Whoop whoop whoop!!!
That was me doing a happy dance after finally decluttering my last pile of old, unwanted paperwork.
I have learned I am much happier without clutter full stop. But I was especially happy to clear my paper clutter because it causes such stress.
We all bury all sorts of fear and anxiety in those piles of paper so the very thought of decluttering paperwork sends us spiralling into blind panic and we never start.
The trick to decluttering paperwork effectively is to acknowledge our fear but then take action fast on paperwork we can successfully declutter very easily.
In this simple guide to decluttering paperwork I will help you do both.
Decluttering Paper Guide
I will kick off the guide with the psychology of paper clutter.
Personally, I found it helpful to understand why decluttering paperwork was so hard.
But if that’s not your thing whizz down to the declutter paperwork challenge and get started.
Paper Clutter Psychology
For most of us, the big problem with paper clutter is, it’s all a jumble.
Important stuff and special memories are jumbled up with what is basically just rubbish.
A Jumble Of Paper
Bizarrely, all that rubbish is a bit of a security blanket. It stops us from having to confront decisions and often, problems but it is – believe me – a totally fake friend.
Paper clutter sends our anxiety through the roof. Drowning in random paper, it’s impossible to focus on important stuff. We stop even knowing what is important and we certainly can’t find important stuff quickly to deal with it.
Worrying About What’s Lost
We then get into a cycle of worrying constantly about actual papers we have lost and forgotten papers we might have lost which leads to panic attacks, anxiety dreams and worst.
The Price We Pay
That is the real price we pay for all that paper we hoard as a security blanket to stop us having to confront the real problems we need to deal with that our important paperwork actually represents.
It’s a huge price to pay
No Regrets Rubbish
So we need to declutter as much of the no-regrets rubbish as we can fast because this will give us the head space to deal with paperwork that really is important.
This declutter paperwork challenge – and the supporting checklist – will help you do just that.
The Quick Declutter Paperwork Challenge
Step one in decluttering paperwork is gathering up ALL the paper we can declutter without regrets.
Then chucking it in recycling.
At this point we are NOT pulling anything out of filing systems or boxes in the basement.
We are just gathering up the paperwork cluttering our kitchen worktops and table, in the hall, by the phone, on the coffee table and by our bed. Clearing all this paper clutter quickly will give us headspace to deal with the important stuff.
There’s a big checklist for you below of items to look out for.
To gather it all up use either a …
- Power purge if you’ve got lots of energy
- or an amnesty box if you find it harder to get around
I’ve explained before how to power purge. It’s very simple …
- Just set a timer for 15 minutes MAX.
- And whizz round the house with a bin bag.
- Focusing just on paper to recycle.
- Ignore ALL other clutter.
- Get the bag of recycling in an outdoor bin
- Repeat over a couple of days if necessary.
With the amnesty box method just get a big empty box and …
- Over a whole week
- Fill it little by little throughout the day
- With any paper to be recycled
- At the end of the week get it all in an outdoor bin
- Or ask friends or family to help empty it for you
It all sounds very simple doesn’t it?
But we will all – I promise – get stuck and dither about whether we should really let it go, telling ourselves …
- “I might need it …“
- “I don’t want to lose the memory …“
- “It’s a collectible!”
- “It might be useful someday.“
If you find yourself slipping into this dialogue then use the paperwork declutter tricks below to keep getting rid of paperwork you don’t need without throwing out anything you do.
Declutter Paperwork Checklist
Use this no regrets paperwork declutter checklist to spot all the paper you can easily throw out that’s hiding in plain sight around your home.
Have a quick look at it before you start the declutter challenge above and visualise all that crazy paperwork clutter you can easily let go without any regrets.
Visualising the crazy clutter will help us notice all the paperwork around the house we’ve been ignoring and get us into the mindset that it is going to go.
When I did this challenge – once using the power purge method & once the amnesty box described above – I cleared over 5 bags of no regrets paper clutter easily.
So do give it a go and if you do find yourself dithering at any point check out the paperwork declutter tips below.
- Junk mail
- Old envelopes
- Take away menus
- Parcel collect forms
- Parking tickets
- Plane tickets
- Train tickets
- Electronics manuals
- Furniture manuals
- Old sponsor forms
- Birthday cards
- Save the date cards
- Wedding invitations
- Birthday party invites
- Christmas cards
- Sports tickets
- Sport programmes
- Theatre tickets
- Theatre programmes
- Old school & college papers
- Children’s art work
- Scrap paper
- Scrumpled, unusable wrapping paper
- Scruffy craft paper you won’t use
- Old note books
- Phone directories
- Completed puzzle books
- Old to do lists
- Unused folders & dividers
4. Paperwork Declutter Tips When You Get Stuck
OK, you’ve cleared some paper clutter.
Maybe, quite a bit. But now you’re stuck.
But don’t worry. We’re gonna get over it.
Remember earlier we talked about the price of paper clutter?
Well what I want you do is take one minute right now and jot down ALL the problems paper clutter causes you personally.
Fear. Worry. Anxiety. Arguments. Wasted time. Financial problems. Lost sleep.
Get them ALL down. And read them through.
They ARE the price of YOUR paper clutter.
It costs us alot, huh?
Which means we need a really good reason to hold onto it, don’t we?
So let’s interrogate the reasons we’ve been giving ourselves and see if they stack up.
But I Might Need It
“I might need it” is typically our reason for keeping manuals.
All sorts of manuals and guides.
Electronics. Furniture. Financial products. The lot.
I had boxes full of them. If you do too ask yourself …
- Have I ever used this information?
- How likely am I to need it?
- Do I even still own the product?
- Does it work?
- Could I find the information in this mess if I did need it?
- Would my information even be up to date?
- Could I find the same or better information quicker online?
- Could I ring the company up to get the information?
When I went through all the manuals I was hoarding, I could NOT find a reason which justified the personal price I was paying for all that paper clutter.
I didn’t own half the stuff I had manuals for. I’d never used any of them. I couldn’t imagine how I would use them. And a quick investigation showed me the information was online.
AND I ditched the lot. See if you can too.
I Don’t Want To Lose the Memory
Now, I don’t know about you but “I don’t want to lose the memory” has been my reason for keeping all sorts of paper clutter. Pictures, letters, post cards, christmas cards, theatre tickets etc.
And it’s a very good reason.
But again we pay a price for it. A big price.
So start asking yourself …
- Will I forget that person or time without this?
- Was it a special memory? Or just a lovely moment that’s passed?
- Does it truly give me pleasure to look at it again?
- Have I actually found the time enjoy it recently or ever?
- If I could only keep a few tokens of my past, would this be one?
These simple questions help us let go of paper clutter that doesn’t bring joy.
BUT typically not all of it. For the moment.
So grab yourself a box.
And put any remaining paper you’re keeping for sentimental reasons in the box.
We’re going to come back to it.
But very importantly we’ve clearly separated it from the paper we have to keep AND deal with.
It’s A Collectible
The final big reason lots of us give for paper hoarding is “it’s a collectible“.
Hmmm … really?
What most of us have is a big old pile of magazines, comics, programmes etc.
Scattered around the house. Moulding in the basement. Feeding the squirrels in the attic. Or collecting dust under the beds.
Remember that clutter has a price.
And ask yourself …
- Do I truly get pleasure from these?
- How do I enjoy them?
- When did I last take time to enjoy them?
- Do I have space to enjoy them?
That helped me let go of lots.
If that still leaves you with a big pile.
We will need to come back to it and tackle it as a collection.
BUT allocate a maximum space to it. Don’t exceed that space. And make sure it IS NOT mixed up with any of your other paper.
So there we go.
We’ve cleared a load of paper. Hurrah!
Critically, separated out sentimental and collectible paper clutter we’re not yet ready to let go.
AND created the space to deal with the important stuff.
AND the precious memories.
I do hope that helped.
But if you are overwhelmed by paper clutter, you are almost certainly struggling with all sorts of other clutter in your home so do now check out my FREE step-by-step declutter guide that will take you through all the other hotspots in your home.
It is based on a super simple no mess declutter method – NOT Marie Kondo!! – and will show you how to declutter everything from your kitchen counters to your garage PLUS all those boxes of forgotten stuff you’ve been holding onto just in case.Photo: Cash register receipts in a pile, Hand holds a stack of recycling paper against white background by Marco Verch under Creative Commons 2.0
Well done on conquering the paper piles! I have finished decluttering most of my papers now. Last thing is several boxes of diaries/ journals written over 20 years. I am saving them for cooler weather and a backyard fire pit. 🙂