The Fastest Way to Declutter Paperwork
Before you dig in and start sorting papers make a plan.
A woman holding a hanging file folder. The fastest way to declutter paperwork.

The fastest way to declutter paperwork is to follow these steps.

  1. Plan your purge.
  2. Execute your sort/purge.
  3. Start filing

Plan Your Purge

Before you dig in and start sorting papers make a plan. Vital files are important and should be kept. This includes birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, social security cards, deeds, wills, etc. What other paperwork is important to you and your family? This may be a difficult question to answer but it’s important to identify. Think about moments in the past when you needed paperwork and couldn’t find what you needed. Try to pinpoint the paperwork you need to keep without looking at your piles of paper. I suggest this because you may realize that you don’t need to file much. I think we often get stuck when we begin going through paperwork and seeing what there is. That’s when we get overwhelmed because feel we need to keep it all. If we can identify our system first we reduce decision-making stress later.

  • Make a list of all the paperwork you wish you had easy access to.
    If you have small children this might include school papers. Or perhaps it’s important to keep medical bills, insurance information, or prescription info because you have a medical condition. No matter what your situation think about If you lived in a perfect paper world and what would your best filing system include?
  • Make a quick list (or mental note) of paper that is NOT important. This might include junk mail, old receipts, newspapers, catalogs, magazines, holiday cards, birthday cards, old bills, expired policies, manuals that are no longer relevant, etc.
  • How will you purge the paper you aren’t keeping? You have options. Hire a shredding service to pick up your paperwork. This is the most expensive option but handy if you have a LOT of paper. Buy a shredder and shred yourself. This is a time-consuming option but somewhat cathartic. Have a bonfire. Obviously you can’t choose this option if you live in an apartment complex. However it’s cathartic and you can make a night of it with friends and reward yourself for a job well done. Or simply trash it all. This is the quickest and easiest option but not the safest in terms of identity theft.
  • How will you file your papers? This can be tricky if you aren’t sure how much space you’ll need. I suggest waiting to make this decision until after you are done sorting. Use hanging file folders with 4 inch removable tabs. I like the flexibility of changing the tab. Using file folders inside the hanging folder adds too much bulk and cost so I suggest omitting file folders. For small quantities of paper, I suggest a desktop file holder. Keep it where you sort mail so you can easily and quickly put papers away. For larger quantities of paper invest in a file drawer.

Execute Your Sort/Purge

Work your plan. Keep what fits in the system you planned for and nothing more. Sort according to the categories you listed. Tip: Sometimes we make filing categories too specific. Don’t be afraid to lump paperwork together into large groups. For example use categories like Medical, Financial, Insurance, School, Auto, Home, etc. It may feel like too much is going in each folder. My motto when it comes to filing is “simplify the filing not the fetching”. What this means is make the act of putting files away super easy. This will ensure the system is used over time. If you make the system too complicated you’ll ruin the chance that the system will be maintained. Fetching files is an infrequent act. So when it comes time to fetch a file you will have minimal sifting to do but you’ll love that you know where to find it.

I know what you’re thinking… if I have a category called “Home” and a category called “Insurance” where do I store my home insurance policy? It’s your system. Customize based on your needs and what makes sense to you. Insurance can hold anything having to do with car insurance, home insurance, health insurance. The home file can hold paperwork related to maintenance to the home. Make the system clear for you. Ask yourself “when it comes time to fetch a file what will make the most sense to me and/or my family when it comes time to find it?”

Start Filing

You have your piles categorized and sorted. Now, file them. Make labels for each and file them in your bin, drawer, or box of your choosing.

Tip: make labels nice and big. Make it easy to find what you need when you need it. I suggest using longer file tabs so you can use a large font and make the label visible.

There may be a desire to stagger labels but I don’t suggest it. One reason is that if you need to add a category later you have to adjust your staggering which is a pain. Also, it truly is easier to see labels when they are nice a large and in line, one in front of the other. Your eye is able to look at a row of items easier than travel left to right and back again.

If files are too bulky break them down. Have a subcategory or simply use two folders instead of just one. It’s important that files glide on the rail they hang on so you can easily fetch them. Overstuffing always causes problems and over time you’ll avoid filing and fetching altogether.

Products In This Post

Poppin White Slim Stow 3-Drawer Rolling File Cabinet
Poppin White Slim Stow 3-Drawer Rolling File Cabinet
4 Inch Clear Hanging Folder Tabs
4 Inch Clear Hanging Folder Tabs
Pendaflex Recycled Hanging Folders
Pendaflex Recycled Hanging Folders
Bigso John Fiberboard Label Frame Desktop File Storage Box
Bigso John Fiberboard Label Frame Desktop File Storage Box
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