Let’s face it. Paper clutter can be a real drag. You stress about searching for that one piece of paper—which can also result in losing time. And every misfiled document can cost $125 in lost productivity.

To regain control of your space and eliminate those paper piles, it’s time to declutter paperwork from the office.

How did I end up with so much paper clutter?

Did you know that Americans use 85 million tons of paper a year? That’s 650 pounds per person! It’s no wonder you could end up with so much paper clutter.

While in the United States, the paper recycling rate is 68%, some Americans can still find recycling difficult or inconvenient to incorporate into their daily lives

Whatever the reason, identifying the root causes lets you take meaningful actions to avoid piles of paper everywhere. The following are 4 steps you can take to get rid of your paper clutter. 

The 4 simple steps for decluttering paperwork

Step 1. Divide papers into 2 piles: throw away or keep.

You can take two actions: keep or throw away the paper. 

Using Kondo’s method of filing as inspiration, create 2 stacks of papers:

a) papers to keep

b) papers to throw away

In the next couple of steps, we will go into more detail about what to do once you’ve sorted your papers into these 2 stacks.

Step 2. Archive important and infrequently used papers.

Some examples of these documents are:

  • medical records
  • birth certificates
  • bank or credit card statements information
  • school forms
  • any legal documents

One of the simplest methods to archive papers is to use a filing cabinet, which can hold many papers without taking up too much space. Having a physical filing method allows you to easily separate your papers into different categories such as home, car, school, tax documents, etc.

However, physically filing papers away can be tedious work. So another option is to opt for a digital filing system, which is not only more convenient but it also has the added advantage of being accessible from any device and from anywhere. 

Step 3. Properly recycle papers you don’t want.

For easier paper disposal, have a designated paper recycling bin. This bin allows the paper to be as clean as possible for recycling.

Depending on where you live, there might be additional rules on how to dispose of your papers, such as bundling up the papers with string. So check with your local government to learn of their recycling rules. 

Additionally, according to various online resources, there are different ways to dispose of shredded paper. One source says you can recycle shredded paper, while another says you can not. So check with your local recycling plant to see if they will accept shredded paper. 

Step 4. Shred personal or sensitive documents.

Experts believe there is a new victim of identity theft every 22 seconds. Using a paper shredder is one of the ways to protect your identity and reduce the risk of becoming a victim. 

To properly dispose of your shredded paper, check with your local recycling facility to see if they accept shredded paper.

Business person shredding a document with a shredder

Shredding sensitive information with a shredder, Exhibit Indexes
Shredding sensitive information with a shredder, Exhibit Indexes

How do I declutter special documents like bank statements, etc.? 

After looking at the four steps, there are a few special documents that you may have difficulty knowing how to handle.

a. Bank statements

For the most part, you should have keep bank statements, either a hard or a digital version, for one year. After that, any old bank statements should be shredded as they likely contain personal and financial information. 

Any tax-related documentation should be kept for three years

b. Receipts

Keeping track of receipts is extremely important as it lets you see how much money you are spending, acts as your proof of purchase, and helps with your tax returns. 

Receipt management software can help you keep track of your finances. If you want help decluttering your physical receipts, Shoeboxed’s Magic Envelope service eliminates your physical clutter and outsources the receipt scanning process. Afterward, all your receipt information will be in your Shoeboxed account for you to view.

Sending your receipts with Shoeboxed’s Magic Envelope is quick and easy

The IRS also accepts scanned and digitized receipts

c. Utility bills

Water, gas, and electronic bills help establish residency at your address. So similar to bank statements, you should keep these documents for up to one year.

Additionally, you can compare each monthly statement to see how much you’re using.

d. Sentimental papers

When you are decluttering paper, it’s easy to find sentimental items. The KonMari method suggests tackling any sentimental items at the very end. Letting items go, such as kids’ school papers and handwritten letters, can be difficult. Use the forward momentum you’ve gained as you’ve sorted through your business papers to tackle your sentimental papers. 

5 tips to stop paper clutter from accumulating

1. Switch to a paperless format.

Switch to a digital version of your documents. Your papers will be easier to store and take up less space. A digital filing system will help you declutter your office and make it easier for you to quickly locate documents using text search. 

We suggest using paperless billing options for your utilities, bank statements, etc., as they come with the following three benefits.

  1. No more physical copies in the mail, which means less paper clutter for you
  2. Reduce and prevent identity theft, as mail is less likely to be stolen
  3. Ability to access your documents online from any location

2. Unsubscribe or opt-out from junk mail.

In 2021, the USPS sent nearly 130 billion pieces of junk mail—so it’s easy to see where all the paper clutter comes from.

The Direct Marketing Association has a website where they will stop most promotional emails with a $4 processing fee for ten years. Then there is also ??OptOutPrescreen.com, where you can opt out from receiving credit card or insurance mail from four credit and insurance companies. 

See also: What Is Snail Mail and Is It Still Relevant?

3. Set a Google reminder to help you clean out your bins regularly.

Developing a habit of cleaning out your recycling bin will help you create a system where you regularly declutter any paper. 

Also, go through your files and throw away or delete any that are irrelevant or unnecessary.

4. Place a dedicated paper bin next to your office desk to remind you to recycle responsibly.

Properly shredding and recycling paper will reduce your risk of identity theft and minimize your environmental impact. Place a dedicated paper or shredded paper bin in your space to help you sort through everything.

A sage waste bin

A waste bin can be used as a paper recycling bin, Amazon
A waste bin can be used as a paper recycling bin, Amazon

5. Hire a professional organizer.

Consider hiring a professional to help you find and create an organization method to prevent papers from accumulating again.

A professional organizer will help you go through the decluttering process and create a space that will be functional for you. 

In closing

Clutter in your office space can make work feel like a chore. Implementing the tips and tricks above will help you reduce paper clutter and make finding and filing paper much easier. Decluttering paperwork doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With effort and patience, you can take control of your space.

About Shoeboxed!

Shoeboxed is a receipt scanning service with receipt management software that supports multiple methods for receipt capture: send, scan, upload, forward, and more!

You can stuff your receipts into one of our Magic Envelopes (prepaid postage within the US). Use our receipt tracker + receipt scanner app (iPhone, iPad and Android) to snap a picture while on the go. Auto-import receipts from Gmail. Or forward a receipt to your designated Shoeboxed email address.

Turn your receipts into data and deductibles with our expense reports that include IRS-accepted receipt images.

Join over 1 million businesses scanning & organizing receipts, creating expense reports and more—with Shoeboxed.

Try Shoeboxed today!