Sound like someone you know? How many of us find ourselves saving mail, documents and random papers that we don’t need, can find online, or should just really be trashed? Maybe we get overwhelmed about finding the smartest way to file the documents we actually need, so we put it off and then can never find what we’re looking for when we really need it??
The answer to the “sea of paper” problem is actually very simple. It doesn’t take a lot of time, effort or money to create a filing solution that makes sense and will work for you and your family. And in honor of National Organize Your Files Week and Tax Day, The Boca Organizer is here for you.
- Tackle one area at a time. In the immortal words of Fraulein Maria, let’s start at the very beginning, shall we? One of the biggest obstacles I’ve found as a professional organizer working with clients is that it’s easy to look at your surroundings as a whole and get overwhelmed. That’s why it’s so important to start small. Start with a single area, a drawer, or a shelf, and slowly make your way through the room, and eventually through the house.
- Take the paper from these areas and sort them. The sorted piles should reflect your needs. Create a “toss” pile for papers that are unquestionably trash. Open all mail that might still be sealed and get rid of obvious junk. Create a “maybe” pile for docs you need to discuss with the Hubby or another member of the family. Create a “file” pile for the rest. We’ll get to those later.
- But wait, how am I supposed to know what I should toss vs. what I need to file? Well, it’s really as easy as asking yourself some basic questions:
- Have I used/referenced this document in the last year?
- Do I foresee using/referencing this document in the future?
- Is this something that I won’t be able to easily find online?
If the answer to any or all of these questions is no, then guess what? Toss ’em! Chances are, if you haven’t looked at it in the last year and don’t plan on it in the future, you don’t need it. Additionally, anything you can find online shouldn’t be brought into the house in the first place, and should be tossed. (I’m looking at you, pile of instruction manuals.) Of course, be sure to shred any documents that have private or sensitive information.
- Sort some more. So you’ve gone through the whole house, collected all the papers, and sorted it into the three aforementioned piles. Now look at the papers you’ve marked for filing. What is the best way to sort those further? Depending on what you’ve determined you need to save, sort them into categories that will make it easiest for you to find them when you need them. For example, it can be as broad as putting financial papers into a “financial” file, or as specific as breaking that down even further, like creating separate files for invoices, bills, taxes, etc. Make sure to leave out any unpaid bills or other action items that need to be taken care of and set them in a designated space so that they don’t get misplaced and can get paid/dealt with right away.
- Designate a space. This can be a file cabinet in the home office, a file drawer in a desk, or a documents box. Whatever suits your needs. Purchase what you need or use what you already have. Document boxes can be stored in the garage or basement, but make sure the area is dry and not prone to flooding. Keep on a shelf and off the floor. Purchase hanging file folders. These are great because they give you the option to color-code. Or you can use regular file folders if you don’t have hanging capabilities.
- Label, label, label! My favorite part! Create labels for the hanging file folders so that you can easily find what you need. Alphabetize or color-code them to make it that much easier.
- Archive or scan old files. Determine which files you only need for reference and not action. If you have a scanner readily available and it’s not a mountain of papers, consider scanning the papers and creating digital file folders. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, have too many papers to scan, and/or have the space for hard copies, create an archive file or designate a file box for archive-worthy documents. Just make sure you label all folders so that in the future you’ll be able to find what you need.
- That all sounds great, but how do I make sure my paper monster doesn’t start rearing its ugly head again?? Take the steps necessary to prevent the paper problem from coming back:
- Monitor what papers come into the house. If you can access it online don’t bring a hard copy into the house.
- Cancel any newspaper or magazine subscriptions you don’t need anymore. If you’re finding a mountain of unread People magazines or New York Times piling up without being opened, chances are you don’t have the time to read them and probably won’t. Find the articles that interest you online. You don’t need more paper cluttering up your home. And it’s a great way to save money.
- Invest in a paper tray for the area(s) where paper accumulates. We know no one is a perfect specimen who files papers as soon as they enter the house. Having said that, the bare minimum of sorting should be done as soon as possible so that the mail/document situation doesn’t get out of control. The paper tray should ideally have two or three slots or levels. Put it where you tend to bring paper into the house- this can be a desk, kitchen or even bedroom. Designate the slots for sorting into “Action,” for papers you need to act on and then toss or file, “File,” for docs that are only for reference and need to be- you guessed it!- filed, and another slot can be designated for any number of uses- for another member of the family, for shredding, for scanning, etc. Just label it in a way that works for you and your family. And of course, any paper that should be tossed does NOT belong in the paper tray. It belongs in one place and one place only: the Trash. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.
- The paper tray doesn’t take you off the hook! Mark your calendar so that once a week or once every two weeks, depending on how much accumulation you are getting in the paper tray, you go through the tray, sort further, file the papers away and empty it.
- And of course, as always, The Boca Organizer is here to help! If you just can’t handle the mountain of papers, need that extra push, expertise and pair of hands, and live in the South Florida area, give me a call! I’m happy to help.