The Great Paper Chase.

Paper Clutter

I don’t care how neat and organized and super awesome you are; paper overload is something that affects us all at one time or another.  So much paper comes into our homes and offices every day – Bills! Statements! Receipts! Schedules! – making it really challenging to keep paper clutter at bay.  Paper overload can be a major stressor: causing late bill payments, lost important documents, and a disruption to overall peace of mind.

Personally I feel really overwhelmed when we have too many random papers floating around or piling up.  Yes, some of that is because I am organizationally nutso, but mostly I worry that I’m going to lose or forget something important which will cost me more time, money and effort than if I had just taken a little bit of time to sort and organize my papers.  I really loathe wasting time, or doing something twice unnecessarily.  It’s probably worse than wasting money.  Well, not always.

So in hopes of inspiring some spring paper cleaning out there, I am going to share some tips on creating and maintaining a smart paper organization system at home.  Keep in mind 2 important things: 1) there is no one-size-fits-all perfect system, and 2) an efficient system takes time to evolve and refine itself over time.

To help plan your system, take some time to re-visit the 5 W’s of elementary school fame and, if you love listmaking as much as yours truly, jot down your answers.  If it helps to motivate you, use a fun notepad and pen, like these and these (my two favorite list making accessories, as pictured below!).  Side note, I absolutely love these notepads, as B has unfortunately learned the hard way.  There is a slight chance that B might have been scolded a few times for using my “nice” note paper for jotting down one-liner reminders.  Harsh? Probably.  But it’s for the good of my wallet…this paper ain’t cheap.

Boatman Geller Notepad
PaperMate Flair Felt Tip Pens

Your answers will help build the framework of a basic system you can begin to follow, and then tweak over time as needed.  Here are my answers:

What?  A system to keep papers organized.  Need a place to store important papers that may require follow-up (“Pressing Papers”), and another for long term paper retention (“Saving Papers”).

Why?  Keep paper clutter at bay and maintain my sanity.

Who?  Two can play at this game.  I am the keeper of all papers.  It makes sense for us because I am instinctively organized and I like having control over matters like this.  B plays the role of Super Paper Shredderer, eliminating unwanted paper from our lives and keeping our folders and files safe.

Where?  System should be easily accessible on a daily basis, but tucked out of the way to prevent mistaken paper loss or mischievous KP snooping:

  • Pressing Papers are sorted into folders in the “command center” on our main floor.
  • Saving Papers live in a secure file cabinet in our guest room.
  • Junk mail and paper we don’t need to keep is shredded.

When?  Realistically I do not have time to fully file our papers every day, but by keeping our organization system in an accessible spot I can do a small amount of sorting every day as things come in.  Every week(ish) we go through our inbox area to follow up on Pressing Papers and move Saving Papers to the file cabinet upstairs.  Things requiring super immediate attention aren’t even filed – we stand them up vertically right outside of our folders so they say “Hey you there – look at me! Pay me! Respond to me!”

How?  It’s easy to identify which documents to save, but figuring out how to organize them can be overwhelming.  As with all organizing projects, stick to the basics:

  1. Inventory everything you have.
  2. Group like items together.
  3. Put grouped items away nicely and neatly.

Our Pressing Papers really run the gamut, so we sort these by person in folders on our first floor: B,  S,  A & Household.  Saving Papers can be a bit more difficult.  Here are the categories that I recommend:

  • House: Mortgage documents and statements, appliance warranties, invoices for work done, etc.
  • Car: Ownership/Insurance/Registration documents, Invoices for work done, servicing and/or mileage records, etc.
  • Financial: Tax documents, household budget materials, one year’s worth ONLY of: bank/investment statements, credit card statements, loan documents, etc.
  • Medical: Doctor/Hospital bills, Insurance paperwork, important health information, receipts for FSA reimbursement, etc.
  • Kids: Doctor visit bills/receipts (for FSA), daycare information and forms, etc.
  • Pets: Animal Info, annual rabies shot info, important bills/receipts
Whew.  This is way more than I intended to write about this topic.  But I’m sure you aren’t surprised.  You know I like keeping things organized, and you know I’m wordy.  But since paper overload happens to all of us at one point or another, I’m hopeful this will help a few people out there to develop their own paper organization systems.  Happy filing!

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