Make your paper – work : A simple guide for paper organization
If you would rather spend the day undergoing dental work than dive into that pile of papers on your counter – this article is for you.
Paperwork can be daunting – no matter the size of the pile. We all know that papers = things we need to do. Some papers represent hours of work (ex. A tax document with an error that needs correcting) while others are merely clutter (ex. An expired coupon) and can be tossed.
It’s up to you to sort through your own collection of paperwork and determine which category each item belongs to. The good news? This sorting process is not as painful as you might think. With a little preparation, you can move through this task quickly and easily.
If you’ve read this far, you have already shown a commitment to tackle that paper pile. Good for you! An ounce of motivation is all you need to get started, so let’s get to it!
Before you begin
Gather some supplies:
- A few bins or boxes to sort papers into
- Sticky notes to label your categories
- A drink, candle, or other mood boosters (build that motivation!)
- A pile of papers that need sorting (feel free to start with a manageable chunk – you don’t have to sort every paper in your home at once!)
Create the following bins/boxes or simply place a sticky note on the floor
- To be filed
- To do
- Reference / Maybe Later
Have a seat, take a deep breath and tell yourself: “I can do this.” It’s true! You can! Papers are something we all have to deal with – but YOU choose whether to tackle them with joy or with dread.
Pick up the first paper from the top of your stack. What is it? Which of your categories does it fit into? Some papers are obvious and others take a little more thought.
1. To be filed
Documents to be filed are items you need to keep. You either have a file for them already or need to create one. Items to keep/file include things like tax documents, investment papers and vital records. (click here for a cheat-sheet of what to keep and for how long) – THIS WILL BE A LINK TO THE DOC YOU CREATED ABOUT PAPERWORK.
When you finish sorting – these items will end up in your filing system.
This includes items you feel sentimental about. Special letters, kid’s artwork, ticket stubs from important events, photographs, and cards fall into this category. Be sure that the item hasn’t already served its purpose. If it’s a simple thank you card with no special sentiment… you don’t have to save it.
*Before you take the step of storing your mementos – ask yourself if you need the actual paper item or if you could take a digital picture of it and let go of the original.
When you finish sorting – these items will end up in a memory bin or box.
3. To do (“you got this” bin)
Here are the documents which require your attention and action. We call these “actionable” items. These are the papers that hold a lot of anxiety for some of us. They represent minutes and hours of our precious time. They hold us responsible for our action or our inaction. They are at the heart of why paperwork feels so daunting. But fear not – there are less actionable items in your paperwork pile than you think.
Place items in this category if there is an action attached – a phone call, something you need to look up, a return, an appointment that needs setting. Oftentimes when you finish the action – the paper can be discarded.
*Consider creating a label for this very important category that says “I can do this!” or “Easy papers” – If the words “To-do” freak you out – change them to something that inspires you instead.
Try planning a time each week where you will sit down and work through your actionable items. This may never be a “fun” time but it is a necessary time. If you shift your mindset from resistance to acceptance, the work will get done and you will feel accomplished when you do it.
Smile to yourself and say “Tah-Dah!” Tidy space = smiling face!
4. Reference / Maybe Later
Items to save for reference include things like business cards, restaurant menus, interesting articles, maps, school calendars, receipts for items you are on the fence about, class offerings etc.
This category includes things that have no “action required”. The beauty of this category is that looking at it shouldn’t add to your stress. There are no unpaid bills or unmanaged tasks here. This category is all about possibility without pressure.
Create a bin or file to store these items. Return to this file frequently and see what is no longer applicable – Maybe you wanted to try a pottery class but missed the sign up window – maybe there is a new school calendar so the old one can be tossed.
Keep in mind that MOST reference items can be found online – there is no need to keep paper menus, maps etc. If you really need them you can find them again. Alternatively – you can take a picture of items you want to reference and create a folder on your phone or computer to store that item digitally.
We recommend keeping gift certificates in this category as well. You don’t HAVE to use them now – but they are stored safely in the “maybe later” category. Try a paperclip or rubber band to keep gift certificates altogether. Or keep it in your wallet so you have it if you drive by the store.
Many of the papers that enter our home are pure clutter. Right now we give you permission to toss the following (or shred items that have vital information) :
Paid bills (consider putting bills on paperless or autopay so they never even arrive).
Coupons/circular ads (these are only sent to you as marketing – they are designed to take your money! Unless you already planned to buy the item – toss these immediately)
Receipts for items you know you want to keep
Manuals (these are mostly available online – besides when is the last time you actually referenced a paper manual?)
Notes that are no longer relevant
Magazines you’ve already flipped through
School papers that have already served their purpose
Other junk mail
Get in the habit of sorting your mail right when you walk in – toss what you can immediately.
Paperwork will always be a part of managing your life. How you look at the task is the key to making your paper work for you. A positive attitude paired with a simple system will keep paper clutter from piling up. If you need help setting up your paperwork system, hire a professional organizer. We will work with you to design the system and do the sorting for you. There may never be an end to paperwork but you CAN take back control and feel confident that your paper system will WORK.
- Posted by Imagine Home Organization
- On May 21, 2021