Paper – it seems to multiply faster than bunnies. The other day I noticed a paper sitting on the table in the living room. Two days later I returned and found that the single piece of paper had turned into a stack of papers.
The paper had multiplied faster than any bunnies I’ve ever heard of, and I found it happening all over the house. The bunnies, I mean the papers, were breeding so quickly, and had quickly gotten out of control.
Perhaps you’re not paper challenged like I am.
Organizing paper clutter has to be my biggest organization challenge. You try having young kids, operating a couple of home based businesses, teach three different grades of school (we home-school), and be a paper artist, and see how quickly you acquire a ton or two. There seems to be papers everywhere – and at least several tons living in my house. And I regularly (I promise) put a lot of paper in the recycling bin.
However, I found several solutions for handling and organizing all that paperwork. And they work perfectly – when I do. (Now, if I could find one that worked perfectly when I don’t. Hmm – perhaps an administrative assistant.)
So here are my solutions for organizing paperwork and getting out from under the stacks of paper.
Organizing Paperwork Solution 1 – Stay on Top Of It
The first course of action is to stay on top of any new papers. Organize those papers while still handling the other papers that are lying around, and hiding in file cabinets.
Handling Mail – When the mail comes don’t drop it when you walk in the door, but put it away immediately. Even if it is a bill that needs paid later you can still write the check, put it in the envelope, and put the mailing date in the corner. If you pay it electronically, schedule it with your bank. Then shred the paper. The utility company has a back-up bill. They won’t let you forget about it. (Need it for taxes? We’ll cover that later).
What about mail for other family members? I know you’re wondering. Here’s a solution that we just put in place, and I like it. First off, put it all in one central place. We just hung one of those wall magazine type of racks on the office wall. Any mail for my husband and any phone messages will go into his slot, and mail and messages for the kids go in another.
Have your kids put any papers that need attention in your slot. That permission slip for a school field trip, the hand-out that shows the upcoming track schedule, or the latest report card are all good candidates.
Organizing Paperwork Solution 2 – Get Rid of It
If you are tempted to keep it because it has information you may want some day consider this: Chances are that the information is on the internet, and will be very easy to find.
Papers that I would have kept five years ago I don’t even need to consider keeping. That’s because in all likelihood if I wanted to find the information I will Google it anyway.
Chances are that those catalogs you like the products from are right there on the internet as well. If in doubt, check to see if the company has an online store. If they do bookmark their website, filing it under Shopping, Company Name, or something else you’ll remember. Then get rid of the catalog.
Organizing Paperwork Solution 3 – Scan and Shred
Use the solution banks and large businesses use. File them electronically by scanning them, and storing them on discs, or on the cloud. If the paper is important and you need a copy simply scan the paper, save it in a compressed format, and file it on your computer. Periodically save that folder to a disc and back it up online. Now shred the original.
I do this with statements, insurance benefits statements that I may need to refer to later, utility bills I need for taxes etc. I then shred most of the papers.
In case you are wondering, the IRS requests photocopies of your expenses. They told me a print-out of your electronically stored data would work as documentation needed in an audit. I still play it safe and place any of the papers that I can’t back-up with additional sources in a folder marked 2008 Business Expenses. Things such as utilities can be documented by the utility company. It’s the small “Petty Cash” type of receipts that I keep the original one and all it takes is one files for each business per year.
(Update – I now store those only electronically as well.)
Organizing Paperwork Solution 4 – Develop a Filing System that Works
For what’s left (there shouldn’t be that many), develop a filing system that works. My favorite methods of storing what is left I learned from the book Getting Things Done, by David Allen. Get yourself a label maker and create a label that will be easy for you to find. Don’t worry if you have a single piece of paper in one file folder. That’s much better than a stack of 100 singles that you have to dig through. Now file it alphabetically. Don’t worry about separating them out by topic. If you do it alphabetically you just have to remember one place, not the bill drawer, and then the name of the company.
Oh, and if you don’t have a label maker I highly recommend one. That one tool has done more for getting myself organized than any other tool I have.
Take the first step to a more organized existence by handling the next paper that comes into your hands appropriately.