Life Admin: The paper chase

Now that we’re in the getting-organised phase of the new year, there’s no better time to get the paperwork sorted. Kya deLongchamps offers some quick hack.

It's not the big, occasional disasters that drag us down in our daily domestic round, it’s the sly poke of time-wasting. Take, for instance, looking for things.

Now, here I have to rely on a US statistic, but I have no reason to believe that we Irish are any different, in essence. The average American spends 2.5 days a year looking for things (2017 Lost & Found Survey commissioned by Pixie — a device you can stick onto your stuff to find it with your phone —

Objects with size and distinguishing form are one thing — but diaphanous white A4 paper has to be the curse of St Jude’s waking hours in heaven.

A good sort (sorts everything)

  • Don’t buy storage pieces that add another two metre square to your storage problems — first identify what counts and cut down the leaflets, antediluvian bills, cards and other ephemeral dross
  • Use a large, well-lit desk as your sorting stage. Lock up the cat and locate those reading glasses
  • Pick a drawer/fat file/shelf/handbag or area of the car floor to clear, and drag it into the light. A soft or plastic laundry basket with handles is handy for this.
  • Do one area at a time. A three-metre high, paper-blizzard will just put you off the whole project
  • Sort into rough categories and then resort by type/date and importance. Shred the obviously unwanted.
  • Start compiling the vital paperwork in manageable groups under an A4 top sheet marked, for example: ‘house extension’, (see panel on the biggies)
  • If you come across must-do-now items, such as unpaid bills, put these in a paper tray for dealing with in the next 24 hours (even if that entails a call to a creditor).
  • Use your ACTIONABLE filing tray — see below
  • Put any recent or significant receipts and credit slips together.
  • Check the big ones against your outgoings on your bank statement.
  • Keep any tied to a guarantee or new goods, expensive pieces and items you haven’t unboxed or thoroughly tried out.
  • Staple the keeper receipts to any warranties you may have for that item
  • Cross reference: For example, chemist or doctor receipts related to your private health insurance claim at the end of the year might go with your health insurance paperwork.
  • Organise similar receipts by date, clip together.

Systemise the flow

For most families, the old solution of a single large filing cabinet works perfectly, but only if you housekeep this area regularly, file systematically and move older paperwork out to accommodate the new.

Place a three-tier tray for that week’s new arrivals on the top of the cabinet or right beside it, and deal with it that week.

By Friday the tray should be empty. Super organisers may only need a single tray.

  • Start when the paper flies in the letterbox, or gets carried into the house
  • It hits the top level of a three-tier tray — MAIL. This should be a short stay
  • Once examined it travels onto the next of two levels OR it’s filed, binned or shredded. Precious paperwork should be filed at once
  • ACTIONABLE: The second tier where our document stays for a couple of days before you make that call, fill that form, pay that bill, whatever. It’s to hand
  • Duty done, it slips into the FILE tray or straight into the filing cabinet. Don’t let this filing tray become an actual file. File that blasted thing when you have a beat. Stuck on the phone with that bore from the club? Do a little filing on the fly.

Cabinets & boxes

Only you can decide what suits your habits and situation, but at the very least, choose box files to sort the paper river into logical categories, once it has been sorted in your three-tier tray.

Box files: Good quality box files contain a large clip which holds the paperwork in place, and sitting up in book form on a shelf, they are space saving and neat in a matching set.

Three to four boxes, divided into Financial, Personal, Health, Home & Insurance are reasonable choices, but do what works for you. Obviously, sorting by date allows you to find pieces of information quickly, as needed. Hold files in place with vertical dividers on shelving or invest in a Fellowes R-Kive® banker’s box system into which you can slide four standard boxes. €18 from any good office supply outlet.

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Filling Cabinet: A filing cabinet, micromanaged by drawer, is the next step up.

You can use boxes, hanging files or simple paper folders inside the cabinet, and locked, it’s a more protected environment for sensitive information in the event of disaster (bar flooding I’m afraid).

Argos do a good two-drawer black and silver cabinet, suited to 30 hanging files per drawer, plenty for most homeowners. It’s fully assembled and comes with two keys, €75 (€150 for the doubled up four drawer version). Stick a Fellowes I-Spire Series File Sorter on the top of the cabinet — job done.

File boxes: Argos also offer A4 metal file boxes too, complete with 24 suspension files, ID tabs, €26.99. Viking and Hunt Office have a vast selection of boxes and cabinets in terms of veneers and colours, by Bisley, Pierre Henry and Alco,,

My money’s on a tall vertical desk top/under desk filing unit with slender multi-drawers to file paper flat. These efficiently micro-manage useful categories of paperwork, allowing you to find what you need with just one pull out of one drawer. 10-15 drawer examples from €65.

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For larger cabinets, consider if you might want to move the unit, and throw in a caster base (around €20 for a Bisley model).

Box files, small cabinets and chic flight-case styles of portable containers are not physically secured by weight, and in the event of a fire or break-in, your passport, personal and investment records are at risk.

Double combination locks can be carried off with the box and cracked later.


  • How far back do you really need to go with financial statements and bills, if you’re not already using paperless e-statement services? Why archive into the 80s? Prioritise.
  • Passports, birth certificates, PRSI card, marriage licence etc.
  • Your will (just about everyone needs one). Go to for a free template.
  • Utility contracts – power; fuel; phone (landline and mobile); broadband; Sky contract and ID card etc.
  • Your lease, if you are renting.
  • Employment records. Contract, payslips; pension and tax correspondence; CV For the self-employed, this will probably form multiple sub-sections.
  • School records. Secondary school records and final reports can be important.
  • Headed contracts and invoices for repairs for home improvements, extensions and builds. If you have planning letters, design drawings, warranties and correspondence with the contractor for your current home, put this to one side.
  • Car registration; tax; insurance; and NCT records.
  • Pet passports: You cannot kennel a dog/cat without proof of vaccinations. Every dog/cat/ horse will have a microchip record too.
  • Mortgage documents, statements and relevant home and life insurance documents.
  • Health records. Private insurance documents with your policy and ID.  Receipts to redeem against your policy.
  • Vaccination cards from the HSC for your children.


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