We are inundated by paper these days — some of us feel like we are drowning in it — but there are some simple steps you can take to keep your head above water. Many people are so overwhelmed with the continuous stream of paper that it gets dumped in an ever-growing pile, junk mail and all, that is only hunted through when bills need to be paid or other important documents need to be found. Intentions are always good; you plan to sort and file, but that day rarely comes and when it does the project is incredibly overwhelming.
The bright side is, it doesn’t have to be that way! By developing a simple routine, you can keep the paper flow under control and have everything filed for easy retrieval.
Daily Paper Strategies
– Keep a recycle bin in an easily accessible location so you have no excuse not to toss items in while you are handling them Remember to shred documents with sensitive information.
– Don’t put the stack of mail down until you have sorted out the junk and deposited those items directly in the trash or recycle bin; designate a fixed “home” for other major categories of mail (bills, to be filed, reading material, requires action, etc.) and be vigilant about immediately putting items where they belong. You’ll be amazed by how much time you’ll save with this tactic alone!
– Open all envelopes immediately, keep only the necessary contents and toss or recycle the remainder before it can even hit the counter
– Analyze your newspaper and magazine subscriptions; do you read everything you subscribe to in a timely manner? If not, consider canceling some subscriptions and buy the publication individually when you REALLY want to read it.
– Don’t save entire newspapers or magazine for one or two articles or recipes; the options are many — tear the page out on the spot and place in your recipe file or reading stack; if it’s a long term keeper, consider scanning it into your computer for later use; also you need to remember that you can find almost anything on the internet — don’t save unnecessary information either in paper or electronic format!
– Approach kids’ school papers in an organized manner; have a storage box for items you want to keep; read and toss flyers on the spot (have your calendar nearby to write down key dates so you don’t have to keep the fliers); sign any necessary items immediately and have your child place in their backpack to return
Most people keep WAY too much in their files! They also keep their filing systems WAY too detailed. The most important feature of a filing system is the user’s ability to maintain it. If you make it complex and cumbersome you are setting yourself up for failure.
Before designing your filing system, you should consult your tax advisor or IRS Publication 552 (www.irs.gov). Determine which items you need to keep and for how long. This may sound like a pain, but it will save you hours in the long run.
– Analyze your need to access items you have saved for the past few years. If you haven’t needed to refer back to those utility bills and you don’t use them for tax deductions, why are you keeping them? In today’s digital age most information can be obtained on the internet or requested from the original source.
– Justify every piece of paper you keep! A simple filing method that works for many people is the “rolling 12-month” method. Instead of filing “short term” records by vendor or topic, file them by month. You keep 12 files, one for each month, and each month dump the contests of the oldest month and slip in your new items. You will have additional files for items that require longer retention — place these in alphabetical order behind the monthly folders. Remember to keep these categories as general as possible to make filing and retrieval simple.
– Make sure your “keep forever” documents are safely stored in your Safe Deposit Box or at least a fireproof file box.
– Make the transition from a current filing system gradual and painless. Pick one or two files a day and get rid of anything outdated or no longer applicable to your life. If the records need to be kept for legal purposes, but are not something you need to access regularly, move them to the back of the filing cabinet in a permanent file section
Finally, you need to address the accumulated piles from “before” you got organized. Don’t despair! You’ll probably find that most of it can be tossed using your new filing guidelines.
– Make a quick pass through the piles, sorting into “toss”, “long-term” and “short-term” piles. Hopefully there aren’t any action items hidden in the pile!
– Shred or recycle the “toss” pile. File the (hopefully) very small “long-term” pile.
– Sort the “short-term” pile by month and drop in the appropriate folder. If your filing was too far behind, make this a 15 minute a day task — maybe while you do something relaxing like watch TV.
Gaining the upper hand on paper requires a minimal but consistent time commitment. At first you will need to consciously make this a part of your daily routine. Before you know it, those mountainous stacks of paper are gone and have been replaced by neat files.
©2004 Bridget Messino