How to declutter paperwork & digital clutter

Paperwork and digital clutter can be a huge source of stress, and one that feels insurmountable. I get it, that feeling of what’s the point even trying to start? It just keeps on arriving, and piling up, along with the overwhelm as the problem gets bigger every day, yes I hear you.

As a highly-sensitive introvert I’m pretty susceptible to overwhelm, and even though it seems like it should be pretty invisible, I definitely notice (and am affected by) the paperwork and digital stuff in my world AND find that my feelings can get in the way of getting rid of it too… which then feels like I’m holding myself up… and as this can be a great way to dent self-belief, I’ve figured out how to deal with the papers and the online files in a way that works for me.

So here is how I declutter the papers and the digital stuff in my world.

Decluttering household papers

Let’s start with what’s already taking up physical space, in office, kitchen drawer, wherever you keep it you know the pile I’m talking about!

  1. Firstly I gather it ALL together. Why? I actually find it hard to settle into sorting one pile when I know there’s (probably) something related or similar somewhere else in the house. Plus, this way, I do it ONCE!
  2. Then I get clear on… what do I really need to keep? There are very few things on this list. Essentially it’s anything I can’t find online. V5 for the car, anything like original share documents, or insurance certificates that aren’t online, receipts or warranties that are still valid… you get the picture.
  3. Next I go through every piece of paper and check it against the list above. I get tempted to keep all sorts, just in case, hence the list. Keep coming back to the list.
  4. And I set aside anything with real sentimental value! That’s for another day.

Decluttering work papers

For me, this looks like project files, magazine cuttings, client notes and anything else not-household related that makes it into my office. And I need to admit here that, even though it affects my concentration, I do have a tendency to hoard papers in my office!

As much as I’d like less paper, I do find some things easier to digest when printed, and so I do have files for anything chunky that I’m working on; either a new workshop or a values & vision project as part of my voluntary consultancy role.

I have a strict policy of reviewing, reducing or decluttering these entirely on a monthly basis and set an reminder on the Alarmed app to remind me; I like the nudge function on this app (it might be just Apple, I can’t spot an Android version).

Last year I made the move to simplify client notes and keep them all on a nifty piece of kit called the Remarkable. It’s password protected, so I know my files are fully secure (plus, I never use full names or anything that might identify a client) and it functions just like a notebook; I write my notes within each client section, and simply add pages as I need them. This keeps everything in one compact space that’s easy to find and use… and I do still remind myself to declutter these notes, not keeping anything longer than necessary, and I do this at the end of each quarter, again using an Alarmed reminder.

Magazine cuttings and post-it notes etc are usually nuggets of information I want to think about for my own learning, or to inspire new workshops or to support clients, or else a nudge for a new blog. To declutter these papers, I first check that I really want this piece of information (often, I don’t) and if I really do, add them into boards in Trello for Ideas / Blog Posts / Reseach etc, usually as a photo or a few words.

Decluttering the letter box

Do you have one of those piles in the kitchen, you know, unopened mail, unread magazines, brochures you don’t remember asking for? Papers sneaking into the house courtesy of Royal Mail has been a bugbear of mine for a long time!

Here’s how I’ve decluttered my letterbox:

Post that isn’t for me

I always write Return to Sender (or RTS) on the front, cross out my address (in a way the receivers can still read) and circle the return address. I think it’s useful to add something like ‘no longer at this address’ too.

Of course if you know the person who’s mail it is, you might want to forward it to them, asking them to please update their address (I know from experience this doesn’t always work so my preference is RTS!)

Post I don’t remember asking for

Did you know that when you sign up to a newsletter, or buy from a company, they are allowed to send you other relevant marketing materials, on the basis that you are interested in what they do (and sometimes, depending how they set up their Ts & Cs, they can pass on your data to other similar companies to do the same). And so you can end up with all sorts of catalogues in the post that you didn’t specifically want.

I sometimes use the RTS approach here too, especially if I’ve never heard of the company or little likelihood of buying again.

However, if it’s a brand I love, I email and ask them not to send me paper copies of their catalogue, and I bookmark the website in my browser too. And I really hope that they listen because otherwise I wouldn’t love them quite so much!

Magazines I don’t read

Hmm, this has been a tricky one for me, for a couple of reasons…

  • One, for quite a while I saved all magazines, regardless of whether I read them, for my vision board workshops… except then I had to move all my workshops online for a while and NOT share all the reading material I’d been hoarding
  • Note: as a keen declutterer it felt uncomfortable to have a pile of stuff that had no real purpose, so I set aside a specific space for them out of the way and made peace with them being useful for sure in the future… AND as of October 2021 I intend to run the vision board workshops here in Clitheroe for the first time: make sure you’re on my mailing list to be first to hear about dates!)
  • Two, the magazines that arrived via subscription were either something I’d set up a few years ago on an annual payment, or they were gift subscriptions… so these needed a bit more digging! For the former I had to dig through bank statements and emails and figure out how to cancel, and for the latter, some of these had been running for a while, so I checked in with the lovely family member who’d gifted the sub and asked them with gratitude to please not auto-renew this year.
  • Three, the magazines which come with a membership…

And if you’re feeling curious, the magazines that regularly arrive(d) here are Psychologies, Gardener’s World, Simple Things, RHS Garden, Alpaca Monthly, Self-builder, as well as the RNIB, Wildlife Trust plus the kid versions of those too from when I had a little person in my life (he’s 6ft now 😘).

Bank statements / utility bills etc

Almost all of these can be delivered or found digitally now, so I went through the process with each one that arrived; usually that just involved finding the right link, setting up (or remembering the login for) an online account and clicking ’online statements please’.

There are one or two exceptions of course; I have to simply roll my eyes at these as they arrive!

Other useful information about post

Do you know about the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) where you can opt your phone number out of mailing lists?

There’s one for postal addresses too, just here… the Mailing Preference Service and you can register your address easily.

Balancing paperwork, digital storage & the environment

With everything I do I keep in mind how it affects our natural resources and my local community (and I don’t always know the right answers, or get it right, but I’m open to learning and doing things better each year, so please do get in touch if you see me doing something that could be done in a more environmentally friendly way)

And so I’m conscious that by having less post arrive, I’m potentially creating a need for more online storage. I might be saving some paper, but I’m probably not saving any fuel as the postie delivers their round regardless (and I want these jobs to continue). I’m moving some of my office paperwork into digital storage, and then I’m deleting tons of photo files out of digital storage…

I’ll be continuing to improve in this area!

A checklist for digital clutter

Here’s a list of places you might want to check for digital clutter…

  • Your camera roll
  • Google drive or Dropbox files
  • Facebook groups
  • Email accounts, folders and sub-folders!
  • Bookmarks in your browser
  • Apps on your laptop, tablet & phone
  • Contact files
  • Followers & friends on social platforms
  • Pages you like on Facebook
  • Notifications
  • Shortcuts on your desktop
  • Calendar events in your diary
  • etc!

Take some time to go through each of these and consider, what is it you really want your digital world to look and feel like?

You might want to check in with my blog on managing the feelings of decluttering, as even digital can bring up some strong emotions!

Are you ready for a declutter in your world?

I’ve created a gentle email flow guiding you through a full household declutter over five weeks.

It’s called Creating Space for Self-Belief, and I know from experience that taking time to clear the unwanted stuff from your life genuinely has life-changing effects on your energy and the way you think about yourself, your confidence and your work.

You can join just here (it’s free as I type, October 2021, and will be turning into a fuller, paid offering in the new year)