1.) Sort & categorise
You may choose to declutter whilst you sort, or you may prefer to sort first then go back through and declutter afterwards, or even a mix of both.
It’s up to you, but you’ll need to separate everything into categories. The more detailed you are with this the quicker it will be later. You could choose to put all bank statements in one pile, but If you have the space, go more detailed. For example your Barclays bank statements, your Natwest credit card statements, your partners Halifax bank statements, their American express credit card statements, in individual piles.
If there are things you obviously don’t need whilst sorting, just get rid of them there in then – such as advert papers or banking product leaflets, general junk
2.) How long should I keep documents for?
For anyone who doesn’t run a business, the general advice is to keep bank statements for 1 year. However, providing you check them each month for discrepancies and unknown transactions and you’re not applying for anything like a mortgage, there is no need to keep them. Though I would advise holding onto them for 1-2 years.
Your bank will keep them on their system, so you can request them if you need to. Though you may be charged a small fee and they may not be kept on their servers forever. So if you are applying for a mortgage, make sure you always have the most recent 3 months worth.
Now, Martin Lewis, seems to think that you should pretty much never get rid of any paperwork. I’m guessing he has the luxury of having the space for an awful lot of filing cabinets… This is due to the whole mis-selling of PPI and packaged bank accounts. If you have had a credit card or loan where there is a chance you could have been mis-sold PPI, then I suggest you look into this. If you have and you get some money back EXCELLENT, but if you can confirm after investigating that you haven’t then please, get rid of the paperwork.
I would also suggest keeping annual pension statements, mortgage statements and help to buy for longer too, I advise at least 3 years. Along with any paperwork from other properties you own or might rent out.
You should keep payslips for 22 months according to HMRC.
In conclusion, if you’re not sure keep for 3 years. But do make sure you get rid of anything generic like bank leaflets, interest rates etc, as these change CONSTANTLY so whatever leaflets you have will no doubt be out of date anyway.
Please note that if you’re self-employed or run a business, it’s imperative that you keep all receipts and relevant paperwork for 6 years for tax purposes.
3.) Next, declutter and date order
So now you know what you need to keep and you’ve categorised your documents, it’s time to declutter. You might want to grab a drink and a snack first though, this is using a lot of brain energy!
Once you’ve decided how far back you are going to keep certain documents, work out the earliest date e.g 18th February 2021 and get rid of anything older than that. If it’s got no personal information on it, put it straight into the recycling bag, otherwise put on the “to shred” pile. Do make sure you shred or blot out any personal or confidential information before it goes into recycling. If you don’t want to shred the whole bit of paper, just rip off the relevant part to shred.
If you can put the documents in date order at the same time, you kill two birds with one stone, but don’t worry if not, you can do that next.
In terms of filing, I personally find it best to go from newest at the front to oldest at the back. This way, each time you get the new version, it goes straight in the front and you can take the last one out and bin it, almost without looking!
4.) Review & storage options
Now that you’ve decluttered you can see exactly how much paperwork you have left and it’s all in date order ready to be filed, great work! You should be proud of yourself, you are going to feel like a super organised being. Hurrah!
From what you have left, which type of storage solution is going to suit your needs?
Do you have enough to justify a filing cabinet? Don’t forget you can find smaller, under desk versions like this, you don’t need a huge tall one.
If you don’t have the room or the need for something so big, what about clear, compact expanding files? This is what I use in my own filing system. You know, I used to have a big filing cabinet and after realising I didn’t actually need 80% of the stuff I had, I sold it and downsized to these!
You could choose to use A4 lever arch files. If you have enough to fill them up, these are great, but I’m not a huge fan of them as if you only have two documents inside then they are a bit of a waste of space.
I would also encourage you to have an in-tray, with at least 2 shelves. If you’re worrying about these being ugly, you can get some really nice ones these days as oppose to the rather basic, office type grey versions. This is a stylish option, or you could go with a sustainable bamboo style.
These don’t have to be expensive there is a huge price range, you can pick up a basic ply-wood in-tray in Ikea for £12.
One for “needs filing” and another for “needs actioning” sometimes we don’t have time to action or file immediately and having one of these will keep everything neat and prevent things from hanging around as clutter.
5.) Creating your filing system
Depending on whether or not you were sensible and waited like I said (haha) you might now need to go out and purchase, or, order your storage solution online. That is, if you don’t already own something that you could re-use. Do check first because it’s obviously more sustainable to use what you already have, if you have something suitable, not to mention you’ll save yourself some pennies.
If you’ve chosen a filing cabinet don’t forget to pick up the swing folders that go inside it, if they’re not included. If you’ve gone with lever-arch files, be sure to also buy the file dividers so that you can clearly label each section. If you went with the expanding file option, these usually always come with card labels that you can write on and they slot into each section.
Personally I like ordering everything alphabetically in sections as it makes it easier to find what you need at a glance, so you can do this too if you wish.
Inside the sections, as previously mentioned, I advise filing in date order, with the newest version at the front and oldest at the back.
If you’re using anything other than a filing cabinet, it’s important to also label the folder on the outside. This means you dont have to pull out a folder and open it to work out what’s inside!
Once you’ve completed this the last thing to do is order your files wherever they are going to live, on a shelf or in a cupboard. Again it’s best to do this alphabetically.
Set up your in-tray either next to or near to your filing cabinet or folders, or if it works better for you, you could keep it wherever you open your post.
6.) Admire your work and explain the new system to your household
Most importantly admire what you have achieved! This is going to save you SO much time and stress going forward, your paperwork is finally going to be easy to manage – you might even enjoy it…
The final thing you need to do is explain the new system to anyone else in your household who has paperwork. Your partner or even teenage kids, they will likely have a bank account and therefore have their own paperwork too.
Make sure you show them what they have to do. If they can’t manage their paperwork by themselves, they can at least put it into the in-tray to be sorted (probably by you!). If everyone knows what to do, this is going to be another big help and will hopefully save you even more time.