Decluttering Your Home or Office in 9 Easy Steps

25 February 2020

Feeling overwhelmed by your paperwork clutter? Here's a quick guide to make document decluttering quick and easy.

Getting back to work after the holidays is usually a nice change of pace, I've had enough beach time and I'm feeling ready for the new year. But often, the first thing I notice is the abundance of clutter left over from last year. Stacks of loose paper including stray receipts, old tax documents, confidential notes, conference materials, print outs, and even outdated technology hardware that needs to be securely recycled, etc. etc. The list goes on! It can feel overwhelming.

I don't know about you but as a small business owner, I tend to make revenue-generating work my priority, so I'm a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to decluttering. It takes time and I feel like I'm not getting paid for that time. So, my paper stack usually grows vertically over the months until I try and hide it in a drawer or in a box somewhere and I don't have to feel guilty looking at it.

Not a terribly functional approach I know.

BUT I also love how it feels to actually clear these stacks away, these concentrations of 'paperwork plaque', so that I can start the year with a clean slate. There's something very calming about a clean work space, and I've noticed that when I'm in a clutter-free, 'Zen' zone I am also more productive. In short, I get more work done.

I developed a plan to make paperwork decluttering less overwhelming and faster and more efficient. I've found this to be a foolproof guide to reduce your documents and related clutter in just a few hours-rather than days. If you're disciplined and stick to the steps I've set out below, I guarantee it will work for you.

Step 1: Block out the time

Make an appointment with yourself for your decluttering session. I suggest pick a half-day block towards the end of the week. Like a Friday afternoon from 1pm to 5pm when you're winding down anyway. Or a rainy Sunday afternoon. Whatever works for you, pick a time when you're not going to be bothered by phone calls or emails. And honour this time as if you would for a doctor's appointment or meeting.

  • Block out the time your calendar
  • Turn off or silence your phone and check out of your email
  • If you have employees or work with others, let them know that this is your "do not disturb" time. Or better yet, get them to do the same!

Step 2: The three stacks method

You may have heard of this one before, that's because it definitely works. You're going to create 3 stacks, or piles of "stuff", documents, and/or things that...

  1. you're definitely getting rid of,
  2. you're keeping, and, lastly,
  3. things you're unsure of.

Create these piles in old cardboard boxes or stacks by a wall labelled with a Post It note label on the side, "Keeping, Unsure, Get Rid" etc.

PRO TIP: At this point DO NOT go out and buy storage containers or filing supplies. Remember the idea is to reduce the amount of stuff you have! Don't get seduced to buy new stuff thinking it will help you get organised. Wait until you're done to see if you actually need that new filing cabinet or hanging files.

Step 3: Don't go down the "rabbit hole"!

As you dive into your paperwork clutter the biggest risk you face is "going down the rabbit hole". This is where the real discipline comes in: don't get distracted!

We've all been there. It's that moment when you're sorting through your papers efficiently and all of a sudden something catches your attention and you stop. It might be a birthday card from a loved one. Or legal documents. Or something else with an emotional 'charge'. Your challenge here is to pick a pile to put it into and keep moving.

PRO-TIP: One tactic I use to avoid distraction is to set my phone timer for 55 minutes. During that time, I make a commitment to focus solely on decluttering my paperwork. Then when my alarm goes off, I can have a 15-minute break for a cup of tea or to walk the dog or whatever works to give me a break. Then I come back and set the timer again. The goal is to focus on decluttering in 45-55-minute increments-about the length of a typical adult attention span.

Step 4: Things to definitely getting rid of

As you move through your paperwork clutter, you'll sort your things into the 3 piles I mentioned above. I want you to make stack no. 1 your top priority: the things you're definitely getting rid of. This is my favourite because it's the one that will help me feel like I'm making progress fast.

This stack may even have 2 sub-stacks: things you can recycle and things you deem as rubbish. Most of your recycling stack will be probably be paper-related material such as documents and random bits of paper.

PRO-TIP: At the end of each 45-55 minute increment of time, feel free to clean out this stack. You'll get that immediate hit of glowing achievement! You're now making progress towards your goal of a clean decluttered home or office!

Put your rubbish in the bin and send your paper-related waste-especially confidential documents-into some kind of secure document destruction facility.

(NOTE: the type of shredder you buy at your local office store is NOT recommended for secure document destruction. These machines use a fairly basic kind of shredding called 'strip cut shredding' that may actually be hacked by identity thieves. We recommend using a 'crosscut' shredding method that is used by accredited and secure shredding services.)

PRO-TIP: For secure document destruction, buy a Bag-N-Shred bag for an affordable and environmentally-friendly way to destroy your confidential documents via Australia Post. It's affordable (only $19.90 for up to 5 kgs of documents!), uses the crosscut method mentioned above, and you won't have to buy a bulky paper shredder to clutter up your office further. You'll also get a Certificate of Destruction for no additional cost to ensure peace of mind.

If you have e-waste such as old hard drives, USB drives, CDRs or digital cameras (remember those?) etc. or old mobile phones, we recommend Corporate Document Destruction for safe destruction and sustainable recycling.

Steps 5 & 6: Things you're definitely keeping and/or unsure of

Put these two piles or stacks next to each other. There may be some cross over and you may want to review either one before finishing. Don't worry too much about your "Unsure" pile for the moment (this pile is probably loaded with potential rabbit holes and remember what I said about those?)

PRO-TIP: My advice as you go through these two stacks is to be absolutely ruthless and ask yourself: "Do I really need to keep this?"

Step 7: Things you're 'Unsure' of

At this stage, do you still have anything in your "Unsure" of stack? If so, it's okay if you're unsure. Don't put too much pressure on yourself. It may have to wait for another day. But hopefully this is a very small stack of papers. Label it "Unsure" and put it into a filing box or drawer to review during your next decluttering session.

Step 8: File away your 'Keeping' stack

When the 'Keeping' pile is ready, file it away into your filing cabinet or scan into a digital format for storage. In this pile you'll probably have important tax documents that are younger than 5-7 years etc., warranties, contracts, etc.

Step 9: Clean & Relax

At this point you may have kicked up a bit of dust and dirt and your workspace may actually need a bit of a clean and tidy to complete your decluttering project. You may want to ask your cleaners to give your space an extra clean, or if you DIY, roll those sleeves up wipe down surfaces, dust and vacuum. You know the drill.

You're all done! Now pat yourself on the back and go out and have fun with your family and friends knowing that your home or office is clean and decluttered and fresh for the new year's challenges and successes!


Need help with destroying your confidential documents? Simply order your Bag-N-Shred bag now for an affordable and environmentally friendly way to shred paperwork via Australia Post.

Ready to get shredding?

Sign up