… and this is exactly the situation I often encounter in my work: my clients have fallen into a series of traps: once papers come in, they are often just piled up, or partially dealt with, and then they neglect ‘maintenance’ of their paperwork altogether. This leads to the strange situation I find myself in often when working with clients on organising their paperwork: I help them do something they really could do on their own, but have so far neglected.
How do I go about this, then?
Well, first of all I check with clients where they keep paperwork. This usually brings about a whole lot of surprises with papers shoved into places all around the house. Just bringing things together makes my clients extra queasy.
Next, I ask about the kind of papers they have, think personal correspondence, accounts, utilities, tax, receipts, reports, certificates, … you get the picture – nothing is too strange to end up in the paper pile.
Then I take over for a while and go through it all and sort it into meaningful categories (i.e., piles) that make sense from a point of view of the brief and common sense. I’m no longer surprised by anything as I regularly find unopened bills, gift cards, money, advertisements, flyers with offers long expired, and a lot more than the client originally stated I would see. No matter: everything goes onto their respective piles, nothing gets thrown away at this point.
And now to the hard part: getting the client to review each of the piles and taking decisions based on their choice and my practical advice often blows their mind. More often than not, they still try to back away from this chore. I believe that paperwork in general scares people and they do anything to avoid it. Which obviously is why they are in this situation in the first place…
My way of doing this is to work it one pile at a time and basically hand them a selection to look at and give my recommendation. When I go into that phase, I tend to start with a simple pile, e.g. flyers, old magazines, or something similar, and then gradually move to more challenging things like utilities, receipts and accounts or taxes. This way, the client gets to start out with easy decisions, and slipping into what I think of as “decision mode”.
In general, that leads to seriously separating the rubbish from the necessary, and in most cases the client ends up with a huge pile of rubbish and a moderate pile of papers to further organise. Sometimes clients even surprise me when they request to review some of the earlier piles because they now realise that they may have been too careful at first!
After that, it’s all about organising the remaining papers into proper, useful and transparent filing system that the client is happy and able to maintain on their own. But that is another story altogether.
Those are the moments I live for: it shows that I have made them reconsider a long-held belief that they are afraid of paperwork.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My mission: help clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.