Just the mention of “paperwork” can make the bravest of us start to panic. However, organizing your documents does not need to be a reoccurring battle or a strenuous feat. Paperwork does require maintenance, but clearing the paper clutter is possible. We have some great tips to help you get your documents organized! You can do this!
Step 1: GATHER ALL DOCUMENTS
Find a nice quiet place and get cozy. Turn on some music or your favorite show-whatever helps you to relax and focus. Make sure you set yourself up in a space that has a large surface for you to to work on and one that can be left uninterrupted. You will want to be able to leave your work and come back to it as time allows. Now, go and gather all your documents. All the paper…every last piece! You may be sweating by this point. Don’t worry – we do this all the time and we know you can get through this and that you are going to be so happy with the results!
Step 2: SORT ALL DOCUMENTS INTO PILES
Okay – so you have all your documents. Now it is time to sort them. We always recommend using Post-it notes to help you sort. Check out the categories we recommend below in the section: “Step 5: FILE AWAY”. Start making piles and putting like with like. As you can see from the list below, we recommend general piles. At this point the more general, the better. Notice we have a folder for “utilities”, not an individual folder for “gas”, “water”, and so forth. Also, you will most likely come across documents that need attention ASAP. Make sure you set up an “Action” pile. You do not want to stop the momentum of sorting, but you need a pile of paper to deal with immediately. If you come across a document you know will hit the trash/shred pile – get rid of it! It won’t be long before you have a pile for every piece of paper.
Step 4: SORT PILES OF PAPER
Now that you have piles, it is time to sort through all the documents. Make sure you have two bins/bags. Designate one for documents going to trash/recycle and one for documents going to the shredder. As much as you are comfortable, purge and start accessing bills and accounts online. A lot of documents can be sent via email and reduce what mail comes into the home. You may find you don’t need many file folders at all. However, for those items that you do keep, you only need to keep them for the right amount of time. Records should be kept indefinitely, tax documents should be kept for seven years, loan documents, titles, investments, and so forth should be kept as long as they are possessed, and credit card and banking statements and the like should only be kept for about a year. You can read more here. Once you get your piles whittled down, it is time to file.
Step 5: FILE AWAY
We highly recommend to not make your filing categories broad. Don’t get too specific with your labeling. If you think about it, documents are rarely retrieved, so make the filing part easy. It’s ok if the retrieving part takes a few extra minutes. There are many ways of storing documents. You can create a file system using hanging folders. Just designate one hanging folder per category. Yup, you are reading that correctly – we don’t add in manilla folders. Then, you can also put all documents into a banker’s box every year, or you can designate one file per month per year. There’s a couple options for you. Do what makes the most sense to you. Here are the general files we recommend:
- Medical – EOB’s, Medical Bills, Prescriptions, test results, Insurance, etc.
- Home – home insurance, mortgage, rent, receipts for home repairs, etc.
- Utilities – gas, water, electricity, trash, etc.
- Auto – car payment, car insurance, car title, etc.
- Banking/Credit Cards – bills, statements,
- School – homework, IEP’s, contacts, etc. and/or student loans, financial aid, college applications, etc.
- Vital Files – passports, marriage license, birth certificates, etc.
- Investments/Retirement – statements
- Tax – W2’s, personal property tax, financial aid statements, end-of-year statements for investment/retirement, childcare receipts, donation receipts, etc.
- User manuals/User Guides/Warranties – small kitchen appliances, lawn care equipment, etc.
- Memorabilia – cards, handwritten notes, photos, ticket stubs, etc.
- Old – any paperwork over 12 months old
Step 6: SET UP A SYSTEM FOR INCOMING DOCUMENTS
In order to keep your documents organized, you need to implement a system for incoming documents. We recommend that you 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. Deal with everything else immediately, putting each piece of paper into the appropriate action file. We have some more helpful tips in this blog post that will help you with putting paper in its place.
Step 7: MAINTENANCE
Paperwork takes routine maintenance – daily, weekly…yearly maintenance. You need to deal with each piece as it enters your home.Then you need to go through your files annually, shredding the previous year’s statements/policies when the new ones come. We have a great blog post on this with some helpful daily and weekly tips. Remember that most documents only need to be kept for a year. The exceptions, as mentioned above, are tax documents and your vital documents, like birth certificates and life insurance. Keep tax documents for at least seven years and vital documents forever. Always consult an accountant or lawyer to make sure you are covered in the event of special circumstances.
A Note on Paper Clutter in Kitchen
Documents can quickly get out of hand in the kitchen. We totally get it! Ayn-Monique Klahre, a contributing writer for thekitchn.com, asked Abundance Organizing for advice on paper clutter in the kitchen. She got a few nifty ideas from other organizers too! Read the blog post here.
Are you ready? Let us know how it goes! We are cheering you on as you tackle organizing your documents! For more support check out our Abundance Declutter Group on Facebook.