How to Conquer That Horrible Pile of Paperwork You’ve Been Ignoring

One of the hardest things to keep under control in your home is paperwork and bills. Even if you have minimal accounts and basic bills you can end up with a stack of mail every week from 6 different superannuation accounts and medical propaganda from that doctors surgery you visited ten years ago. The hardest part of dealing with the mountain of paperwork is the fear… the fear of throwing away that super important document that you might need. The truth is, most documents are replaceable. Even birth certificates and passports. Obviously it’s better to have important documents handy but sometimes the trouble is that we can’t identify the difference between an important document and one that can be thrown away. Here’s a little guide to help you sort out your paperwork and get your life back on track.

How to Conquer That Horrible Pile of Paperwork You’ve Been Ignoring


Have folders, files or filing cabinets for the different documents that you need for different areas in your life. For instance when I was studying I had folders with plastic sleeves in the following categories. Tax, Centrelink, Teaching, School, Household, Car and Personal but you can be more general or more specific with your categories depending on your needs. Here’s an example of some general categories that most people can use.

Tax – For receipts for claimable goods, previous years tax returns and tax file number information.

University – Enrollment details, copies of permission forms, transcripts, class schedules and assessment schedules.

Work – Payslips, annual leave claims, personal leave claims, signed employment contracts, working with vulnerable people checks.

Car – Insurance information, receipts from services, proof of ownership documents and license renew notices.

Personal – Medical bills, gym membership information, X-rays, scripts for medication and glasses.

Once you have your folders set up you can simply file all your paper work away as it comes in. Half the problem with paperwork is that most people don’t have anywhere to file it away. Kikki K have a great range of folders designed for exactly this purpose so make sure you check them out.


These are existing folders that I have in my home. They contain documents that only exist in hard copy form like cheque receipts and signed leases.

Go Electronic

Email or call your bank and have them send your statements electronically. Pay as many bills as you can online and save the PDFs in files on your computer. Have a main folder on your computer labelled Paperwork and have sub-categories like the ones I previously mentioned. That way if you ever need to find a document, you can just search for it on your computer. Easy.


I usually save important things to my desktop and then spend one day a week sorting the items into their appropriate folders and trashing anything that’s unnecessary.

Keep It Simple

If you have a physical or digital folder labelled ‘Car’ just put all your car related papers in there, without thinking too much about the system within the system. There’s no need to go crazy with sub-sub-categories like insurance/car services/accident reports/accident photos. Chances are you’ll never even need anything in that folder so just dump it all in there. You can spend an extra 5 minutes searching for a document IF you need it. There’s no point in getting too finicky about your filing.

Develop a System

You need to find a system that works for you. It might work best if you have an in tray for your paperwork that you file from time to time. You might benefit more from filing your papers as soon as they come into your home. The only thing is that you have to file them eventually or you’ll end up in a mess. Just decide if you’re going to it every day or every few weeks. It’s also a good idea to have a digital inbox. Mr Smaggle has a folder labelled ‘inbox’ where he dumps documents until he’s ready to file them. I like to keep important documents on my desktop where I can see them and where they annoy me so I end up filing them regularly. Just do whatever works best for you.

inboxIf you keep an inbox on your desk you can simply throw any important documents in there until you have time to file them into your folders.

Ditch the Clutter

One of the main reasons that so many people find themselves in a hell of paperwork is that they’re too afraid to throw anything away. I hardly keep any hard copies of paper work. Seriously, it has to be practically lined with gold leaf for me to even consider it. For example I get sent my car insurance bill in the mail but I pay it with Bpay and then I get emailed a receipt. So what’s the point in the keeping the bill? There’s no proof on the physical bill that I paid it so it’s basically a redundant piece of paper. Just ditch it. If you’re too nervous to do this then simply scan or take a photo of the bill and add it to the appropriate file on your computer. Easy.

Important: If anything important gets sent to you by email, there’s no need to print it

In some cases, there’s no need to even file it. If I get sent a receipt for paying a bill I just archive the email. If I ever need to see the receipt again (which happens only about 1 time out of 10) I just search through my email archives and find it. You can also simply save the PDF to your digital filing system on your computer.

Do you have a pile of paperwork that needs sorting? Or are you super organised with a perfected filing system?Any tips to share?

Carly is the founding editor of Smaggle which launched in 2007 back when blogging was weird. She has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Cosmopolitan and Cleo magazines. Hoop earrings are totally her thing and she almost got run over by Myf Warhurst while out jogging one day.


  1. Raquel 2 years ago

    I am disgustingly organised and I use Evernote to rid myself of paper. Everything gets scanned into Evernote then unceremoniously biffed out. I think I have about three actual pieces of paper — high school qualification, University degree and post-grad diploma.

    • Author
      Smaggle 2 years ago

      Marry me? 🙂

      • Raquel 2 years ago

        Honey, if my boyfriend decides I’m not the woman for him, you are totally next in line.

        • Author
          Smaggle 2 years ago

          Flipping sweet. I’ll talk to Mr Smags. 🙂

  2. I have a hideous stack of paperwork on my table that needs to be tamed and now I’m motivated 😉 So..thanks for that!

  3. kforkarli 2 years ago

    This has come at such a perfect time! Brisbane is so dreary today and I’m about to move in a week. I have culled the closet, done the paperwork and now to tackle the sentimental card/letter box.

    • Author
      Smaggle 2 years ago

      Good girl! And well done on all you threw away! I saw the photo… amazing!

  4. Nicole 2 years ago

    We pay most of our bills online or over the phone. Most of what comes in the mail are offers from companies I’ve never interacted with who bought my information from someone else. Those go straight in the shredder, especially if they’re the kind to send me two things a week. Then I just have a very organised in an unorganised way shoe box for tax stuff and anything else of that level of importance. It’s worked out pretty well for us so far.

    • Author
      Smaggle 2 years ago

      I haven’t paid a bill over the phone since I had a pre-paid phone. Wow. I’m not amazing with my reciepts but I don’t think anyone is. If there’s an effective way to neatly store 10,000 bits of different shaped paper all together, I’d love to hear it.

      • Nicole 2 years ago

        Yeah, I really despise paying over the phone. Especially this one, where the automated voice talks REALLY slow and repeats prompts multiple times. But it’s from the place we bought our car through. We sadly ended up with a pretty shady company simply because we’d only been back in the US for a month when we got it. They do shitty things when we try to pay by mail. We always pay more than the minimum so as to improve credit and not just be paying off interest for years. So they stop sending us a physical bill in the hopes that we will forget to pay it and our interest will shoot back up. Oh and they charge $10 for online bill payment. Horrible dated phone-pay it is then!

  5. Kate 2 years ago

    I am actually super organised with paperwork. I have 2 filey case thingies (technical name) and all the sections have names (car, tax, super etc) and its where I file all the things. I am a little slack with putting things in the cases. A pile of papers sits on my bed head for a few weeks till it gives me the shits or it topples over. Then I file. It is about time that I went through my file case thingies…..and I love a good cleansing shredding of old documents before recycling them!!

    • Author
      Smaggle 2 years ago

      I love a cleansing shred. It’s my most favourite thing. I used to work in a job that required me to shred CDs. That was the greatest thing ever.

  6. Erika 2 years ago

    Super organised, which will surprise none of my friends. I got rid of the filing cabinet a few years back as I needed the space for a sewing machine cabinet (it’s all about priorities – the cabinet means everything is in one place and ready to go, no more hauling things out of cupboards). Pretty much everything except half a drawer full was shredded. I’ve got 2 shelves in the spare/study/sewing room which have magazine boxes on them (plus books. There is no room in this house safe from books). Ahem, one and a half of these shelves are devoted to dog stuff (again, no surprises). The others are Financial, Medical, Legal, Appliances, House Stuff, Garden Stuff, Car Stuff, Pets, then there are plastic zippy folders in each one for sub-categories. The 7 year rule applies to all the financial stuff, with the exception of documents I need for my security clearance. Then everything else is current information and gets reviewed if the folders start getting too bulky. And I’ve finally disposed of all vet records pertaining to dead animals. Not before I made the mistake of totting up how much I’d spent over the years. Never doing that again!!!

  7. JessB 2 years ago

    I saw this series, and saw this beautiful organiser from Kikki K on sale, and decided it was fate:
    I am planning to use this Australia Day holiday weekend to get all my papers sorted, and my huge dining room table completely cleared. I am going to make it happen if it kills me.

Leave a Reply

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 4.30.47 pm
How to Throw Things Away Like A God Damn Grown Up

If you're a hoarder it's probably for one of three reasons. 1. You're afraid of throwing away something that you...