it properly so you can find it when needed and back up the files.
Going forward, there are many ways to limit the amount of paper that comes into your space. For one, you can sign up to receive electronic bills and can pay them online, instead of receiving and sending them in the mail.
This will greatly reduce the amount of paper that comes into your house, and the amount of paper you need to digitalize!
6. Choose and implement a storage strategy
Lastly, decide on a storage strategy for the papers you intend to keep. How you do this depends on what type of paperwork you have.
For example, some people have extensive medical files and need to keep their records easily accessible to take them to and from appointments. For them, it would be a good idea to create a medical binder to keep track of everything.
Most people have some important financial records that they would like to keep. These people might want to look into a filing cabinet with labeled folders to store all of their essential financial paperwork, including things like wills, tax returns, and marriage or birth certificates.
Whatever works for you, save figuring it out for the end. Just don’t forget about it, or your recently decluttered paperwork might become a mess once again before you know it!
Overcoming potential roadblocks on your journey to decluttering paper
So, you’ve read the six steps outlining how to declutter paperwork and you’re ready to get to it. If you’ve ever tried decluttering before and stopped, it’s probably been because you hit a roadblock.
The most common problems people face while decluttering papers are the inability to decide whether to keep or toss something and having trouble getting rid of sentimental items. What’s a declutterer to do when they reach such an impasse?
The best way to move forward when you're stuck is to ask yourself the following questions:
1. Will I need this information again?
Keep the paper in question only if your answer is a firm yes. If it’s a maybe and you still don’t want to get rid of it, scan it and then toss it.
2. Will I be able to get this information again if I get rid of it now?
If you can access the information again, either by reaching out to someone, pulling your records online or by any other manner, let it go. Chances are you won’t need it again, but if you do, you know you can get it.
3. Is this information still valuable to me?
This question helps the most when dealing with things like manuals or guides. Do you really need to keep outdated training materials from an old job? Probably not.
4. Do I have other similar things?
This is the best question to ask when sorting through sentimental items. Perhaps instead of keeping every picture your kid drew in third grade, choose your favorite and discard the others.
You’ve learned how to declutter paperwork. Now what?
Once your paperwork is decluttered, what’s next? Unless you put the right tools in place to maintain your decluttered state, you might fall right back into a paperwork mess. Set yourself up for a decluttered future by doing the following:
1. Choose a space for incoming paper
In most homes, the biggest paper clutter culprit is mail. From catalogs to magazines to bills and everything in between, the paper can pile up in a matter of days. A simple solution is to choose a landing spot to drop off the mail and other odds and ends.
If you keep this kind of paper clutter limited to one specific spot, you’ll be more likely to notice when it’s starting to pile up, and more likely to sort through it before it builds up.
2. Take care of paperwork immediately where possible
Still getting paper bills? Instead of opening them, throwing them into a drawer, and forgetting about them, take care of them right away. When your child arrives home after school with new artwork?
Decide right then and there whether you want to place it on the fridge for display, scan it for posterity, or get rid of it (maybe after they go to bed!).
When you address your paperwork right when it enters your home, it’s less likely to build up and become a problem.
Now you know how to declutter paperwork. It’s your turn to get to work!
The bulk of decluttering paperwork can be done in a day. Once you’ve taken these steps to declutter, you’ll have a clearer space and mind.
You’ll probably never go back to a life full of paper clutter again! But, if you do, know that you can always take another day, address the chaos once again, and start over fresh.
As you learn how to declutter paperwork, also take the opportunity to find out more about how to simplify your finances and your home. We offer plenty of great articles to help you get organized with your money and your life.