Decluttering & organising paperwork in 4 easy steps

Where do you keep all your important papers? In a binder, box? Are they even all in the same place? Or at least the same room?
If you were asked to find your birth certificate, your cat’s microchip papers or your car insurance policy, would you know where they are right away? Well, if your answer is yes, you most likely don’t even need to read today’s post as you already have everything under control. However, if you’re not really sure, you may want to read more and let me help you sort out your paperwork once and for all.

There aren’t many things that stress me out as much as paperwork. You know when you need to find an important document from a few years back and of course this is nowhere to be seen? So you already start thinking that you’ll have to waste a lot of your precious time calling some office to get a replacement and before you know it your head is ready to explode. You too? I learnt the hard way and almost lost my mind on a couple of occasions. I remember when we had to gather a few documents together for our mortgage company – all important papers from about 10 years was stuffed in a box and locating what we needed took a lifetime (with, I admit, a couple of arguments thrown in).

So from that day about two years ago I promised myself I wasn’t going to let that happen again and I finally started using a simple but effective filing system.

This system is easy to maintain & allows me to easy find what I need
No more wasted time trying to find what I need, no more losing my mind over papers I can’t locate and no more wasted money having to call premium rate numbers or purchase replacement copies.

This system is not the prettiest
It may not be Pinterest-worthy but it just works. We used to use a pretty binder system but, unfortunately, it didn’t quite work for us. So I switched to suspension files and this works soooo much better.

This system is not electronic
I’ve come across many articles on how to get rid of all paperwork and go totally paperless and if this is what you’re after, then this guide isn’t for you. Although I do pay a lot of bills online and try and find digital versions of instruction manuals whenever possible, going 100% electronic just isn’t possible for us.

What I’m sharing today is the system that we use here at home and all you need to replicate this little yet life-saving project is:

– A shredder
– One or two good quality suspension file boxes
Suspension files

So let’s get started…

Step 1 – Gather all your paperwork

First things first, gather all your documents together. Check your office, living room, that pile of stuff on the kitchen table, those bits and bobs stuffed in your wallet and handbags, your bedside table, the console table in the hallway…
I know, I know – easier said than done but, trust me, doing it all at once is the best way.

Step 2 – Declutter

Next, it’s time to do a little decluttering. Check each document and sort into 3 different piles:

Recycling – this is for papers that you no longer need and don’t contain any personal data. These can go straight into the recycling bin.
Shredding – this is for documents you don’t intend to keep but contain sensitive data such as bank statements. To prevent your personal information from getting into the wrong hands, use a shredder to shred all these documents into bits and pieces.
Keep – self explanatory. See below if you’re not long how long you should keep what.

How long should I keep what for?

Utility bills – useful to keep for about a year, so you can keep a track of usage and payments. Utility bills are also often accepted as proof of address so it’s always handy to keep a couple of recent ones in the house.

Bank, credit card and loan statements – with online banking, it’s quite easy to access previous statements so it’s ok to only keep the last 3 months of statements and the yearly summary if you receive one. You may want to consider keeping paper copies a little longer if you think that you may be applying for a mortgage in the near future as you may be required to provide information on your finances.

Insurance documents – this is really important stuff. Keep these safe until they run out.

Warranties and receipts – keep warranties until they expire and keep all receipts for any major purchases for about two years (or more if required for the warranty).

Work-related paperwork like payslips and P45 – as a general rule of thumb, 3 years is a reasonable time to keep everyone at HMRC happy.

Medical information – although your medical history should be on the system, you should keep all medical records in your possession indefinitely.

Personal information like passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates, driving licenses – This is the stuff you really don’t want to lose and you should keep forever.

By the way, in this post I’m mainly discussing household paperwork, but if you are self-employed life myself, don’t forget that you must keep all your business records for at least 5 years after the 31 January submission deadline of the relevant tax year. This refers to UK businesses. If you’re ready from another country, please check on your government’s website first.

Step 3 – Sort into categories

Once you know what you want to keep, I highly recommend that you get rid of the recycling and shredding piles. There’s a little more sorting to do and you don’t want to get confused in terms of what’s staying or going.

Then it’s time to categorise the documents you’re keeping. Which categories work for your family may vary, but you’ll probably find that you’re likely to sort your papers into the following piles:

Home documents – mortgage, safety certificates, house insurance, council tax
Car documents – Registrations, purchase receipts, car insurance, breakdown insurance, driving licenses
Utilities – water, gas, electricity, broadband/fibre, phone, TV
Financial documents – bank statements, savings, loans, pension
Personal documents – birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports,

We also have a category for our pet related documents – microchip information and vaccination records.

If a document is more than one page long, staple the different pages together for safer keeping.

Step 4 – Filing

The hard work is done! Now it’s simply a matter of storing your documents.
As I mentioned above, I invested in a couple of suspension file boxes and files from Amazon and these work very well for our family as the little tags make it really easy to find what we need (unlike our previous binder where the tabs fell apart in a matter of months).
To find your papers quickly, use labels that will allow you to find things quickly later. For example, although it may be tempting to dump all home-related documents into one file, I find that having a separate folder for mortgage, house insurance and council tax is far more effective as we have quite a few documents in there. Same goes for car related stuff, since we have own two.

The final result will be something like this and, trust me, you’ll never look back:

Organised paperwork

Onging maintenance

Getting all your paperwork neatly organised might have taken a while but now it’s all done the key is to keep it that way. So get into the habit of filing any new documents into the relevant category and put them back in their place after you’ve used them (I’m totally guilty of not doing this as much as I’d like to, especially when I get distracted by our toddler!). Also, every 6 months or so (or at least every year), go through your folders and get rid of anything you no longer need.

How do you store all your household paperwork? Do you already use some kind of system or are you thinking of giving mine a go?

Organising important documents

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