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5 Tips to Solve Paper Clutter

Updated on February 1, 2014

Five Tips for Getting Rid of Paper Clutter

If you're like most of us, you have at least some paper clutter. I have files from 1997, filled with paperwork, in my attic. I don't know exactly what's in them - I know there are a lot of bank statements, tax returns, and a lot of receipts. But they're okay because they're all packed away. The challenge comes from the current paperwork. And, even in this digital age, when so much has transferred to email and online documents, I find there's still an awful lot of paper that comes into my life.

Being self employed means I have to keep all receipts and invoices relating to my business. And, like many other self employed people, come the end of the tax year and dangerously close to the deadline for submitting my return, I'd find myself wading through piles of receipts and other paperwork, trying to make sense of it all. In my experience, just locating the date on each receipt is a challenge! They all seem to put it in a different place, and playing "spot the date" has wasted so much time in my household.

No more. I no longer have piles of paperwork clutter, and I no longer play "spot the date" And this year, I submitted my tax return nice and early with no stress. On this page, I'll share with you 5 tips that have changed my life as far as paperwork clutter goes. I hope you find them as useful as I have. If you have any questions, or tips of your own you'd like to share, please use the comments section towards the bottom of this page - it would be lovely to hear from you!

Plastic Zipper Wallet
Plastic Zipper Wallet

Solving Paper Clutter - Tip #1

Keep a plastic wallet in the glove compartment of your car. Put all receipts and invoices you receive from fuel and purchases out and about, in this wallet as soon as you get back in your car. An ordinary envelope would get torn and perish, and is more awkward, so it's best to use a plastic wallet that closes using a popper or zipper like the one in the picture here.

Empty this wallet once a week into the container in your house (see tip #2). Doing it on the same day each week will make it easier to stick to.

Plastic Zipper Wallet $4.77

Extra Tip

To make this even easier, have two plastic wallets. When one is full, put the whole wallet into the general paperwork container (see tip #2) and put the second, empty wallet in your glove compartment. Then switch them once the second is full and the first has been emptied.

Basket Storage Tray
Basket Storage Tray

Solving Paper Clutter Tip #2

Allocate two boxes or drawers, or baskets, or trays for paper.

Container 1

One is for general paper. Put all paper into it, as it comes into the house. Whenever you find yourself with paper in your hand, put it in this container. Whenever you see paper lying around, put it into this container, except for anything that needs to be actioned.

Container 2

The second is for paper that needs to be actioned. Bills that need to be paid, or correspondence that needs a reply all go into the second, smaller container.

So, whenever you open mail, or empty your pockets, wallet or purse:

1. If it's junk, throw it in the trash immediately.

2. If it needs a reply, or needs to be paid, put it in the action tray.

3. If it's a reminder for an appointment, either stick it on your fridge, or - better yet - put a reminder in your phone, and then throw away the reminder.

4. Anything else, put it in the general paperwork container. You will be going through this once a week. You will also be emptying your car wallet into this container once a week.

Rattan-look Basket Tray $9.99

Important Note:

Use containers without lids, and keep them easily accessible.

If you have to move stuff to get to the container, or even just open a lid in order to put paper into it, you're less likely to keep using it.

Make it as easy as possible to literally just throw the receipts, invoices and other paperwork into the container. This way, you'll stick to it, and keep the rest of the house clear of paper clutter.

Set of Highlighters
Set of Highlighters

Solving Paper Clutter Tip #3

Schedule one hour a week - and it won't even take an hour once you're doing it every week - to get yourself a beverage of your choice, put on some music you enjoy, sit down, with a set of highlighters, and the documents from the week.

* Work out the number of categories you need (motoring expenses, utility bills, telephone bills etc) and take out the same number of envelopes.

* Write the name of a category on each envelope, and mark it with one of the highlighters, so that each envelope has a different highlighter color.

* Take each receipt or document, and using the color of the category it belongs in, highlight the date, the name of the company or store, and the amount. Enter it onto your spread sheet, and then put it in the matching envelope.

* Place all of the envelopes in a large plastic box with a lid, and store it somewhere where it's easy to access for the following week.

Note

In the beginning, it will take longer because you'll of course have more than just one week's worth of paperwork to process. But spend only one hour a week. Do whatever you can in that one hour, so that it doesn't feel like an endless chore. But make sure you do that week's paperwork first, then spend the rest of the hour going through the backlog. The idea is to decide you're only going to do this for an hour - that way, you will be more inclined to stick to it. But, if you're enjoying yourself towards the end of the hour, and feel like continuing, of course, do. :)

Important Note:

If you do this every week, it will be incredibly quick and painless, and you'll actually start to enjoy it. You'll enjoy a sense of achievement and a feeling of organization that will affect all areas of your life.

Excel 2013 Key Card - Non-Commercial
Excel 2013 Key Card - Non-Commercial

Solving Paper Clutter Tip #4

Create a spread sheet to record your receipts and invoices for tax purposes. You can either design your own, or use a template, or use accounting software - whatever works for you. I used to actually just use a Word document as I wasn't comfortable with spreadsheets. I now use Shoeboxed (see Tip #5) which I find really easy to use.

As detailed in Tip #3, spend just one hour a week entering the details of the receipts and invoices from that week. If you do this every week, it will be quick and painless, and when it comes time to do your tax return, it will be an absolute breeze! :)

If you don't like the idea of entering data into a spread sheet each week, see Tip #5

Important Note

Try to allocate the same time each week, to do Tips #3 and #4.

By scheduling the same time every week, you're more likely to get it done. Try and make it a time that you'll stick to. For example, if you usually feel good in the mornings, choose perhaps 9am to 10am each Saturday. If you are better in the evenings, perhaps 6pm to 7pm each Friday. Pick an hour you know you're most likely to be at home each week.

You could plan a treat for after that hour every week, to make it more appealing. :)

Shoeboxed Paper Clutter Processors
Shoeboxed Paper Clutter Processors

Solution to Paper Clutter Tip #5

This is my favorite discovery of the last few months, and has completely transformed the way I handle paper work. It's a wonderfully clever system and I had no idea such a thing existed before a friend of mine told me about it.

Here's what I do now:

* I still use Tip #1

I have a plastic wallet in the glove compartment in my car, in which I put all receipts from fuel and anything else I collect when I'm out and about.

* I still use Tip # 2

I have two containers in my house - a tray in which I put all documents that need action - bills to be paid, invitations that need to be answered etc. and a plastic box without a lid, in which I throw all other paper - including, once a week, the plastic wallet from my car

* However, for the last couple of months, instead of spending my hour a week going through that box and entering the data onto a spreadsheet (or, in my case, Word document), I scan the documents into my Shoeboxed account, and the software in that automatically identifies the document, extracts the information (date, company name, amount etc.) and enters it into the software. So I don't have to search for the information on each separate piece of paper and enter it individually. I absolutely love it!

I can also (and this I do especially when I'm out of town, without a scanner) take a photo of receipts and other documents with my phone, and they are processed in the same way, automatically.

I have the free account at the moment, which is fine for me. It means I can submit unlimited documents for processing, by scanning them (and drag and drop), emailing them, or using the phone application.

Mailing Clutter to the Clutter Elves

They also have an option (and this is brilliant) to put all paper clutter (just as it is, without having to sort through it at all) in their pre-paid envelopes, and put it in the mail to them. They then scan the documents for you into your Shoeboxed account, and then return your documents to you. This is great for those who have a lot of paper work and really don't want to do the scanning themselves. They have several plans for this option, with varying limits of how many documents you can send to them per month to be processed. Of course, with these you can submit documents yourself as well. These paid plans have a free 30 day trial.

Having only used the free (DIY) account myself so far, I haven't experienced their "mail your clutter to us" service (my own term ;) ) but I can say that their customer service is Excellent. I contacted them with a couple of questions just after I started using my free account with them, and they were friendly and fast in their replies. So, if that's anything to go by, I'm guessing the rest of their services should be excellent too.

Free Shoeboxed Account

Important Note

When you first go through your paper clutter, if you have a lot of it, get a garbage bag, and two boxes.

As you go through it, throw any trash into the garbage bag immediately. Then, everything else goes in either the "action" or "general" box.

Once you've done this, during the hour you've set aside each week, process that week's paper according to tip #3, and in whatever's left of the hour, process whatever you can from the "general" box above.

This way, it won't be overwhelming. :)

Are You a Tortoise or a Hare?

I must admit, I'm a reformed hare! ;) I used to leave it all to the last minute, then, day before the deadline, I'd be scrabbling about trying to get everything together for my tax return. I always submitted it on the very last day (and always got a polite but firm "pep talk" from my accountant). And every year, I would determine to be more organized and keep regular records, and submit it all early.

Then, a friend of mine - a tortoise - shared with me, the tips I've shared with you on this page, and so, I became a very happy tortoise! Much more organized, and my return is always submitted early! :)

Do you keep regular records, or are you left with a pile of paper clutter come the deadline?

I'm a Tortoise - I process paper as it comes to me, and am ready before the deadline arrives.

I'm a Tortoise - I process paper as it comes to me, and am ready before the deadline arrives.

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I'm a Hare - I wait until juuuuuust before the deadline, and then race to process everything in time.

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Did You Find These Tips Helpful? Do You Have Any of Your Own Tips to Share?

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    • Zeross4 profile image

      Renee Dixon 3 years ago from Kentucky

      Pinned to my organizational board, great tips here- well done!

    • Kim Milai profile image

      Kim Milai 3 years ago

      Great tips with clear instructions. Got a lot of great ideas. Thanks!