Get Rid of Your Paper Clutter Once and For All

get your paper clutter organised


This is Part 1 of the 3-Part series: Get Rid of Paper Clutter Once and For All.  You can find Part Two right here. And Part Three right here.


I recently received an email from one of my loveliest readers, Tam:

“Do you have any tips for organising and filing paperwork? I have a spare room full of all the clutter, bits and bobs and a mountain range of many years of paperwork. I’m freaking out as we move out of our house this weekend and I don’t wanna drag all this with me…

Any advice and tips would be greatly appreciated.”

After a quick survey on Facebook, it seems many of you are battling with the paper clutter too. So I thought I would share with you the same information I shared with Tam.

You Can Get It Under Control!

I used to have piles and piles of papers. Things to action, things to file, bills to pay, bills that had been paid – there was a pile for each of them.

I had no system and even though I thought my piles were straightforward, whenever we had people visit, the piles would inevitably be stacked on top of each other and shoved in the spare room, where they would stay indefinitely. Until, of course, I added another pile to the collection.

Last year, I had had enough. I got stuck in, spent half a day wading through years of paperwork and eventually gained control. And it remains that way today.

So I sent a quick email to Tam, letting her know what steps I had taken to wrestle the paper clutter monster to the ground.

I must admit, when I replied to Tam it was in a flu-induced state of funkery and I’m quite sure much of it didn’t make sense.

But something of use made it through because Tam wrote back the next day:

“Brooke, I did it!!! I’m bloody hungover and my eyeballs are hanging out of my head, but I bloody well got stuck in and got it done…… AND IT’S ORGANISED!!!!

Thank you soooo much for your words of wisdom.
much love and blessings
Tam xx”


Tam has given the OK to me sharing her emails with you, and I really want to for one main reason:

I want to help you get rid of your paper clutter and the stress that comes with it. And this week I’ll be running a 3-part series to show you just how I did it.


A side note:

Currently, I am not a “scan it and discard the paper” kinda girl. Call me old-fashioned, but I like having my bills on paper and my bank statements too. So if you’re looking for a high-tech solution to solve all your paper clutter troubles – this isn’t it.

Women’s Day has a fantastic post on how to digitise your records here. It’s well worth a read.


Getting Rid of Paper Clutter – Part One.

1. Bring it All Together

Go through your home and pick up any paper clutter you see. Any at all. Make sure to check the kitchen (particularly the top of the fridge) and benchtops. Also thoroughly check the office, the desk and any papers floating about in your drawers.

The most important thing is to bring all the paper clutter into one place.

That way, when the time comes, you’ll know what you need to make a space for, and how best to organise it.


2. Understand What You Need to Keep

(This list will differ sightly from country to country, and even perhaps state to state. There are also additional considerations if you run a business or have kids. If you have any particular questions – Google it or perhaps ask an accountant.)

When it comes to the paperwork you need to keep, it all falls into two categories. If it doesn’t fit either of these – you can safely recycle it:

  1. Papers to keep on file (this includes identification, mortgage/lease papers, tax information, insurance papers, etc)
  2. Papers requiring action (bills to be paid, forms to be completed, school papers, health receipts to claim, etc)


Firstly – Papers to Keep on File

This is a list of papers that need to be kept in your filing cabinet. Papers you may need to refer back to later or to provide when applying for a loan, or a job, or other types of credit.

In general, keep the last 12 months worth of bills, statements and accounts and keep the most recent version of insurance policies and contracts.


– savings account statements
– transaction account statements
– mortgage papers and statements
– personal loan papers and statements
– credit card statements


– health insurance
– car insurance
– home and contents insurance
– life insurance


– one folder per person


– current tax year (receipts, etc)
– 5 previous years (tax returns, letters, etc)

Utilities – Contracts and Paid Bills

– mobile phones
– home phone/internet
– water
– electricity/gas
– council rates


– a folder per person if necessary


– one folder per child



Papers Requiring Action:

This category includes bills that need paying, letters that require sending, forms to complete, school permission slips, medical receipts that you need to claim, etc.

Basically anything that requires an action on your part.

You need to find somewhere specific to keep these. For me it needs to be in plain sight. If I file these “to do” papers out of sight, I am far less likely to actually do anything with them. (And this can mean bills not paid on time, letters not sent, etc).

I have a specific place in our admin area – right next to the computer – that I keep these papers.

Wherever you choose, ensure it is somewhere that makes sense to you. Make sure it’s somewhere that will encourage you to action them regularly.


And For the Lazy (Like Me) – A Papers to Be Filed Box:

I am essentially quite lazy and while I understand I should just file my papers once they’ve been actioned, that rarely happens.

So I have a lovely little box next to my computer where I store anything that has been actioned or needs to be filed. I leave it to fill up and then file everything in one go.

It works for me, it looks tidy (being hidden in plain sight) and takes one step out of the process.


3. Get Prepared

At this stage you don’t need to sort any of the paper you’ve collected – that part comes tomorrow. Today you are simply getting prepared – so that when you do sort out the piles of papers, you don’t waste time shuffling them around.

Your filed papers should be kept somewhere organised, out of the way and relatively secure.

A one or two-drawer filing cabinet is the best option, but you could also use a collapsible concertina file or archive box. Whatever you decide – it needs to be orderly and easy to access each individual file. If it’s not easy, you won’t use it.


Preparing the Filing Cabinet

  1. Invest is some hanging file dividers and manilla folders. They aren’t expensive, are readily available and make keeping the papers in order as simple as possible.
  2. Using the list above, label each hanging divider with one of the category headings and use a manilla folder for each of the relevant subcategories listed below it. (Eg. Label a hanging divider “FINANCES” and individual manilla folders “Savings”, “Transactions”, “Mortgage”, “Car Loan”, and “Visa”.)
  3. Consider if you need any additional folders. If you do, label those too.

I know this seems like a huge amount of information – but don’t freak. All you need to focus on is:

  • gathering your paperwork in one place
  • establishing what records you need to keep
  • buying some folders to store your records
  • preparing them for storage – by labelling a folder for each type of record

If you can do these four things, you are more than halfway to getting your paper clutter organised. Nice one!

Tomorrow we’ll roll up our sleeves and sort those piles out once and for all.


Do you have a paper filing system? Or do you like to keep everything digital these days?

36 Responses to Get Rid of Your Paper Clutter Once and For All

    • Me too, Kathy! I hope it’s a help.

      Tomorrow is all about sorting through the papers – which is the most time-consuming and satisfying!! :)

  1. I’m in. My desk is a mess. I’ll be ready to start sorting tomorrow. Right now just to rid the desk of papers is a great start.
    Blessings Gail

  2. This was one of my jobs to get through before our bub arrived! It took me a whole day but was well worth it. I went through everything to see what statements, bills etc I could access online so that I didn’t keep anything more than I had to. Initially I was planning on buying a filing cabinet but it turns out that once I threw out 5 years worth of unnecessary paperwork all I needed was a cardboard file! Nick took a big bag of papers to work the next day to put in their document bin so that our details weren’t floating around. It’s such a good feeling to get everything sorted! x

  3. Hello there,
    I started my mammoth paper [and junk] declutter about 2 or 3 years ago, following a second bedroom being piled high [and then the goods put in storage] from best friend’s childhood home going in to probate. Before the furniture from his parent’s house went in storage we also had our kitchen renovated by landlord. Bedroom2 was a mess as everything in it made impossible to even walk in!

    Today I am battling with final bits of paperwork even thoughI have neat rows of folders on book case.
    Thanks for the tips! Shall use some today. I’m at the collating stage. My script notes need pulling together [that’s another day’s job]
    Many thanks!
    Shar, London [script writer]

  4. I have just found your site and am enjoying all you have to offer. Thank you.
    I am a book keeper who works from an office attached to our home. I do not own a filing cabinet.
    I use a variety of filing for my 40 odd clients. I love arch lever files and coloured tabs. They are neat and inexpensive. As they fill, the paperwork is archived using the most useful of stationary, ‘arnos fasteners’, then thrown in a box till they can be discarded.
    Our local pharmacy gets a multitude of well made boxes with lids from the drug companies which they keep for me when I ask.
    I also use those plastic drawers that you can buy from the discount shops. Some of the drawers you can buy are the same size as a filing tray. Each of my clients have a drawer with their name on the front. I find the little drawers excellent for our own personal paper ie bills to pay, to file, mailing etc etc. Our little drawers sit in a corner of the book case.
    I also keep a box for shredding. Our local town has a business that will shred an archive box full for under $10.00.
    I receive what feels like an enormous amount of paperwork each week. As long as I am diligent in placing that paper in its aloted file/drawer, as it comes in, I am never in a mess.
    I hope you don’t mind me sharing how I keep my paperwork under control. It works for me.
    Enjoy your day. :)

  5. I will try this and hope I can get rid of this paper clutter that I keep on colecting.
    Mary DaSilva

  6. Greetings! I’ve been reading your weblog for a long time now and finally got the
    courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from New Caney Texas!

    Just wanted to say keep up the good job!

  7. So glad to find your website, BROOKE,

    I have adult ADHD. Organization seems to have gotten the best of me. No, lack of.

    If you came into my bedroom, you would find at least 40 file boxes full of stuff I keep trying to whittle down. WHY do I find it necessary to keep?

    I liked your articles, but WHERE DO I BEGIN. I FEEL OVERWHELMED. “Start with one box”. It is a mental block for me. Do you have any suggestions? Please respond through email.

  8. Great ideas! I followed some of these ideas and was able to give my file cabinet to charity. I bought a small metal file box from the thrift store for my new de-cluttered paper lifestyle. Thanks! Mark

  9. I definitely need help with this one.

    When I saw step 1 was Bring It All Together, I got rather scared. I have a lot of paper clutter, and yep it turns out I am scared of it! This is not good.

    I don’t think I actually have that much that you recommend to keep (although not sure, it is buried in with everything else – boxes worth of paperstuffs).

    I think my main problem relates to a clutter solution I heard of years ago, where instead of keeping an entire magazine, you just keep the couple of things from it that interest you. Well… this has resulted in 2 boxes of magazine clippings/pages. Which at least I have sorted into general topics. But even though when I get them out they are interesting, I barely see them as there are so many buried in together!

    And then there is a box and more of sentimental stuff, letters and cards, never look at any of them, but feel like I need to keep. And a box of uni assignments, somehow I feel like I need to keep these too. They’re not even interesting! I feel silly admitting all this, and yet when I go to try to cull any of it, it just seems impossible!

    Please help!

    • My issues are the same as yours and any advice regarding sentimental/school/children’s paper would be appreciated

    • Hi Amelia,
      When I read your comment and you described your issues, I thought I was reading about myself!! I know you made this post some time ago, did you find any solutions? I would live to hear about it!
      Thanks, Sheila

      • Hi Sheila,

        I haven’t found any great solutions, had returned here just in case anyone had some tips to help!
        I’ve managed to get rid of half my stored paper – there’s a few techniques I’ve used. Firstly cutting back on what I am storing, so if something new comes in that I really want to keep, I get rid of at least one other article/letter etc. But mainly I have worked by picking a type of paper clutter, and spending the day trying to weed out items in there I don’t need or want any more (eg I’ve found and tossed multiples of very similar magazine clippings, clippings with advice for things no longer relevant or alternatively things I know by heart now and don’t need a reference for, cards with no personal message, uni assignments I would have to be paid to reread!). I’ve done this dozens of times, including returning to previously-assessed items and looking through them again. Once I think I’m happy with a category I try to find a smaller box or folder for it, and if necessary cull a few more papers so that it will fit.
        But I’m still not totally happy with where I’m at, it doesn’t seem like the war is won yet!
        Best of luck in your own battle with paperstuffs.

  10. Almost didn’t read past “half a day” as I was laughing so hard. Stuff has been piling up for YEARS and half a day wouldn’t get through the paper in my kitchen, which is the most organized room in my house! It’s January 2015 and I’m hoping that with a lot of concentrated work (very difficult as I am ADD) I might just get all the clutter, not just paper, gone by January 2016. Was grateful for your hints and especially what papers I should keep, toss and shred. Looking forward to reading the rest!!

  11. Hi Brooke, Here’s giving you many thousand thanks!! I’m diving in and will try= T.rust Rely Yield
    Be back for round two soon! Keeping it simple w/2 categories makes me feel I can do this!!

    Bye for now,

    L*isa :)

  12. When it comes to filing documents, you NEED a “to file” box if you’re not the kind of person who gets things slotted away for good keeping in storage immediately. As long as you work out a schedule to get your filing done, the messy pile shouldn’t get TOO high before you work it out!

  13. Yesterday I decided to collect all the paper work into one space, the lounge. Left some room to walk around. Today, I thought I’d look for more ideas on killing the paper clutter and I across this site – which suggests that I do what I just did yesterday (yay!). Seeing 2015 updates spurred me on – the magazine clippings and memorabilia from travels (maps, ticket stubs etc.) are my Achilles heel. I clip decor ideas, gardening tips, etc. as we have a build coming up in a year or two, or three (yep, that’s part of the problem). I also chose a time when my SO is away on business (5 days with no other critical eye – the kids’ comments and looks are easier to ignore). I know it will be much better afterwards. Am thinking I must work with no background music (Komari?) but that’s just too hard for me. Bob James / Lee Oskar wouldn’t hurt. TV definitely off.

  14. Love this article, looking forward to reading parts 2 & 3. Great to see other people in the same dilemma and still commenting. Like a previous commenter I am/get very overwhelmed and find it hard to even get started. And knowing myself all too well what I am afraid of is getting all my paper from everywhere, piling it somewhere and then getting all overwhelmed again and like so many other things I start it will just sit there in piles. I always have good intentions but seem to hardly ever follow through on most projects. It’s really hard having ADD and I’m not trying to use that as an excuse but anyone with ADD can truly understand. Sorry no more pity party for me…time to go tackle some receipts and bills on my desk. Brooke, thanks for this article. I am now motivated more than ever!!

  15. Hi I know what you all mean! I have so much paper and magazines that I ordered in the last year thinking that I was going to read, I never clip articles because then it begins to grow even faster! I will try the filing cabinets folders! I am hoping that will work! I know I can do this with God’s help! I remember to store my treasures in heaven not on this earth I know I can not take clutter with me! Thank God! So I want to enjoy a house clutter free! Thank you for all of your suggestions and help! I am going to start tomorrow!

    • M, did you get the job done? Paper is my main clutter culprit. Mostly it’s not deciding what home to give it. Oh, and the part of my shoving the papers into a to-be-filed cubby instead of walking over to the filing cabinet and shoving it into its home folder!

  16. Instead of making a “to file box” I have found that I have monthly folders Jan-Dec. At the end of the year I put Jan-Dec papers in one big manilla envelope. It should just be bills and un-important pw as we have already filed taxs docs, policies etc in Step 1. I keep the big Manilla envelope for maybe 2-5 years then toss.(as these are most likely not needed anyways).

  17. Hi Brooke

    Just thought I would share with you and others.
    I have been a complete ‘Paperphobe’ all my life! Even though
    as a business woman I was ‘forced’ into organizing paperwork
    for tax purposes etc. I would go through the shakes, nausea and any excuse to procrastinate. Eventually, I became so obsessive with files,folders,labels and colored dividers,sticky notes etc.I even managed eventually to do my accounts up to audit standard. Unfortunately- I have kept everything ( much to the annoyance of my partner as it has filled the small room with boxes, plastic containers, and all kinds of briefcases. I now find myself traumatized by the thought of throwing anything away in case I need it for some reference to the book one day I keep telling myself I will write! My mother was obsessed with paperwork too. It was only when I found unpaid bills among stacks of magazines that I realized something was wrong. She was diagnosed with Dementia. In her case we found garden sheds crammed full of paperwork! My father was a hoarder and never threw anything away- always the mantra was “Oh! I may find a use for that one day! Other garden sheds and workshop were overflowing- full of old tools, machinery, pots, pans, wiring, bulbs and a variety of mowing machines. He was the original Heath Robinson- he even made an exhaust cover out of an old sardine tin.
    So you see-I have not much chance of de-cluttering my life-except after thinking long and hard about my ‘habit of collecting’ I chanced upon your blog!
    It is hard to let go of all those memories tied up with string- just in case bone day I end up demented too. You see that is all we really have- memories and when you lose those………

  18. You might want to fix the links in the paper clutter 3 part series. They contain the wrong URLs, looks like they contain a date that is not part of the actual URLs anymore.

  19. What do you all put in your “Identification” folder? Your birth certificate copies (my original is in a safe deposit box), Passport? Not sure what else.