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How can I sort out my paperwork?

Timothy Barber
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I work long hours and travel a lot. As a result, my home has become swamped in bills and statements I never get round to sorting. What advice do you have? Jason, 36, risk manager.

IT’S a classic problem of the time-poor professional – what to do with all that paper? Online billing and banking may have cut down some of the paperwork, but for most of us life is still an endless array of bills, receipts, certificates, and statements that need putting somewhere. Katie Shapley, director of lifestyle management firm The Organisers (www.theorganisers.com) says that her City clients often keep their papers in endless piles which they only ever add to. So start with an empty room – push back the furniture if you have to – and lay out the piles on the floor. “Use Post-its to denote what each pile means, and start going through it all to work out what you can keep – you’ll be able to throw a lot away.”

The aim is to have less paper, and your chief tools are a scanner to make digital copies of things you can archive, and a shredder for things you’re getting rid of. Be careful – put items for shredding in a separate pile and go through it again before committing its contents to recyclable oblivion.

The important stuff to keep hard copies of is what’s affecting your life now, like tax returns, recent bank statements and health plans. Put these in new files, one for each area, and file from back to front, with the most recent document on top. “It’s a good idea also to have a House file, for things like building work or electrician invoices; a Communications file for your mobile, landline and internet documents, and a Guarantees file,” says Shapley. The latter is important with all the gadgetry we have nowadays, but just keep the single piece of paper relating to the guarantee, rather than the booklets in 10 languages they’re hidden in.

Now that you’ve got organised, you need to stay organised – so stop wandering around with a wallet bulging with decaying receipts. “You only need the important ones, so keep them in a tin, and when your statement comes in each month make sure they tally,” says Beth Anderson of lifestyle concierge Live More Life (www.livemorelife.co.uk). “If you really want to get organised, I suggest using online tools like moneysavingexpert.com to work out your budgeting. You can also use things like Monilink on your Blackberry or iPhone to stay up to date with your current balance.” Sorted.