How do you shrink your Paperwork Mountain?



This post is based on  a reply I gave to Moni a few months ago, but I think we all get overwhelmed by paperwork so it is  a subject worth revisiting.

The best way to handle paperwork is to have a system that means you touch that piece of paper a minimum number of times. Don’t have a complicated system: keep it simple.

I open post straight away, standing by the recycled box in the kitchen. Empty envelopes and bumpf goes straight in it. The rest then gets taken upstairs to our study on the next trip. One of 3 things then happens:

1) Anything that doesn’t need action gets dropped into its designated labelled filing box:

a)Income and tax related

b)Household maintenance & Household utilities and bills

c)Car related: taxing/repairs/ resident parking/insurance

d)Medical stuff


f)Instruction manuals

Most paperwork comes in category a and b and these are just boxes I can drop things into really easily – no need to get a file out and hole punch etc.

993487cc820bb1b6c917cfb351ff9d82[1]This isn’t  an actual photo of my box file but something I found on Pinterest – but it shows a simple easy to file and retrieve system.

2) If it needs action I try and do it straight away. If I don’t have time then or it doesn’t need doing until a specific date, I make a note of it in my diary to do and then drop it into its relevant filing box. This includes any phone calls.

3) It gets shredded. We have an attractive basket for stuff that needs shredding: stuff gets chucked in to there until it reaches the top and then I have a mass shredding session every 2 months or so.

To cut down on paperwork I pay all regular bills by ddm and have gone paperless with banking statements and utility bills. When a new invoice arrives that replaces a previous one, the old one gets thrown out.

At the end of each financial year, once I have made my tax return, all related paperwork goes into a large envelope with the year written on it and it gets stored in the attic. In the UK we have to keep this info for 7 years, so when a new one goes in, an old one from 7 years previously can get chucked.

Some people store all  paperwork on an online storage facility; I don’t, but the option is there.

This system works for me and I feel in control and easy to stay that way.

What are your difficult paper work areas and how do you think you could improve them? Have you developed any systems that work well for you you’d like to share?

Today’s Mini Mission

 I should ~ Declutter something you think you should own just because most people do. If you aren’t using it there is no reason why you should have it.



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  1. My methodical husband is terrific, but sometimes his paperwork storage system is so 1980s. Yesterday, septic tank company did it every-5-year clean out. Husband was planning to scan paid bill. I asked why. He said “in case we had to show proof of clean out to county”. I reminded him that septic company has computer record of our clean out which they can email to county if needed. If we had to show proof, call septic co. and let them deal with county.
    Anyway, paid bill went from to-be-scanned pile to to-be-shredded pile.
    We don’t necessarily need to be a storage facility, let others do the storing.

    • You are so right, Gail. We have been programed to hold onto things when we really don’t need to.

    • Gail, I somehow missed this post first time round: well done on challenging yourselves on what you really do/don’t need to keep. I use the same principle here in the UK with my bank statements – you can access 7 years worth online so I don’t need to store them myself.

  2. I’m one hundred per cent with you on the minimal number of times something should be held. I pick up our post from the box and turf 90% of it into the recycling bin before I even return to the house I keep the evelopes for notepads. We have a magnetic bulldog clip on our fridge and used envelopes are turned around and become our kitchen notepad.

    After that I open and either deal with immediately or clip to an A4 clip pad. Every morning when I write the day’s to do list I get out the clipboard and either do or bin or file anything that wasn’t dealt with the previous day. I don’t think I could cope with multiple boxes. Too much stuff!

  3. Sounds good Gillie. it’s definitely about finding what works for you as an individual and your family.
    My system is very easy and simple for me: mixing medical letters with car repair invoices would be too chaotic. I only have two shallow boxes for 90% of the household paperwork and I can just drop it in, no taking anything off a shelf, which always put me off form filing stuff before. That’s it – that’s where they live permanently, no other filing required. The rest sits in labelled slimline box files taking up no more room than one larger box, so it’s probably simpler and takes up less space than I may have initially described.

  4. My paperwork is organized and easily handled. However, I am also responsible for my parents’ filing system since my dad wouldn’t know where to start and my mom doesn’t want to be bothered. Now their paperwork…omg. I’ve been working on that mountain for 10 years now. Right now, I’ve got it down to one plastic bin that needs sorting. 40+ years backlog is pain to sort, purge, and organize. Especially when the people it pertains to had a tendency to shove papers in drawers, cabinets, boxes, etc with no rhyme or reason.

    I adore my parents but organization is not their strong suit. XD

    • Gosh Rachel – that sounds a labour of love! I hope it means that when the difficult time come and they pass away, you will at least have a simple job with their paperwork, rather than facing it all then.

      • It’s one of the reasons I’m willing to work on their paperwork. I don’t want my sister and I to face scattered piles of paperwork and mom doesn’t want us to face that either. Dad is just happy because there are fewer paper piles ending up on tables and counter tops. LOL.

        I hate to think of my parents dying. Nearly lost my mom just before Thanksgiving (she’s fully recovered now) so now their mortality seems even more real than before.

        It is a labor of love, though, in two respects. One: I love my parents and try to help them as much as they’ve helped me. Two: I love to organize paperwork. I don’t know why but I do. It can still overwhelm and frustrate me but I love the sorting and filing process.

        Yup. I’m a bit strange. LOL.

  5. Doodle, I am like you and I have things well organized in a set of files. When the mail comes in I take care of it right away. I have been able to get most of the junk mail stopped so when I have mail it is most of the time very little and taken care of quickly. Most bills, statements and payments are made on the computer. It so much easier to have everything organized so that all you have to do is look in the file to see what you have done and to look online for records.

    • Sounds like quite a few of us have got into the habit of dealing with things straight away. Deb J. It really is the only way to stay on top of things and removes so much stress and pressure, yet it is easy to let things slip…well it can be for me, every so often!

  6. I don’t actually have a problem with filing, early in my working life I spent three years working in the records and archives department of a local authority, so if anything I tend to be a bit too thorough.

    I work for my husband and the lines between work and home life become a bit of swirly blur, and it works both ways. That means I often need home info at work and need to being work home. Bills and correspondence can arrive by email, to our home address or to our PO Box. School notices, community notices, paper, medical files all coming at me at the moment.

    I’ve bought myself a bigger work bag and am trialling using that as my mobile office. I am using clear plastic sleeves to hold papers, but I may need to invest in some different colours so I can find things easier. I had also decided just yesterday that I need to simple down my system a bit so I can find things quicker.

    Amongst it all, I am scanning information to file in the cloud. My scanner at work is the best but it means I am carting that back and forth, plus a portable hard drive as I slowly digitise our household inventory. As I said, I used to work in records and archives, so I had most of the receipts and HP agreements filed in a filing cabinet. I look forward to that job being done.

    • Ooh, I love different colours to differentiate things Moni: I so think we have different brains types so colour and shape variations can help some people more than others.
      I really must look into this cloud business.

  7. Doodle,
    Paperwork…can’t live with it, can’t live without it. I have had a system set up for decades that still works albeit a little bit of tweaking every now and then when new files are added and old files can be shredded. It has been a breeze to maintain after the original set-up.
    I live in Hawaii, and although part of the United States, in many ways quite different than the mainland. I was curious about the term you used, “bumpf”. Would a loose translation be rubbish or junk mail?

    • Yes Kimberley – bumpf (I’m in the UK) = junk mail in this instance.
      In a different context, it can just mean a lot of paperwork e.g. when you get a new electrical item, or buy a house, all the ‘bumpf’ that comes with it, means all the paperwork

  8. I am not very successful at shrinking my paper mountain. I truly struggle with this area of clutter. I find it to be very frustrating that I have no problem getting rid of other types of clutter in my home but I have a hard time getting rid of paper clutter, no matter what form of paper clutter it is. Just this weekend I took another bag of items to the donation center and I know that I have made great strides on the clutter front in my home, but the paper clutter I cannot seem to make much of a dent. I know that it is the one area that is holding me back from having the ultimate home that I desire when it comes to clutter levels. I do desire to get beyond this obstacle though so I will find a way to overcome it. I just keep in mind the vision of what I want my home to be for me and my family and I know that I will get there.

    • Jen – we all have something we struggle with – for me it is photos. As said above I worked in records and archives for 3 years and it was paper, paper, paper! Here’s what I was taught (and had to recently remind myself) when dealing with paper in the ‘too hard’ pile. Pick up one piece of paper. Deal with that one piece and don’t put it down until it is finished with.

      It will seem a really slow method but it stops the picking up one piece and putting it down and picking up another piece and put that down too etc etc going around and around in circles getting nowhere thing.

      Or if you’d prefer, split it into piles ie bank statements, newsletters, medical, insurance, correspondence etc and knock into neat piles first.

      But once you start, definately go with one paper at a time method.

      Sometimes you have to wait for further information on a piece of paper before you can declare it finished. Slap a colourful post-it note on it and say what is happening. So when you come back to it, you’ll be able to see it easier and know exactly what was going on. Handy hint: don’t let too many ‘on hold’ pieces of paper happen. Set a limit of say, 5 max otherwise you end up in another pile of papers.

      Confession: I ended up with a whole box of papers that happened when we painted and each room was emptied. We started the box so we could at least locate papers but it became too overwhelming to tackle at the end – and I’d spent years doing this sort of thing! After doing the pick up a piece and put down the same piece, pick up another piece cycle – I had to give myself a firm talking to and start the one paper policy again.

      • Thank you Moni. I have never had it explained in the way that you have and I really like this method. I will put this into practice. I think it help a great deal.

      • Thanks for a fabulous reply Moni. I am sure it will help Jen.

  9. I liked my recent decision to have an ‘in tray’ in the kitchen. It’s the place to corral things til I process them – reciepts mainly, but flyers etc. “Pretty stuff” like cards and achievements/certificates/photos go on a magnetic noticeboard under the ‘in tray’. Stupidly, receipts then get coralled into another box, and another other time, they are filed as needed (and data collected in a spreadhsheet, cause I’m like that). Some get tossed after data entry, others kept ‘just in case’ of exchange or faults.

    Things like bills almost always go in my handbag, and live in the space between my work keyboard and screen. If they can’t be paid immediately (rare), they are left there to remind me on the next pay day/when money transfers are complete. Then it’s hole punched, and put in the file for the correct property. Thankfully, my rental now is almost 100% electronic 😀

    I also think it helped when I put a recycling box nearer the front door when I might open mail, or set down things when I get in. Not a perfect system, but two changes in the past few months have helped!

    • I love system tweeking Snosie. It is always worth revisiting ideas and seeing if they could be improved.

  10. I’ll reply to everyone later – I’ve unexpectedly been called away for the rest of the day on urgent business. Doodle x

  11. I’m doing ok with the first part – I throw away the junk mail right away. After that, things get fuzzy. The “file pile” really grows and grows before I get things put away. That is the part I need to focus on I guess!

    • Hi Kayla – have a read of Moni’s reply to Jen higher up – some really great tips on working your way through a paper pile.
      When I have occasions when I have let things slip a bit, I sometimes set myself a challenge of 5 pieces to be filed/dealt with a day, or set a timer for 10 minutes a day or even, how much can I deal with during ad breaks of a favourite programme on tv.

  12. Paperwork breeds in the night I think! I find if bills/statements etc aren’t dealt with immediately they hang around forever and the pile gets larger and larger until you really don’t know where to start with it. I agree with a previous post by Moni: make sure you deal completely with each piece of paper, otherwise you spend ages going around in circles. When large piles of paperwork gather ( often after we have been away from home and come back to a stack of mail) I find it’s best to quickly tackle all the items you know you can get through quickly. Then try to do the hard ones as soon as possible after that…….. Otherwise the pile grows and grows!

    • I apply this to my admin job Linda – there are some tasks I like better than others and sometimes I get a back log. The only way to sort it is to make myself take a file off the top of the pile and not stop until it is done.

  13. Hi Doodle, some good ideas there. My way of dealing with paperwork is to eliminate as much of it as possible. We also have our rubbish bin, recycling bin and shredder all side by side under my kitchen sink which makes for convenient disposal of junk mail (little of that gets through) or dealt with items. In Australia personal tax papers from previous years can now be kept digitally so no more putting papers in the attic. Aside from that nearly all our bills are received and paid digitally. And the best thing is that my husband deals with most of this and he is ruthless with it. So no build up for little effort. Yay!

    I think the trick is to digitise and eliminate the unnecessary. Much of the paperwork people often deal with is totally unnecessary. They think it is but it isn’t and they get stuck in their old ways. Being open minded is the key.

    A couple more tips…
    * Only donate to a limited number of charities and unsubscribe to the rest.
    * Don’t sign up for competitions. They sell your private details to anyone who wants them.

    • Thanks Colleen. I think you are right, we do have a tendency to hang on to a lot of stuff unnecessarily. I have really had to train myself to let go of old insurance policies once the new one comes in force each year and old utility bills etc. It gets easier when you discover disaster doesn’t then ensue!