Decluttering: The Secret of Organising Your Paperwork

by | Nov 23, 2021

Decluttering: The Secret of Organising Your Paperwork

By Abigail Crane


Guest Bloggers: The Declutter Hub

For freelance legal professionals, stepping away from the traditional employed model of working can also mean a loss of access to CPD and training courses. At Vario, we offer regular webinars and access to up-to-date CPD to our freelance community.

Our most recent webinar was hosted by The Declutter Hub, who discussed the best approaches for a decluttered mind for optimised productivity, and have followed up with this guest blog post:

Are you a piler or a filer when it comes to paperwork?

If you struggle with paperwork clutter, you’re not on your own. As with all household clutter, it’s all about the habits and emotions. You need to understand what habits and emotions are driving your behaviours so you can get a handle on your things. Fear, overwhelm and procrastination are the big paperwork habits we need to deal with and they are intrinsically linked.

But which habit drives the others? Which one comes first?

Let’s talk about fear – it may sound overly dramatic but we are all a little bit fearful of letting go of something we may need in the future. We’ve all been there wondering whether we should keep our own version of a medical document or put our trust in the professionals to keep a chronology of our medical history. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to what to keep but every piece of paper we keep adds to our ever growing pile of papers.

Fear also plays a part when it comes to knowing exactly how long things need to be kept for. Forever, 7 years, 4 years – all these timescales get bandied around when it comes to tax papers. But having a handle on it takes time, research, effort and maintenance.

And let’s not forget a fear of change. Many of us grew up in a paper based era and making that switch to digital and paperless doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And often we keep both versions just to be sure and then we enter the digitally overwhelmed world too.

And this fear and the decisions we make based on our confidence lead to an overwhelm – not only an overwhelming amount of paper to handle and manage but an overwhelm in terms of the amount of emotional energy expended making the right decision about what to keep, where to file it and ensuring nothing gets missed.

And when we combine that overwhelm and fear, it’s little wonder that clutter’s best friend, procrastination comes knocking at the door. Show me a person who doesn’t have FILING on their to do list every day but doesn’t quite make it happen. We’ve all got better, more pressing and more interesting things to do than file paperwork, haven’t we? Yet procrastinating for too long leads us straight back to overwhelm and then we are stuck in that vicious circle.

These emotions keep us stuck and stop us from moving forwards but how do we fix it? What can we do to get on top of paperwork and create a system that’s so easy it becomes a natural part of our day to sort it out.


Breaking it down

Well, as with all decluttering projects, it’s all about breaking it down. Don’t try and tackle it all at once. If you do, you’ll get bored, fed up and overwhelmed again and then leave it another few weeks….months….or even years. Break your project down into little chunks of time and go one step at a time.

And we need to tackle those ingrained habits we spoke about.

Why are we so fearful? What are the barriers stopping us from making the right decisions when it comes to paper and why do we endlessly procrastinate about something that we know in our heart of hearts will make us feel more in control and less chaotic.

When it comes to sorting out paperwork, at the most basic level, it needs to be categorised into things we need to keep and file and things we need to keep and action. The keep and action category may well find itself moving into the filing system but for now we need to ensure they are kept separately.

But how do we decrease the volume of paperwork we keep if we have been nervous about letting go of things we may need at some point?

We need to challenge our comfort zone. If we have historically kept 2 years of utility bills, for example, we could challenge ourselves to only keep a year and see how we fare. There is no right or wrong answer about how long to keep things for. In fact, aside from a small number of legal and financial documents, there’s very little that we need to keep at all. But that doesn’t mean to say we should ditch everything. It’s all about feeling in control of the decisions you are making. The success of a paperwork declutter will be governed by how far out of your comfort zone you are willing to step.

So now we’ve talked about decluttering and keeping things that are right for us but what if you are perfectly happy with the amount of papers you keep but it’s just the filing you struggle with?


Fine-tuning your system

First things first, is your filing system up to scratch?

When we talk about a system being up to scratch, what we mean is, is your filing system groaning under its own weight, are your hanging files ripped, missing labels or falling to the bottom of the cabinet each time you try and access them. If you use ring binders or lever arch files, are your levers working, are your dividers appropriate? All these things whilst seeming minor, subconsciously create little barriers that stop us from executing on a seemingly simple job.

And finally, is it your own perfectionism that’s holding you back? Are you a micro organiser with way too many categories in your system? Are you waiting for your labels and categories to be perfect before you start to file?


We need to recognise these barriers that stand in our way of managing our paperwork. Then we can move forward, declutter, organise, categorise and label our paperwork so we can find exactly what we need when we need it.

And then of course, we can shred – there’s just something so satisfying about putting something into a shredder. One more piece of paper that’s not going to clutter up our homes and our minds again.

The shredder is ready for you. What are you waiting for?


Bio: The Declutter Hub

Ingrid Jansen and Lesley Spellman are two established UK Professional Organisers who pride themselves on promoting a fun and enjoyable decluttering journey with realism at the core. Ingrid helps clients in London and Lesley in Manchester.

They joined forces in 2018 as The Declutter Hub to bring their expertise to a global audience in the online world. Their highly successful Declutter Hub Podcast is much loved with hundreds of thousands of downloads worldwide.

They provide tailored support in their global membership with their Reset Your Home Roadmap, Live Member Q&As and everything their members need to declutter and organise successfully.


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