Staying on top of paper (clutter) in our lives is a challenge; however, it can be manageable with proper systems in place.
Paper organization begins before it enters the home. I often stop at the recycling bin in my garage and toss any junk mail, reducing my mail by 50-90% before I even step into the house. You’ll reduce your incoming mail even further by unsubscribing to unwanted catalogues and signing up for paperless bills and financial reports.
The rest of the mail usually falls into a few different categories: Bills, Action items (anything that requires follow-up, like a phone call or email), Filing, and Reading materials (magazines, brochures). Get into the habit of sorting your mail every day, preferably when you get it out of the mailbox. This takes less than one minute. Then sort them into your designated racks or bins, as described below.
Do you have an overwhelming backlog of papers? Start working through them one small pile at a time until you catch up, following the above steps to avoid getting behind again.
Creating a designated office space
If you don’t have a home office, create a space where you can organize your paperwork. It could be an area in the kitchen, the family room, or even a little niche in the hallway. A wide range of storage options are available, depending on your available space, needs, or style. Some people like to sort their papers into wall organizers, while others prefer baskets, racks, or trays. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as you can quickly find what you’re looking for when you want to pay a bill or take action on an item. Next, create a bill paying station, which is a place to keep stamps, envelopes, pens, and return labels.
How to process papers - These steps are crucial to staying organized!
1. Schedule time each week (on your calendar) to pay bills and take action on other items. Without a habit of dealing with papers, you’ll end up with new piles, missed deadlines and even late fees. The bigger the pile, the more overwhelm it creates.
2. Once you’ve taken care of actionable papers, you need to move them forward. Many papers can get recycled or shredded. Create the habit of shredding your papers as you go. If you need to keep papers for your records, you can either A. scan them and save to a labeled folder on your computer or in the cloud, or B. place them in a file folder.
Creating a filing system
What does your current filing system look like? Are you easily able to find what you need when you need it? Even the best file system can use a little tweaking from time to time. Most of us file too much. Take a moment to evaluate your files and purge any papers you no longer need. Ask yourself if you could easily find the information online and shred the paper instead.
Set up your filing system in a way that fits your way of thinking. Create categories that make sense to you when having to retrieve the item months or even years later. For example, if you were looking for your car insurance policy, would you look under Automobile, Car, Insurance, or the make and model of your car?
Keep it simple. A basic filing system works for most people. However, some homeowners might prefer a more complex method, such as the color-coded system described in this video. Again, use what works for you and don’t over-complicate things.
Some general categories for your filing systems could include:
Finance- Banking, Investments, Credit cards, Mortgage, Taxes
Health- Insurance, Doctors, Specialists, Gym Memberships
Home- Warranties, Furniture, Appliances, Lawn & Garden, Home Maintenance
Insurance- Home, Auto, Life
Personal- Family members, church, school
Vital Records- Birth certificates, Passports, Marriage certificates, Will & Testament (these records should be kept in a fire-safe file box)
Establishing these systems and habits will keep your paper clutter under control and keep your stress levels to a minimum. Here are a few more tips if you are struggling to keep your office and desk under control.
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Disclosure statement: Some of the blogs on this site occasionally contain affiliate links which may provide a small commission to OrganizingbyYve at no additional cost to you. I write about the things I love and have recommended or used myself throughout my years as a professional organizer.