5 Steps to Organising Your Piles of Paperwork


Do you know what you have? Can you find what you need? Is it all over the place?

Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking at a virtual conference for family historians on the topic of organising files and paperwork at home. Here are some ideas and strategies I shared with them that might be helpful to you too.

The Benefits of Sorting out Your Paperwork

At the heart of it keeping on top of your paperwork is all about: being able to find and access what you need when you need it. It’s about making your life easier, saving you time and creating more space for you to do the things that are important or that you really value. 

Whether that’s family photos, shopping lists, reference notes for a project you’re working on, important life documentation or your grandmother’s precious apple pie recipe. Organising your paperwork provides reliable ways to remember what you’ve done and how to find things again. 

Try these 5 steps to tame the piles:


Gather up all your paperwork from all of its hiding places. Create temporary sorting boxes or zones to process your paperwork into:



Sort your paperwork into piles of similar items eg banking statements, bills, receipts, sentimental, magazine clippings, notes etc


  • Go through each pile one by one and edit. 
  • Decide what needs to be done and assign it to the appropriate box/ zone. 
  • Deal with the shred, recycle and rubbish boxes as soon as possible. 


For your Action, File and Digitise boxes consider the following: There are 4 major types of paperwork – and these determine how you store each type. 

  • ACTION – triggers a task
  • QUICK REFERENCE – is needed for frequent reference or use; 
  • ARCHIVE/ RECORDS – important items that must be kept long term; 
  • PROJECTS – paperwork relating to one-off projects. 

Set aside some dedicated time in your calendar to process the digitise box separately. 

Try as best you can store everything else vertically – binders, filing cabinets, and slotted racks save space and prevent things getting lost at the bottom of piles. 

For the Action Items – add these tasks to your calendar, and then either add them to the File pile, or create a dedicated To Do File in a prominent place in your home or office.

Action and quick reference should be close to hand – eg in manilla folders, desktop magazine files or folders. Archive and projects can be stored in less used spaces, eg filing cabinets.


Set up your system in a way that is well-labelled, accessible and easy for you to use – eg colour-coded or matching folders, archive boxes, deep drawers, on display, tucked away – whatever works best for you.


So keep things simple to start with. Try working with one category of papers first or with a discreet project if it all feels overwhelming. Try putting 30 minutes in your calendar once a week to maintain your progress.

Remember that spending a bit of time setting up systems and keeping on top of them will ultimately free up your time for the things you really enjoy!