How to finally organise the dreaded paperwork!

One of the most common questions I get asked is simply, how do I organise my paperwork?

There are so many different paperwork storage options to choose from and what you go for really depends on 3 things.

1 – How much space you have available to store it

2- How much paperwork you have

3 -Your personal preference

Ok, so where do I start?

First things first, whether you like it or not, you are going to have to go through your paperwork and declutter it…

As always, there is zero point in purchasing storage items until you know exactly what you have left over to be stored!

Prepare:

Get yourself some post-it notes or paper, a pen and clear a decent amount of space on a table or the floor. If you have one, get your shredder out and plugged in ready to go, or use an ID roller. If you don’t have one of these, I highly recommend them, they are an inexpensive way of safe guarding; hiding your personal information and financial details. Click here to purchase the one I use. I’d suggest getting a couple of recycling bags at the ready too.

Make an area to put any shredding / ID rollering and one for general recycling and stick a labelled post-it note there. Now you’re ready to go.

How to finally organise the dreaded paperwork

1.) Sort & categorise

You may choose to declutter your paperwork whilst you sort, or you might prefer to sort first then go back through and declutter afterwards.

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, partners American Express credit card statements, et cetera, into individual piles.

If there are things that you obviously don’t need whilst sorting, just get rid of them there in then – such as junk mail or banking product leaflets.

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 and P60’s for 2 years, according to HMRC.

In conclusion, if you’re not sure keep for 3 years. Make sure you get rid of anything generic like bank leaflets, interest rates etc, as these change CONSTANTLY so they will no doubt be out of date anyway.

Don’t forget you can always scan documents onto your computer and even save them to a separate hard drive if you’re really struggling for space.

*Please note, if you’re self-employed or run a business, it’s imperative that you keep all receipts, financial documents 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 it on the “to shred” pile. Do make sure you shred or blot out any personal or confidential information before it goes into recycling, you don’t want the wrong person getting their hands on it. 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’ll 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, think about 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 generally not a huge fan of them because if you only have two documents inside then they are a bit of a waste of space.

Pro-Tip:

I would also encourage you to have an in-tray, with at least 2 shelves. If you’re worried about these being ugly, you can get some nice ones these days, as opposed 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 plywood 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, so having one of these will keep everything neat. You want to minimise things 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. For 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.

Personally, I like to order alphabetically in sections. It makes it easier to find what you need at a glance. You can do this too if you wish.

Inside the sections, I advise filing in date order. The newest version at the front and the 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 don’t 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 on a shelf or in a cupboard. Wherever they will live permanently. 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 where you open your post.

Passports & important documents

So firstly I would not advise you to carry your passports around with you! I’m sure most wouldn’t unless, of course, you are going on holiday! Then definitely DO take it.

I recommend keeping your passports and other important documents in a fireproof, waterproof lockable box; or even better, a safe if you have one. Some filing cabinets have a skinny inbuilt secret tray at the top of them which you can keep in too.

What about receipts?

If you’re self-employed or have a small business then absolutely, YES you will need to keep them to prove your expenses. If you got investigated and didn’t have them you wouldn’t be able to claim and you could even get fined. Though I’m not an expert on this!

You will need to keep your receipts for at least 5 years after the 31st January submission.

For everyone else, it depends on what the receipt is for.

Personally, I keep receipts of very expensive things, such as furniture, computers and some other electronics. Keep receipts of anything you might want to return, otherwise, you could have a fight on your hands. I always keep postal receipts until I know the person has received the parcel.

If you have a warranty on anything, it’s a good idea to keep the receipt with this until that runs out.

The other thing to bear in mind is that if you were unfortunate enough to have a flood or a fire, your insurance company might not cover you for specific things if you don’t have the receipts. Obviously, you would need to check with individual companies (ideally when you take out the policy and not when you need to claim!).

Another thing to take note of in terms of sustainability is that most receipts cannot be recycled. They have to go in the general rubbish! So if you’re doing a small food shop or buying the odd item, say no to a receipt.

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. Your partner, or even teenage kids who 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.

Lastly, let me know how your paperwork project goes! Comment below or find me over on Instagram.

Would you like more help?

If you’re overwhelmed with your paperwork and would like some help 1:1, I offer virtual sessions starting from just £15. Or in-home sessions from £120. Why not pop me over an email or book in a free, no-obligation 15 minute phone consultation?

I’d love to hear from you and help you further.

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Have a great Friday!

Amy x