Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Organizing Our Paper Piles

I love organizing.  Scratch that.  I heart organizing!  But when it comes to paper clutter, I have to say, it's pretty much my absolute least favorite project to tackle.  I like to get crafty, paint and design when I organize.  It keeps me excited and motivated and makes it fun!  But piles and piles of papers.... well, you know.  Not as much fun, that's all.

But it has to be done!  And it turns out, that although I am no paper filing expert, I have done a few things well over the last couple of years.  And, a few things not so right.  But hey, live and learn!

Since this is Home Office month, I vowed to tackle paper piles with you.  I actually blogged about how I filed and organized my paper piles awhile back here and here.  So, consider me half way there already.  I have a file box with files for all of our long term documents.  Life Insurance, Medical Insurance, Retirement, Investment Details, Birth and Marriage Certificates.  You know, those important grown up things that you need in paper form and refer to once in a blue moon, but you need to hold on to.  That system has been working swimmingly.

And then there is all that other paper.... the paper that comes in daily such as statements, cards, receipts, etc... I didn't have much of a system for those papers and that is where I suffered.  I would toss them into random file folders, or worse, a bottomless pit of a box to "deal with another day".  Hanging my head in shame now... but here is what I started with:

So you have a better idea of all of my semi-organized chaos of paper piles, here they are labeled for you.

Bills have a system that I will be sharing next week, but it was the statements, receipts, etc... that didn't.  They were now this:

Throughout 2012 I would toss random papers into a document box and say, "I will get to that another day".  A handful of times I would need to find something, and I would go straight for the box and a few minutes later, I had what I needed.  So, I say it was working so-so.  But absolutely not ideal and absolutely not a system that could continue before it would become major chaos.

Looking at the pile, I saw a plus amongst the negative.  Those were the only statements and papers from the entire year.  And many of those papers were personal docs I created along with random work files, so the fact that our statement pile {bank, mortgage, medical, etc...} was on the low side of things, meant I was doing good about going paperless with everything else.

So how did I tackle my piles?

I started by creating a list of categories for all of the papers I touch every day.  I wanted my file box to continue to hold those long term and personal documents, and I needed an easier system for those every day papers.

Once I had my categories, I used my favorite Washi tape file labeling method {adding fun splashes of color and a non-permanent labeling solution} to folders that I would want to access frequently.

Current projects I am working on, To Do's, Travel docs, Blog Contracts and important statements that I would eventually need to reference {and scan in to go more paperless}.

I laid out all folders on the kitchen table.

And worked my way through the tall stack of papers.  Forty five minutes later and I had all of my paper piles sorted!

This box was now a "To Shred and Recycle" box instead of a paper hoarding box.

And once it was all condensed down, I had systems that now make much more sense and should be simple to maintain.

For our annual tax documents, I had them all together, but I needed a way to keep them divided by year.  So I created a few quick labels for the oldies and future ones.

Then, I picked up some fantastic plastic envelopes which were the perfect solution for holding the important documents along with the corresponding receipts and statements.

Once they were labeled by year, I popped them into a metal basket {found awhile back at HomeGoods}, along with a file folder so I have a quick dropping place for current year tax docs until filing time.

The file box will go back on my desk shelves and the daily folders are now easily accessible above my workspace {accordion desktop file keeper found here}.

I realized that the file box wasn't super quick and easy to access {yes, I am lazy, but I would have to pull it down, open it up, dig through the files each time I wanted to file something away}.  It made sense for fewer and far between docs that I need less frequently.  For the items I need constant access too, popping them up above my desk with labeled folders should make things much more easy to maintain.

So there you have it.  How I am plowing through our personal paper piles.  Although it wasn't the dreamiest project with a beautiful outcome, it is sure to make a positive impact on our day to day lives to have a set and simple place for everything.

To summarize:
  • Only you can decide what you truly need to keep and let go of.  I called some financial institutions to determine how long they can pull our statements should we need them in an emergency.  
  • List out the categories of the types of papers you keep and file down your piles accordingly.
  • Keep your systems simple.  If they are too hard to access or too complex, will you really keep up with it from day to day?
  • Go paperless whenever possible.  We pay 90% of our bills online {only since the other 10% do not offer that as a service yet}.  Statements can be viewed online and can even be saved as a PDF.  For the ones I receive as paper, they will be scanned in and saved, and easier to find down the line as well.
  • Whistle while you work.  Or not.  I played music and it made the task much more happy.  And it wasn't as bad as I thought, in fact, it was like other projects in which I felt accomplished and giddy when all was said and done!
What office project have you been putting off, but now has you jumping for joy now that it is done?  What are your favorite tips for conquering paper piles?

Psst!  I am not a financial pro or consultant, so recycle and shred at your own risk.  I am just sharing what is working for us and how we are trying to handle things better. 

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