Paper is a beast. It can stop the most motivated person in her tracks. But, with a little courage and time, it can become, at worst, a mild pest. Here’s what I’ve learned about paper.
First: Set up a system to process all new paper.
Do not try to conquer the backlog until you have a system for dealing with what is coming in on a daily basis. I recommend setting up a desktop system for action papers. Use categories like:
1. To Pay
2. To Read
3. To File
You might also want to include a file to catch mail and papers related to or belonging to a significant other and any dependents or pets in your household.
Designate a place near where your paper enters the home to house your desktop action file. Place a recycle bin and shredder close by so that you can quickly dispatch things that don’t belong in your action files. Everything else should be dealt with immediately or go into the appropriate action file.
Once a week, process the papers in your action files. Pay any bills that are due, file things that need to be filed, put upcoming events in your calendar. It helps to set a specific time to do this, like during your favorite brainless TV show on Sunday or while you have your morning coffee on Tuesday. Routine is your friend.
Once you are on top of incoming paper, work on the backlog. Usually, there is little that needs to be saved, so make sure the paper you are keeping is worth the space it will take up in your files.
Often, we procrastinate filing because the categories are too specific, making it a hassle. Try broad categories—Insurance, manuals, paid bills, car papers. We rarely retrieve what we file, so make the filing part easy. It’s ok if the retrieving part takes a few extra minutes. It can even all go in one banker’s box per year, or into one file per month per year. Go through files annually and shred the previous year’s statements/policies when new ones come. The exception is vital documents, like birth certificates and life insurance, and tax documents. Keep vital documents forever or until they have been replaced by newer versions and keep tax documents for at least seven years. Consult an accountant or lawyer to make sure you are covered in the event of special circumstances.
The final, or maybe first, step is to get off as many junk mail and catalog lists as possible and to sign up for electronic billing if you are comfortable doing so. There are lots of on line resources to guide you, and a Google search will net you a few of the most popular and current.