>> Requested topic I was going to do another post for this week, but I think since everyone is getting buttoned in for the winter, they are looking around at all of the stacks of paperwork and feeling overwhelmed. A great time to give you some guidelines on what to do to dig out of it.
Organizing electronic or hard copy paperwork is a three step process
>> Step One: Wrangle. If this basket looks familiar it's because I also showed it in my first October post about The entryway. This is my trusty basket that I keep fairly close to the door in order to stash paperwork for when I can deal with it later. You live in reality. Realize that every time a new piece of paper comes into your house, you cannot deal with it at that moment. Even if you have the best intentions, you cannot keep up with that pace. Give yourself a catch-all bin to place the stuff that comes into your house. Then once the bin / basket is full, it is time to go through it. I find that once a week is a good time to go through my basket so I don't miss any deadlines or important pieces of information. If you set a day that you go through the paperwork, then it will be easier to make it a habit. My day is Sunday. Work it into your schedule and just know that you will not schedule anything else at that time, because you are committed to doing your paperwork then. You can also time it around when you have to pay bills, or the night you get to do something special afterward to reward yourself for a job well done. Ice cream, wine, Netflix? Note: make sure that the basket is a little larger than a standard size file or piece of paper so that paperwork can lay flat inside.
>> Step Two: Sort and file. When it comes to sorting, first of all, let's realize that there are several different types of papers that need to be categorized. Here are the ones that come up most in my life: bills, things that need to be filed for long-term reference, things that require I do something with them, (short-term and long-term) things that just need to be put some place else, junk mail / things that can be thrown out, things I need to add to my Pinterest board, house things, work things, magazines, health / insurance related, car related, school and daughter related. Think about all paperwork coming into your home and who is bringing it in. Can you simplify subscriptions, mail, bills, newspaper, magazines, school papers in any way that would make sorting papers an easier task? For email, can you unsubscribe from anything you are not reading on a regular basis?
I keep a separate binder just for my daughter's school papers and artwork. Then I know it is in one spot and easy to access. I keep one binder for each year of school. Once the year is done I put the binder in long-term storage. When she was younger it was mostly art and now that she is older there are more school projects and papers. Don't feel obligated to keep every paper – only keep the really good ones. And if it is too big to fit into a binder, take a photo of your child holding up the giant poster or 3D project so you can remember it but it doesn't have to clutter up your life. Perhaps when she goes away to college, I will go through the binders and edit them down into one box, but for now this seems to be the right amount of stuff to hang on to for me.
Filing is a very personalized process. If you find that you have the same types of paperwork popping up, I would suggest that you create a file for each one of these categories. (Same goes for email). That way, when you have time to deal with it, you'll have a spot to file it, out of the way and not on the dining room table (Or all over your computer desktop). I keep all of my file storage in one area of my house, so that when it comes time to putting the papers away, I don't have to run all over. Because I don't have a dedicated room for an office, I manage with this bookshelf in our upstairs hallway. There are many different types of systems that could work equally as well. Do you like looking through binders, magazine files, filing cabinets with folders or do you want to go digital? All of these could work, it just depends on your preference. I will do a sub-post on the pros and cons of each here.
There are several separate files inside each magazine file so that I can house related categories together. Like this one has house, life and health insurance in one magazine file. Your system may need to change over time. You might fall off the wagon and that is ok. Use a 2-3 month marker check-in to do a mental inventory. Is this working? Is there something I can change that would make it better?
Since I like to keep some things to add to photo books I usually work on over the winter, I have a special box that I keep all of that stuff in marked in progress. Consider giving yourself a special box or drawer for things that you know you'll need to access, but don't really work in a file. I also keep all of my bills in a separate drawer from all of the other paperwork.
Once you go through and sort things into different categories, you have to have enough energy to then act on the piles. Keep yourself fully-caffeinated and crank some music if that helps. I made a Spotify playlist for you here! I usually put the "things that I have to do something with" back in the basket and know that there are things waiting there for me – possibly to deal with on another night or day. But I don't leave anything that I know is date sensitive, only things that can sit until I have more time in the week, or at the very least next Sunday. The point is to deal with as much of the paperwork that you possibly can in one sitting. You don't want to keep going over the same papers again and again. This idea is from one of my favorite HGTV shows that is no longer on called Mission Organization. Think OHIO: Only hold it once. If the basket gets full, regardless I know I have to go through it. The depth of the basket keeps me in check and doesn't let it get too far out of control. That is why having just one basket is probably a good idea. If you have a whole house full of paperwork, you may have to have a full purge before you get it down to a manageable size. I would set aside 30 minutes to go through your paperwork each week. As you get more in touch with your system you may need less time as you make things more efficient and more manageable.
>> Step Three: Long term storage. At some point it is important to go through the files where you have been storing all of your paperwork. Is there anything that you can throw away or move to long-term storage? Long term storage could be a plastic tub in the basement or a banker's box in a storage closet or attic. Long term storage doesn't have to be in your office area or wherever you keep your paperwork system. This is where the tax returns, home-buying and important papers need to be kept for an indefinite amount of time, but won't be referenced often, if ever. Be sure to label everything in long term storage because if you are not looking at it very often, it will be hard to remember what is in there and where to find it if you ever need to go looking for some thing. And yes, even your long term storage should be reviewed at some point, but that can be every several years. Most reference sources say you should hang on to important papers for seven years, but some say forever. If you are unsure about what financial papers need to be kept and for how long, you can ask your accountant, or to be safe, keep them on hand as long as it isn't too much information to store.
Let me know if you have any other ideas on how to manage your paperwork and check out more ideas on my Pinterest board here.