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How To Declutter Papers

Are you overwhelmed by an ever-growing pile of papers?

Here is my system for dealing with paper clutter, including tips and questions to ask when you get stuck.

No matter how much paper clutter you have, this approach can help you sort through every last piece.

When decluttering papers, your goal is to organise everything into 4 categories.

  1. Throw/recycle
  2. Take action on
  3. Store – time-based
  4. Store – indefinitely


Most of the papers you’re going to come across will end up in here. Old magazines and catalogues, flyers, old receipts and coupons, junk mail, bills/statements you can find online, manuals you can find online or call the manufacturer.

Remember to check all papers you’re decluttering for identifying information. These will need to be shredded or otherwise destroyed.

Take Action On

These papers require you to take action on before you can discard or file them. These will be things like letters that need a response, invitations, or an overdue bill.

Store – Time-based

You don’t need to keep these papers forever, but you do need them for a set amount of time. Tax documents and receipts for example.

Store – Indefinitely

Finally, we come to the papers that you will need to keep forever or at least for the foreseeable future. For example birth certificates, marriage and death certificates. Some of you may want to create another category here for sentimental papers you want to store indefinitely, just be mindful about why you’re keeping each one, if you need it, and if you could take a picture of it instead.


Only deal with one pile at a time

Sometimes it’s suggested to get all your papers out at once and go through them all in one go. Some people even suggest piling them up on your bed so you have to clear them before you can go to sleep. Personally, I don’t think that is the best approach. The bigger the pile or task we have in front of us, the less motivation and willpower we have to do it. Start small, just one stack at a time.

Set a timer

Let’s say you have an hour to declutter your papers. Set a timer for 45 minutes to be sifting through the papers, and then spend 15 minutes tidying up after yourself. Not only can setting a timer increase your productivity and reduce distraction but giving yourself time to set things right afterwards will prevent that “a tornado flew around my room” feeling. The best part is that you can set the timer for whatever suits you, just be sure to give yourself time to clear up after.

Don’t start filing papers while you’re still decluttering

There are a few reasons for this.

  1. You’ll get distracted and lose productivity.
  2. You’re probably going to find more things to file as you continue decluttering. It makes sense to declutter everything first, and then file once, rather than multiple times.
  3. Speaking of time, filing while you’re decluttering will waste yours.

Start at the bottom

Flip the stack over and start decluttering your papers from the bottom (AKA the oldest papers). When you do it this way it’s easier to get your momentum going because the oldest papers are probably mostly junk.

Store papers however makes sense to you

Some people like to organise their stored papers by sub-categories (car, business, home, recreation etc), and some people like to store them chronologically by month and year. Use whatever system works for you. To help you with this, try to think of how you might look for a particular piece of paper. Would you think “MOT is in the ‘car’ sub-category”, or “The MOT was in December so it’s in that folder”, or something else? Make it easy for yourself to not only file these papers but to find them later too.

Consider whether you can keep a digital copy instead

If you don’t need to keep the original copy for something, take a picture of it and store it on your computer or cloud storage. Just make sure you have a backup for anything important.

Questions To Ask When You Get Stuck

What is the realistic likelihood that I will need this?

Be ruthlessly honest here.

How difficult would this be to replace or recover the information?

Instruction manuals, for example, can easily be found online these days, or you can call the manufacturer for help.

Is it relevant?

Do you really still need the materials you used in that course you did 15 years ago? Probably not.

How many years do I need to keep it?

Certain documents will need to be held for a specific period of time, but after that, they can be disposed of.

Would you replace it if you lost it?

If the answer is no, then it’s not that important, and you can let it go.

How To Keep The Paper Clutter Down

Stop it coming in to being with

Unsubscribe from magazines and newsletters you don’t read. Opt for paperless wherever possible. Put a note on your door asking that no leaflets or flyers are left. Don’t ask for a receipt unless you need it.

Have an inbox

Keep one box, shelf or space that is just for incoming papers, and the incoming papers can only go there. This will keep the paper clutter from invading the rest of your home, and it’s easier to gather them all up to act on as often as you need to.

Make it a habit

Whether it’s as soon as you come home, every evening after dinner, or every weekend, start a habit of regularly going through the papers that come into your house and acting on them accordingly. You can also use an annual event (like tax season) to remind you to check your time-based papers for any that can be decluttered.

And you’re done!

How did you do following this system for decluttering papers? Leave a comment and let me know!

If you feel like you need some help in getting your home or office decluttered and organised, don’t hesitate to contact us – we’re happy to help!

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