This blog post will show you exactly how to declutter paperwork at home.
Earlier this year, I finally got around to tackling the few remaining piles of papers from when I was at university that were stored at my parents’ house.
I had kept so many papers from school, old bank statements, sentimental papers, and many other miscellaneous papers.
I’ve learned many things while going through them, and have since come up with a practical organizational system for my paperwork.
If you’re overwhelmed by paper clutter, you’re in the right place!
In this article, I share my best tips on how to declutter paperwork at home, organize papers in a practical way, and prevent paper clutter from creeping back in.
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What causes paper clutter at home?
There are many reasons why we all accumulate papers in our homes.
We all receive mail and junk mail, and we often set it aside instead of recycling it or taking action on it immediately.
Many of us have kids who bring papers and artwork home every day.
We ourselves may get some papers at work, university, or conferences and events.
Some of us also buy magazines or newspapers and receive cards for birthdays and Christmas.
Or we may love collecting paper memorabilia from trips we took or events we went to.
What’s more, we all sign contracts and receive administrative documents, medical papers, warranties, manuals, mortgage documents, and many other types of paperwork.
All those papers add up over time, and if we don’t regularly set aside some time to go through them, they end up cluttering up our homes.
Why you should declutter paperwork at home
Paperwork is easy to accumulate, and having too much of it can negatively impact our lives in our homes.
Indeed, papers can take up a lot of space on shelves, filing cabinets, cupboards, and closets.
They are super heavy to lift, which is problematic for those of us who often move houses.
It can prevent us from relaxing and enjoying our homes.
Not to mention managing tons of paperwork every day can take up a lot of our time and energy, which are both limited resources we have.
For those reasons, we should declutter paperwork regularly if we want to keep our homes clutter-free.
How do I get rid of years of paper clutter?
If you have 30 years of paper clutter at home, it can be overwhelming to get started decluttering.
You may have piles and piles of paperwork that you don’t know how to tackle.
You don’t have to declutter and be done with your paperwork after one decluttering session.
Don’t even try to.
Commit to working on it each and every week no matter what, even if it’s just for an hour (or less).
Over time, you will make serious progress and you will get everything sorted!
How to declutter paperwork at home in 8 easy steps
1. Make time for decluttering paperwork
If you want to declutter paperwork, you need to make time for it.
So schedule in your planner when you want to get to work and tackle your paper, and when the time comes, start no matter what.
Depending on how many papers you have, you may need an hour or an afternoon on the weekend.
But if you have years of paper clutter to sort through, make sure to plan several decluttering sessions throughout the next few weeks.
Stick to your calendar so you don’t end up starting this big project without ever finishing it.
2. Gather all your papers in one place
Gather all your papers in one place.
I recommend the dining table if it’s big enough, otherwise, the floor will be great as well.
You want to have a large surface to work on so that you can see everything easily.
Make sure to gather everything from the following categories (which might be scattered all around your home):
- Mail & junk mail
- Scrap paper
- Personal documents, such as marriage certificates
- Mortgage documents and any papers related to your home
- Tax documents
- Utility bills
- Medical papers, such as test results, follow-ups, prescriptions, x-rays…
- Bank statements
- Warranty papers
- Old papers from your school and university years, lectures, conference handouts…
- Papers from your kids’ schools and their artwork
- Notes you’ve taken from books or courses
- Manuals for appliances and tech
- Sentimental papers, such as journals, ticket stubs, plane tickets, and any kind of paper memorabilia
3. Sort your paperwork into piles
After you’ve gathered everything, sort your paperwork into four different piles:
- Take action
The “take action” pile is for things that need your attention soon and that you need to take action on.
It could be anything from bills you need to pay to a letter you need to reply to.
The “keep” pile is for all the documents you need and want to keep.
If you want to, you can already divide this category into two sub-categories: “papers to keep for now” & “papers to keep indefinitely”.
It will make the organization part later easier.
The “recycle” pile is for any documents that you don’t need anymore and that you can let go of.
This is for papers that don’t have any personal information on them.
Please, do not throw away your unwanted papers if you can recycle them where you live.
The “shred” pile is for papers with personal information on them.
For instance, it could be documents showing your bank account information, passwords, or your social security number.
You want to make sure you are discarding them safely by shredding them.
To shred them, you will need a paper shredder or can bring them somewhere offering shredding services (like Shred-it or Staples).
Questions to ask yourself when decluttering paperwork
The following questions will help you reflect and decide whether you need to keep a piece of paper:
- Has this paper already served its purpose?
- Do I still need to take action on it?
- Is this information important to me?
- Can I find this information online or somewhere else if I need it again?
- Will I need this paper in the future?
If you need more ideas, feel free to read my article about 50 questions to ask yourself when decluttering.
What should you keep when decluttering paperwork?
Ideally, try to only keep papers you know you will need in the future.
For instance, you should keep:
- Marriage, divorce, birth, and death certificates
- Social security cards
- Passports that are still valid
- Any important documents related to your home, like mortgage papers
- Insurance policies
- Important administrative documents
- Bank statements or other important financial papers: for 7 years if you’re in the USA
- Tax records: for up to 7 years or indefinitely depending on your situation. Check how long you need to keep them for here.
- Important legal documents
- Important medical records: this website explains what you should keep and for how long
- Warranties that have not expired yet
- Sentimental papers that mean the most to you and that make you happy. Keep only the best to make it even more meaningful!
Of course, this list is not restrictive.
You may need or want to keep other papers, but it should help you with most decisions.
What should you get rid of when decluttering paperwork?
Try to get rid of as many papers as you can to simplify your life.
For instance, you can probably declutter:
- Papers that have already served their purpose and that are no longer relevant anymore
- Junk mail
- Expired coupons or coupons you don’t intend to use
- Expired warranties
- Manuals for appliances and tech: you can find them online now, plus you may have some that came with things you don’t even own anymore.
- Papers from your school years
- Artwork and papers from your kids’ schools that don’t mean anything to you and your children
- Birthday and Christmas cards that are not sentimental to you
- Receipts you no longer need
- Scrap paper you know you won’t use
- Used envelopes
- Magazines you’ve already read or that you don’t intend to read. You can bring those to your doctor’s waiting room.
How do you declutter papers fast?
If you are short on time and don’t want to spend hours sorting through your papers, you might be wondering: how to declutter paperwork at home fast?
My best piece of advice is to only pull out the most important papers.
Check in advance which ones you need to keep and pull them out from the piles.
Then, decide to let go of everything else without going through every single piece of paper.
This is truly the fastest way to declutter paperwork.
However, I still recommend that you quickly check what papers have personal information on them.
Take the time to shred those, it’s worth it!
4. Create an organizational system for your paperwork
Now that you have shredded or recycled your unwanted papers, you might be wondering: What is the best way to organize paperwork?
This will depend on your personal preferences and situation.
However, I’ve found that the best way to organize papers at home is the following system:
a. Have a letter tray near your front door where you temporarily put your mail in
This small organizing tray is for mail that you need to take action on in the coming days or weeks.
You can also put all the papers from your “take action” pile there.
Thanks to this bin, you will not forget about them and they’ll have a designated space.
Commit to taking action on those things each week so you don’t miss a deadline.
b. Scan as many papers from your “keep” pile as possible
To reduce paper clutter in the future, see if you can minimize your “keep” pile by digitizing as many papers as you can.
You may need to keep the physical copy of some papers.
But you can easily scan unimportant papers such as recipes you’ve taken from magazines or drawings your kids made.
Use a scanner to digitize your paperwork, and then, organize the files on your computer or the cloud.
I’ve found that the best way to organize digital files is to create folders by type (for instance, “tax records”, “medical records”, “artwork”…).
You may want to add some subcategories inside of each folder (for example for the folder “medical records”, you may want to have “x-rays”, “prescriptions”…).
And inside each sub-category, I recommend that you organize each file by date.
Doing this will make finding your files super easy and quick!
c. Organize the rest in a physical filing system
For the remaining papers, you will need a physical filing system.
If you don’t have many papers left, an accordion folder will be your best option.
You will be able to organize each paper according to its category.
No matter which solution you choose, I recommend that you separate the papers you only need to keep for a limited period from the ones you need to keep indefinitely.
This will make decluttering paperwork easier in the future!
Also, if you have sentimental papers, see if you can store those with your sentimental items instead.
I think it makes more sense to have all your sentimental items together for whenever you want to have a look at them.
5. Go paperless
Eliminate paperwork at the source by opting for paperless options whenever you can in the future.
Instead of receiving physical mail, ask to receive your bank statements, bills, and any other paper by email if possible.
Now that I’ve gone digital for almost everything, I barely ever receive any physical mail nowadays.
Let me tell you, quitting receiving physical mail has really simplified my life!
6. Have your name removed from mailing lists
If you regularly receive junk mail in your mailbox, consider having your name removed from mailing lists.
The FTC explains how to do that in this article.
Doing so should stop most promotional mail, which is paper clutter you won’t have to deal with anymore.
Where I live, I simply needed to put a “no junk mail” sign on my mailbox, so check if you can do that as well.
7. Deal with paperwork as soon as it enters your home
Every time paper enters your home, try to deal with it immediately.
Recycle it if you don’t want it.
If you need to do something with it, either do it straight away or put it in your “take action” tray and tackle it as soon as possible.
If it’s something you need to keep, either scan it or file it in your cabinet or accordion folder.
Don’t procrastinate to avoid having paper clutter piling up again in your home!
8. Make decluttering paperwork a habit
So as soon as you realize that paperwork is piling up in your home, take some time to sort your papers and get rid of any you don’t need anymore.
Final thoughts on how to declutter paperwork at home
I hope this blog post was helpful to you and that you could learn how to declutter paperwork at home!
This is equally important, if not more, as decluttering and removing the excess.
Have you found simplifying and decluttering paperwork fairly easy or difficult?
How have you decided to organize your paperwork?
Please leave a comment below!
Don’t forget to share this article with your friends so they can learn how to declutter paperwork at home as well.