How to Organize Paperwork (& keep it that way!}
Do you have a problem with stacks of papers in various locations around your home? Do you feel overwhelmed by the constant battle to deal with paper?
I feel your pain.
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While I have systems that enable me to stay on top of our current paperwork like bills and papers that I need to take action on immediately I kept procrastinating on going through my older papers because it seemed like too big a job. Finally the drain of all those stacks and files got to me and I dove in this past weekend.
I spent one long session (two hours) attacking my paperwork mountain and I have to say that dealing with all of it at the same time was so worth the effort. While I prefer my 10 Minutes a Day Decluttering Method most of the time I do like to use a do-it-all-at-once technique for backlogs and overwhelming categories of stuff like my old paperwork. I feel so much free-er and unstressed now.
If you feel frustrated and overwhelmed by paper clutter I have a simple step-by-step process to help you overcome your piles and organize paperwork in a short time.
How to Organize Paper
The first step in your full frontal attack on paper clutter is to gather all of your papers from every area of your house into one box or basket. If you currently have papers filed leave them in their folders until you have dealt with all of the loose papers in your home.
Once you have gathered them all, take the container to a location (such as your bed or the living room floor) where you will have room to sort them. I used the desk in our office and the top of a storage container.
When you have a backlog of papers you want to cut through the pile as quickly as possible so your first step is to do a Quick Sort into broad categories.
At this stage it is very important not to get caught up in the details but to move quickly to divide your big stacks into smaller stacks of paper “families”:
ACTIVE – items that need to be taken care of soon such as bills to be paid, invitations to respond to, rebates to mail, letters to write, etc.;
CURRENT – items that do not need immediate attention but which you will use in the near future or which you need to have easy access to on a regular basis. For example, sports calendars, mortgage related paperwork while you are buying a house, paperwork for projects you are working on, papers and receipts you will need for this year’s taxes;
LONG -TERM STORAGE – tax information from previous years, medical records, warranties, homeschool records; paperwork related to previous projects;
SENTIMENTAL – photographs, children’s artwork or writing, cards from friends.
Sorting into these main categories should only take a few minutes — I sorted 2 boxes of paper in about 20 minutes. If you are having trouble deciding which category to place the paper in, place it in the CURRENT pile and you can spend more time with it later.
Decide the specific folders and binders you need for the sub-categories of your main paper “families”. Here’s a peek at my folders and binders along with their current contents:
Active/Now Folder (on my desk) – invitation to respond to, insurance form to fill out;
Active “10 Minutes A Day” (on my desk) – non-urgent receipts to record and file, a card to cancel a magazine subscription, a letter to respond to;
Current Files (in a file box next to my desk) – current year’s bank statements, receipts, paid bills, business invoices and receipts, current car insurance, life insurance policy and paid bills, current health insurance/medical information from my daughter’s accident, car maintenance records and current year’s homeschool records.
Current Binders (on the shelf next to my desk) – Budget Binder (see details here), Writing Projects (ideas and rough drafts for books I want to write, research articles), Business School (free resources I have printed and want to study to improve my business), Holiday Planner, Blog Planner;
Long – Term Storage (in file boxes in my garage) – tax files for the last 10 years, past writing projects (like printed copies of my ebooks);
Sentimental Items – photos are stored in albums and photo boxes and I keep a few cards and letters in a box in my closet.
Sort and File
Taking one category at a time, pick up each piece of paper and make a quick decision about whether or not you need to keep the item. Place papers you need or want to keep in the appropriate folder or binder. Throw away items you don’t need or place them in a box or bag to be shredded later if they contain personal information.
As you are sorting you may realize that you need to add additional folders for specific categories you come across. Label the folder and file the items as you sort.
This is the longest part of the process and it is a good idea to take a break every 30 minutes to do something active. This will help to clear your brain so you can return to the sorting task a little bit fresher.
If you are short on time deal with your ACTIVE pile first. Place the other categories in separate boxes or baskets and schedule a time to finish them.
How to Keep Paper Organized
Once you have your papers sorted you will need to set up systems so your papers can stay organized.
Create a Budget Binder -Set up a notebook for bills, banking and financial goals. (See How to Create a Simple Budget Binder here— with printables.)
Deal with Mail Immediately – Once you remove the mail from your mail box open it all immediately, throw away envelopes and ads and place the mail you need to keep in the appropriate location (bills in your budget binder, items to respond to in your NOW folder to deal with this week, etc.).
Corral All Papers – Choose one location for your papers such as a wire basket or a letter box on your desk. Make it a habit to place ALL papers in that one spot rather than allowing papers to take over other areas of your home like your kitchen counters.
Schedule Your Paperwork – Schedule a weekly or daily time to deal with paperwork and add it to your calendar. You can even set a reminder on your phone. Once you have taken action on an item be sure to file or discard the paper immediately.
Deal With Piles Quickly -If you have a busy season of life and papers are starting to pile up again use my 10 Minute Paper Pile Fix to get back on top of the pile.
How to Declutter Your Paper for Good
The best idea for dealing with your paper clutter is reduce paper as much as possible. I use two steps for this process:
Scan and Shred
I open the Evernote app, create a note then take a photo of items like important documents, handwritten notes and magazine articles I want to keep.
I can easily reference these items, but once I’ve uploaded the item, I then shred it and I’ve eliminated the paper clutter around my house. (Note: Evernote is trusted by millions of users and I’ve never heard of any problems, but if documents are very important, you may want to additionally back them up to a cloud storage service.)
Stop the Inflow
You can immediately reduce your paper clutter is to opt out of advertisements and junk mail. Use the following resources:
- Go to Optoutprescreen.com to be removed from credit card and insurance mail offers.
- Go to DMA choice.org to be removed from direct mail marketing.
- The Federal Trade Commissions Consumer Alert helps you to be removed from unsolicited mail and phone calls.
Organizing your paper can seem challenging, but with these simple steps you are on your way to an organized and clutter-free desk and life!
Do you have any great paperwork organizational tips? Share in the comments. 🙂
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