It has now been a full TWO YEARS since we embarked on our gigantic KonMari purge...and clearly I'm dragging my feet on documenting the process on the blog! The truth is that paperwork wasn't my favorite category to work through. Nonetheless, it is an important part of the process and it felt so satisfying once we had it behind us.
The good news is that two years on I'm now able to give an honest assessment on whether our hard work "stuck", or whether the piles have been building up again...read on to find out!
(Be sure to pin this guide so you can refer back to it later!)
TABLE OF CONTENTS: QUICK LINKS
- How do you declutter paperwork using the KonMari method?
- How do you decide what to keep and what to shred?
- Breaking my own rule
- My go-to products for paper storage and organization
- Our current system for dealing with papers
- What about decluttering kids artwork and papers?
- Is our paperwork still organized?
How do you declutter paperwork using the KonMari method?
Much like the other categories, this process started by gathering all our papers into one place (the living room floor) and methodically working through each and every paper deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. (Note: this category doesn't include sentimental papers—we're leaving those till last!)
The official KonMari approach to decluttering paperwork in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is to "discard everything". Once you read the rest of the pages in the book on paperwork (p.95-104), it's clear that she doesn't mean you to follow that rule to the letter...but getting as close as is possible is the goal. The logic behind this idea is that paperwork doesn't spark joy, so you might as well hold onto the bare minimum!
Until this point, I had been doing pretty much the opposite of what Marie suggested, albeit in a very organized way. I had files upon files of bills and statements (all color-coded and neatly ordered)—just in case we needed to refer back to it at some point. In addition, we had boxes in the attic of archived papers from previous businesses. It was pretty overwhelming, and I quickly realized the first hurdle would be a mindset shift to let go of papers I was holding onto "just in case".
How do you decide what to keep and what to shred?
After gathering the paperwork into one place, the next step was to sort through and shred/recycle anything that didn't need to be kept. The "keepers" fall into three categories: pending papers (papers that are currently being used or need to be dealt with eg. bills, forms), papers that need to be saved for a limited time, and papers to keep indefinitely (eg. identity documents, property deed/titles).
We started with the oldest paperwork, which was in fact so old that it felt like a relic of our early married life in the UK. I went through it carefully, just in case there was something important in the piles, but pretty much everything ended up in the shredder.
It was much slower working on the more recent years of files as I wasn't exactly sure what I needed to hold onto. I kept stalling and getting caught up on the "just in case" mindset—what if I threw out something that I needed in the future?
The turning point for me was when I switched from asking "will I need this in the future?" to "if I need this piece of paper again, can I access it online/by making a phonecall?"
Bank statements, utility bills, mortgage statements can all be downloaded online, so there's really no need to keep the paper version.
Birth/marriage certificates, house deeds and immigration paperwork are not easily replaced, so those definitely need to be kept safe.
Asking this question throughout the process really helped in keeping the momentum rolling. And after working my way through the entire mountain (which took a full day!) I was left with a fraction of the papers I started out with, and I felt a lot lighter.
Breaking my own rule
There is one category of papers that I held onto despite the fact that I could easily access them online if needed, and that's instruction manuals for appliances/electronics. I'm the kind of person that refers to manuals (I get that trait from my Dad) and it felt more convenient to have them accessible. The other reason I held onto them was for the benefit of any future owners of the house, and I did in fact leave a pile of instruction manuals on the counter when we moved out.
Marie Kondo specifically calls out instruction manuals as being unnecessary to keep (p.102-103), but I guess they must spark a tiny bit of joy for me—ha! I will say that I used to keep them all separated into different categories in an accordian file, but I transferred them into a single document box. The idea is to keep filing as easy and simple as possible.
My go-to products for paper storage and organization
I use three different types of product to organize our paper for each category of paper:
For my pending papers, I use an in-tray. It's a visual reminder of things that I need to deal with.
For the "limited time" papers, I have a file box with vertical hanging folders. I used to have everything subdivided into multiple categories but I've slimmed it down a lot eg. medical, house, tax... (the official KonMari way is no folders at all and just keeping everything together, but this wouldn't work for me–I need at least some folders ;)
For the "keep indefinitely" papers, I use document boxes. (My beloved instruction manuals are also in one of those boxes!)
Although I haven't followed all of Marie Kondo's advice, it's a very manageable set up for us, and one that doesn't overwhelm me like before.
A couple of final points about paper organization is to keep it all in the same area of your home, and choose storage that you love! Paperwork doesn't spark much joy for me, so I may as well choose pretty containers for it.
Here are a few of my favorites for storing papers:
Our current system for dealing with papers
Once the purge is completed and everything is in order, it's important to consider a flow or system for papers that come into the house so that the paperwork piles don't creep back in.
STEP ONE: GO PAPERLESS
The first step is opting in for electronic bills wherever possible. This has cut down our incoming mail significantly.
STEP TWO: THE IN-TRAY
Any mail that we do receive either ends up straight in the recycling, or goes into the in-tray to be dealt with at a later date. Having one spot designated for this avoids piles of paper growing anywhere else in the house.
STEP THREE: SHRED OR FILE
Once a week, I sort through whatever is in the in-tray. Usually from there it will end up in the shredder/recycling, but sometimes there will be something I need to hang onto, and so I'll file it away.
What about decluttering kids artwork and papers?
There are two options here, depending on how strongly you feel about your kids' art. If it feels sentimental to you, then leave it till later—sentimental items come last in the KonMari process. If it's less of a big deal to you, then you can deal with these papers in the same way as the others—one by one, deciding on what to keep and what to discard. I do not keep any of my kids' artwork unless it's particularly sentimental, but we do display it in the house for a time, and I have a digital system for archiving our favorites.
Is our paperwork still organized?
The short answer: YES it is!
I rarely have to file away papers, but when I do, I'll often notice something that is no longer needed in the file that I can get rid of. With the system we have in place for dealing with papers, it all stays under control and I doubt we'll ever need to purge paperwork again. That's a huge win! As much as I disliked working through this KonMari category, I'd recommend going through with it.
Coming up in the next post is KOMONO
Komono means all-the-things. There's a lot to get through, but the good news is that it's much more fun than paperwork!
Catch up on other posts in the series:
KonMari Part One: 10 Tips to Prepare You for KonMari Success
KonMari Part Two: How to Declutter & Organize Clothing
KonMari Part Three: How to Declutter & Organize Books