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  • Writer's picturecathy king

Is Paper Clutter your worst organizational nightmare?

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

February is “National Archive Your Files Month,” which means that you should be archiving or saving your papers and files for future use. In order to archive your files, you need to know what you actually have for files and what archiving them really means. Let’s start by addressing paper files, then we will move on to a bit about electronic files while covering the topic of archiving.

For most people, paper is their biggest organizational problem.

Paper, in some form, clutters almost every room in the house. From daily mail, books in various states of reading, magazine subscriptions, and newspapers, to shopping/dining receipts, it’s ubiquitous. While paper has multiple ways of getting into your home, its final destination really comes down to four basic options. Just like I mentioned in my blog on closets, you need to consider a few things in order to get ready to tackle your paper problem.

Get Ready Gear:

  • Pens/markers for making notes, sticky notes for labeling papers that are moving on or getting filed. This saves you from having to rethink processing when you come across the paper again.

  • 2-3 Extra bins for sorting

  • Shredder, if you have one, or a box to hold items to be shredded. Check with your local recycling to see if they take shredded paper, or put it into your composting bin. Hopefully, you caught my last blog that talked about composting.

  • Recycling bin

  • Trash receptacle

Remember the Magic Rule – touch once! This means that each piece of paper should only be handled once in this process. In other words, pick the paper up and make a decision as to where it belongs for its final destination. Additionally, you can choose to approach your paper project room by room, or you can bring all of the paper to one room to be handled together. Now to the process.

Option 1 – ACTION – Trash, Shred or Recycle

If the paper is not needed or wanted, it should go directly to shredding or recycling. Here are a couple of points, in terms of whether or not to shred. The item only needs to be shredded if it has personal information that can lead to financial impact or it contains personal information, such as address and account information.

Utility bills, subscription information, credit or loan offers, prescription drug information, checks, or reservation/invitation offers, should all be shredded. If you really cannot decide on whether to keep a document or not, you should ask yourself: Is this a document that is easy to replace if needed? How difficult is it to replace? If it is hard to replace, file it or store it in a safe. Most manuals are available online, which makes storing the booklets unnecessary. Warranties should be filed in one folder for everything, with dates clearly written on when they expire so you can easily find them. This way, if a coverage question arises on a warranty, you have only one file to review. Furthermore, they can be sorted within the file by alphabet or product.

Option 2 – ACTION – Delegate

This option is for a household or a business with multiple people in it.

If the paper needs to be reviewed by someone else, it should be highlighted, and a sticky note should be put on it for processing by the respective person in the household. It may be handy at this point to assign a color code to each “hand-off person.”

Example: Pink notes for me, blue notes for my husband, and green notes for my son. This makes for a quick handoff when you are sorting or happen to come across the paper again, because then you automatically know who needs to take action.

Option 3 – ACTION – Quick Action – Long Action

If a decision or action on a paper takes more than five minutes to complete, it should be put into a “Long Action” bin. Doing this allows you to proceed with the larger task at hand. If it takes less than five minutes, process the paper. Meaning, send a response, pay the bill, clip the coupon, just take quick action. If a quick sticky note will help you process the paper into the long action category, jot a note with your thoughts, and plop it in. Return to this Long Action bin when you have gone through all your papers. Review the Long Action bin items to estimate what the additional time needed to complete the papers are, and get it scheduled on your calendar.

Option 4 – ACTION – File it

The best advice I can give is for you to think about how, in the future, you will look for the papers that you have filed. Will the files be organized by the person needing the information? Will they be by the company that you bought from?

Or, will they be by broader categories, such as Insurance, Financial, Pets, Utilities. etc? Think about these considerations before developing and spending time and money on folders, labels, cabinets, or space. A well-thought-out filing system will save you time and money. Just think, when it is tax season, the files will be ready. When you need to find a receipt for something or a warranty issue, there it is. Only after you have thought through this process should you consider buying products to support the filing system you envision.

If you really do not want to hold onto paper files, one option might be for you to scan your documents and save them on a hard drive or virtual servers like Dropbox or Google drive. This eliminates paper but does not eliminate the need to develop a system to later locate the documents. You need to consider how to name the files and folders for the documents. Do you want a date in the file name? Do you want the name of the vendor? An example might be a file labeled, “012021 Geico Car Insurance,” saved in a folder titled, “Insurance-Cathy.” Also, think about access to these files. When and where do you want to access the documents, and what kind of security do you need for them? The beauty of electronic online storage is having access to the files regardless of where you are. That being said, if it takes you two or three hours to find the file you are looking for, it could be quite frustrating. I suggest you put pen to paper and layout the process first. If all else fails, you can hire a professional organizer to help you.

Now that you have cleaned up the paper problem, you need to make sure it does not happen again. The way to do that is to stop the paper EARLY in the process. All junk mail and freebie items should go straight into the recycling bin. You should consider using an opt-out service like the one I mentioned in my last blog. It will remove you from the mailing list altogether. Anything going to a generic address should be discarded, and remember, when sharing your address anywhere on the internet, “opt-out of communications” whenever you have the opportunity.

All newspapers and magazines should be considered for possible cancellation or donation if they are not providing value to you as the reader. Some subscriptions are put on the auto-renewal process, and before we realize it, we are really not interested in them anymore, yet have not taken action to cancel. Review all of your subscriptions and make a value judgment as the reader to keep or end. Remember, recycling is good but not having the paper in the first place is better.

In closing, remember that all paperwork can be taken care of in a timely manner if we have systems in place when it first comes through the door. Have ONE place/bin for all new paper to be placed upon arrival in your house.

ALL paper must pass through said bin. Also, set a reminder, or put a calendar notice in your planner to review this bin at least once a week, following the procedures outlined above. A new magazine should replace an old magazine, and a determination of value and need should happen on the swap. You ultimately have the power to prevent this epic stalker from taking up precious real estate, but know that there are professionals that can help you too.

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