The reluctant tidier?

A while ago I was preparing to work on the papers category with a client (who gave her blessing for me to share this experience with you). We’d completed clothing very efficiently together, and books had also been quite straightforward. She had been effusive about the benefits she was already reaping in her life as a result of streamlining and organising these categories.

So I broached the subject of our third tidying lesson: ‘Is this date still convenient for you? Are you ready to work on your papers together?’ Her response was affirmative but not exactly enthusiastic. ‘Yes, of course, that’s fine’. I was left with a small sense that all was not well. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but a couple of days later when discussing something else entirely with her, I asked again. ‘Are you sure you’re ready to tackle the next lesson?’ And again, the same rather uncharacteristic response – ‘yes, that’ll be fine’.

In the end, my client and I had to postpone our lesson until my next trip to the UK as she needed to provide childcare for a sick relative. She had seemed almost relieved to have to postpone the tidying lesson.

I wasn’t annoyed. Sometimes life events do get in the way of the best laid plans, and it’s best just to accept this rather than fight it. I wondered if the universe had provided what my client needed – a little extra time to prepare herself for the challenge of the next category?

Like others going through the KonMari process I had found clothing and books to be quite straightforward, but paperwork seemed infinitely more forbidding.

I think the myriad of potential ‘grey areas’ surrounding which documents to keep and which to shred, and how long to keep financial paperwork, can make this feel like a much more serious affair. One knows that if a book is discarded and it later turns out to be a mistake (this is very rare by the way – ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is a phrase that is definitely true for books), it can usually be easily replaced. But of course a tax form or piece of paperwork linked to the mortgage may be more complicated, expensive and time consuming to replace.


So how can we ensure that we tackle paperwork in a way that will lead to definite streamlining and success?

  1. Be honest and firm with yourself. When walking through your home collecting up papers to be piled up, any thoughts of ‘I’m sure there isn’t anything in the glovebox of my car’ should be firmly silenced and all locations, even the most unlikely, checked. Similarly, any temptation to ‘leave payslips until later’ or ‘just do receipts, I don’t have many bank statements’ will need to be avoided. It is perfectly ok to work by sub-categories if you don’t have a block of time to deal with the whole category at once (checklists on Pinterest can help with this – search for KonMari checklist); the approach to avoid is that of only ever intending to do half of the category.
  2. Power of the pile. Stack those documents. Feel that fear / horror / shock that you have so many ‘essential’ pieces. Accept those feelings – they’re part of the journey to a more joyful and organised life.
  3. Research in advance – use your government’s relevant department to find out what tax, employment and finance papers you must keep, which can be scanned and shredded, and which are not necessary even to scan. Do the same with your mortgage provider. If you’re in the UK this handy guide from the Citizens advice Bureau  tells you in plain English what to keep and for how long.  goes into more depth. For those in Malta the ‘official’ verdict is harder to come by, though if you own your own company this link may be helpful .
  4. Have a shredder to hand. Borrow one if you don’t have your own. It would dilute your enjoyment somewhat to decide to discard hundreds of pieces of paper and then be stuck with them piled in the corner until you figured out how to securely get rid of them! Shredding is incredibly satisfying and the resulting confetti can be safely recycled.
  5. Use post-its. You’ll have a couple of piles on the go and it wouldn’t do to add things to the wrong one.
  6. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT. Start with the mindset of choosing what to keep from the pile, not what to discard. This gives you a good indication of the sort of volume (i.e. minimal, very minimal) that you should be left with.


So overall, it’s safe to say that tackling the paperwork category represents a step up. It’s an intensification of the process and you will have to work to remain true to your newly found ‘joy check’ skills. But you’ll find, upon completing it, that the sense of freedom and euphoria you gain is worth it many, many times over. Consider the success and pride you felt when you completed clothing and books, multiply it a few (hundred) times and voila! You’re there. Done.



TL;DR? Paperwork is a bit of a toughie, and people seem to drag their feet. It’s fine to take time after books to mentally prepare. Have a shredder and post-its to hand, and be firm with yourself. It’s not about what to throw, but what to keep.

The rewards are bounteous.

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