5 Simple Steps to Less Paper Clutter

In my previous post, Conquer the Clutter, I set myself a 4 week challenge to declutter my home before the start of the school holidays. Week 1’s challenge was tackling the paper mountain of bills, school notices, kids’ artwork and the myriad of other paperwork that seems to accumulate in every corner of the house.

The results surprised me, I thought this would be a difficult task but in reality once I stopped procrastinating it was relatively straight-forward. So I thought I’d share my process with you in case it’s something you’re currently struggling with too. It’s easier than you think!

Step 1: Create a plan

The challenge was not just to clear the existing paperwork but more importantly to create a workflow process that would help me avoid backlogs in the future. I decided early on that I wanted to reduce the physical amount of paper we retained and instead digitise as much as possible. Less paper = less storage space which is a win-win in my book. The tool I decided to use was Evernote. This is a very popular digital storage tool which can store pretty much any type of data. PDFs, bookmarks, notes, photos, videos, audio files … you name it, Evernote can probably store it. Where it really excels is the ability to create bespoke notebooks (think of them as digital folders) and tag any file with multiple searchable tags. It’s like having a massive filing cabinet which you can search instantly by simply typing in one word. And the best part? There’s a free Basic plan with up to 60MB of new uploads per month (unless you’re a real power user that should be ample for this purpose), syncing across two devices (I use my iPhone and Mac) and storage of bookmarks, images and PDF files. 

Step 2: Gather everything in one place

I spent one morning just doing this. I went through every single room and picked up every piece of paper I could find. I didn’t bother looking at it or sorting at this stage, this is just a gathering exercise. I put it all into one big pile in the spare room and ended up with this:

One laundry basket, two magazine folders, one A4 paper filing box and an overflow pile. I should say at this point that I didn’t include the box files under our bed as it has previously been sorted and filed. At some point I’ll revisit these but for now they’re in some sort of order so if it ain’t broke…

Step 3: Sort

Luckily for me we had some beautiful weather here in the UK so I heaved all the paperwork outside and spent two days binging on Netflix documentaries whilst sorting into 5 categories:

  1. File – documents that I needed the original copy of like birth certificates, driving licence etc.
  2. Scan – things I needed to keep for reference like bills, receipts for big purchases, annual pension statements etc.
  3. Memories – special artwork by the kids, memento’s etc. Although I edited this significantly. Once you can see it all together you realise how many ‘indistinctive splodge’ pictures you’ve saved!
  4. Shred
  5. Recycle.

I got rid of the recycling immediately and the shredding was stored near our bins. Ideally I’d have shredded this at the time but our shredder was broken so that will have to wait for another day.

Step 4: Scanning

I set aside a day to do this but in reality it only took an hour using my iPhone, a free scanning app called Scannable and my Mac. I placed each document on the table (it works best where there’s a high contrast between the paper colour and the background), held my phone over it for a few seconds and Scannable automatically ‘sees’ the paper and scans it. I then pressed Save and it gives you the option to save to Evernote. By default I saved every file to a Misc notebook in Evernote so that I didn’t have to fiddle about sorting it on my phone.

Step 5: Filing

There were two parts to filing: digital filing and physical filing. The latter is self-explanatory based on whatever filing system you use. I just have a couple of box files with sections labelled accordingly. The digital filing was even easier. I jumped on to my Mac and downloaded the Evernote app. From there I went straight to my Misc notebook/folder and went through each document, tagging with relevant keywords that I thought I might use for searching later. I created notebooks to group documents together (like Pensions, Receipts, Manuals, Travel) and then moved each scan into the right notebook. I also tagged anything that I wanted to action with a ‘Review’ tag so I can easily see these each time I open the app. No more desperate hunts for a school notice on the morning that you need to give your kid something, but you can’t quite remember what it was and its almost 9am… *shudder*.

The end result was this …

One A4 filing box where I’ll store all the kids artwork when it comes home. Once it gets full I’ll go through the box getting rid of duplicates and less *cough cough* artistic pieces. The best ones will be saved by taking a photo of them. I will also be getting a small in-tray for actionable items as a hard copy is needed sometimes for forms and such like.

Moving forward my workflow will be:

  1. Open all letters immediately, bin/recycle what isn’t needed
  2. Anything that needs to be actioned or scanned, make a note and place it in the in-tray
  3. Once a week, spend 5 minutes scanning and electronically filing. File any physical copies that need to be retained

It seems simple don’t you think?


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