How to Start Decluttering Your Paperwork

Let go of the past as you rip up old paperwork!

Roz Andrews
Jan 5 · 5 min read
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

After decluttering most of our books in 2019, one of my goals in 2020 is to declutter our paperwork. First, I want to go through two box files in the living room and then move onto the files in the upstairs storage area.

My main aim, as with all my decluttering, is to clear space by getting rid of unnecessary items. However, I didn’t realize how therapeutic this task would be psychologically!

If you’re thinking of decluttering your paperwork, here are six small steps to get you started.

In her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying¹, Marie Kondo advocates decluttering paperwork after you’ve decluttered your clothing and your books (in that order).

I started decluttering my paperwork last year, when I was also decluttering my books. I went through all my business-related papers, organizing them, and getting rid of anything out-of-date or unnecessary.

I then started on my personal paperwork but didn’t get very far with it as I wanted to focus on books. Now that most of my books have been decluttered, I feel ready to concentrate on paperwork. As for clothing, I’ve developed a system of decluttering at least once a year that works well for me.

So, should decluttering paperwork by your current priority? If you have a lot of paperwork but not many other things that will grab your attention, then perhaps it should be.

However, books, clothing and miscellaneous items are more visible in your home, so it might be better to start with these things if they are bothering you.

Also, if there is an area of your home that really needs to be decluttered first, such as the spare bedroom, then it’s a good idea to tackle that before you embark on your paperwork.

It’s very easy to decide to throw away a bill you paid 10 years ago, but you may wonder whether you should keep a bill you paid last week.

For that reason, it’s best to start decluttering older paperwork first.

I started by sorting through a pink box file that contained paperwork from 10–12 years ago. I wondered why I’d kept everything for so long. The answer is that I just haven’t found the time to go through each piece of paper and throw away anything that’s no longer important or needed.

I decided to schedule a regular time for this task every day. This would be after dinner, as I always have some time available then.

To remind myself to declutter my paperwork, I left the opened box file on the floor next to my chair at the dining table. Yes, it doesn’t look very tidy but it does remind me to do my decluttering task of the day!

Decide on a time of day when you always have a little free time and fix this as your daily decluttering time. Set a reminder for yourself, so that you remember to declutter at this time each day.

When it comes to decluttering, I prefer little and often. I find that, after a while, my decision making ability declines and it becomes difficult to decide whether to keep things or not.

Therefore, I decided to devote at least 10 minutes a day to going through paperwork.

I aim to go through at least one section of the box file each day but some days I don’t achieve this. For example, it took me a few days to sort through over two years’ worth of bank statements. However, I decluttered several smaller sections (such as bills paid and pension documents) in just one session.

Some days, I end up spending more than 10 minutes as my enthusiasm for getting rid of unwanted paperwork increases! Other days, I find that 10 minutes is enough, so I stop and leave the box file next to my chair, ready for tomorrow.

Marie Kondo advises keeping only a very small number of papers, such as legal documents that absolutely must be kept in paper form. When I first read this, I thought I would keep more paperwork than this, because I do have a tendency to keep things “just in case”.

Surprisingly, I’ve kept very little paperwork so far. I’ve kept some documents relating to our pension schemes — this would fall under the umbrella of legal documents, I suppose.

I’ve also kept a few pieces of paper that hold positive memories, such as an invoice for a payment I made at my daughter’s ballet school just before she took part in a major ballet production when she was just five years old.

Another piece of paper that held positive memories was a letter from the chief executive of large company. I had written to him personally after I’d failed to resolve an issue after contacting Customer Services several times by phone, email and mail.

Within 2 days, I received a letter of apology and a refund check. I’m keeping that letter as a reminder that I do have the power to resolve difficult issues.

I found that looking at old bank statements brought back memories of tough financial times and the feelings associated with them.

I thought I’d left all that behind, but I was wrong.

However, as I ripped up the statements and put them in the recycling bin, I felt a strong sense of relief. Had I been holding onto the negativity contained within those pieces of paper for more than a decade without realizing it?

I definitely feel as if the negative energy from those papers has gone and I feel lighter and happier.

This is encouraging me to continue decluttering my papers every day. Who knows how much negativity is lurking between the pieces of paper that remain?

Could it be holding me back from creating the life I want in the present?

I now think this is much more likely to be true than I had thought before. I really didn’t think I was emotionally attached to pieces of paper — books, yes, but pieces of paper, no!

I’m now realizing this is not the case. You can be as emotionally attached to an old bank statement or bill as you can be to a book!

What is your experience of decluttering paperwork? Do you have any tips for making the process faster and smoother? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

¹ The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo

Small Steps

Move forward in life by taking one small step at a time.

Roz Andrews

Written by

Writer, editor, proofreader & founder of www.rawritersforhire.com and www.medium.com/small-steps, moving forward in life, one small step at a time.

Small Steps

Move forward in life by taking one small step at a time.

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