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Tips to organise your paperwork at home

High time to sort out your paperwork at home? This step-by-step plan will help you get organised right away.

Bright Plus

3 min. reading time

At the office, doing your administration and filing paperwork is simply part or the job. But few of us have a system at home allowing us to keep that mountain of paperwork from growing. The result? Bank statements, tax forms and other documents soon pile up. So much so that you end up even more reluctant to the idea of bringing order to the administrative chaos. Time to break this vicious circle and finally usher peace into your home and put your mind at rest.

A few basic tricks from a clean-up guru

Japanese clean-up guru Marie Kondo inspires people the world over to get rid of clutter in their homes. Using these simple tricks, she creates orderly rooms that exude and inspire serenity.

  • One of two choices: keep or discard
    If something gives you pleasure, keep it. In all other cases, throw it away. Obviously, it is harder to apply this principle to paperwork, but there is some logic to it. Documents you never look at or need, like operating instructions for basic kitchen appliances, old receipts, warranty documents that have long expired, and so on, should go straight into the bin. As for the other, important, documents, they should go into a separate pile until they are rearranged logically.
  • Work by category
    In itself, creating order may already have a calming effect, provided you do it in a structured way. Instead of tidying up one room after the other, you could proceed by category for instance: toys, books, paperwork, etc.
  • More storage solutions means more clutter
    Storage solutions are definitely useful, but you should always prioritize the actual decluttering. Otherwise, chances are you will keep filling those handy cabinets, boxes and folders with stuff and paperwork that you should really have discarded.

Follow these steps to organise your paperwork

Step 1: make the time and create the space for your big clean-up

Put aside a half day at least to organise your paperwork. Also free an area in your home where you will have enough room to spread out all the documents, folders and boxes.


Step 2: figure out a system that works for you

Before you begin sorting out papers, figure out a system that works for you. For example, set out a category for official documents that you should always file away, a pile for anything that can be discarded after a year or sooner, etc. Or organise your subdivisions under themes: a pile for any documents relating to your home, another containing anything relating to your health; a category for tax-related documents. The system is good as long as you easily find your way around it.

Step 3: create piles based on category

Start by stacking up documents according to each of the categories you defined in Step 2. Then you can begin organising the stacks. Except for some documents that you have to keep permanently, a great deal of paper can already be binned or shredded at this stage. Here are some guidelines for keeping documents:

  • Keep for 1 month: shop receipts for small amounts (in case you decide to exchange something).
  • 6 months: restaurants and hotel receipts.
  • 1 year: transport invoices and bailiff fees.
  • 2 years: proof of purchase and/or warranty certificates of electrical appliances and furniture, utility bills.  Remember to scan and digitally store everything (always useful in case of theft for example).
  • 5 years: lawyers' fees, notary invoices and fees, bank documents, receipts of mortgage loans or loans, lease contracts and payments, unemployment benefits.
  • 7 years: copy of your tax return and any supporting documents (invoices, payslips, accounting, certificates, etc.).
  • 10 years: invoices and contracts for real estate, builders and architects (construction and renovation), insurance documents.
  • Until you retire: payslips (preferably, no legal obligation), the annual payroll data extract for your pension calculation.
  • Permanently: health, vaccination and health insurance booklet, results of medical analyses and examinations, diplomas, birth, adoption or acknowledgment certificates, civil partnership contract, marriage contract, deeds, wills.

Step 4: store in a handy filing system

You should conclude your clean-up by storing everything into a convenient filing system. Our tip: prefer a system that does not entail too much work for you. For example, avoid binders, because you'd have to keep punching holes or slip documents into plastic sleeves. Suspension files or boxes are a good alternative.

Step 5: from now on file papers immediately

Get into the good habit of either filing or discarding incoming paperwork right away. And once a year – for example when filling out your tax return – clear up the clutter again by discarding the papers that you no longer need.