Tips To Organize Paper

Paper is one of the biggest problems in my home and I’m guessing it’s a similar problem in yours as well. So much of our world has gone paperless, yet I still feel like I have more paper than ever before! Much of this paper is pure junk, but much of it is actually really quite helpful. That’s why I’ve looked at how I organize paper in order to see if there are any new things I could do to improve in the future. I hope some of these tips to organize paper will help you as much as they are good reminders to me as well!

  1.  Control What’s Coming In First. The first major area of focus is to see if you can minimize the amount you have to control in the first place. If you can lower the amount of paper coming into your home to deal with, you simply have more time and mental space to manage the rest. However, this can feel easier said than done. It may take a little bit of work to adjust things to have less paper, but it CAN be done.
    • See what you can opt out of. Opting out of junk mail can be a time-consuming endeavor, but you can request to not get credit card offers, mailers, catalogs, and coupon books. There are some options that allow you to opt-out of many things or a broad category all at once, or you may have to make individual requests. Here‘s a great article that shares how to get off of these mailing lists.
    • Cancel Subscriptions. Do you really need those magazines or newspapers coming into your mailbox? If you can’t keep up with them, or you really want the physical copy anymore, see if you can get a digital subscription, or just follow that magazine on social media to keep up with the latest. If you simply don’t need that content in your life, cancel the subscription altogether.
    • Go paperless with bills. Depending on your systems, this may or may not be feasible. For us, we need the physical reminder to pay the bill, so there are many bills we choose to get in the mail. Some bills don’t really give us an option for easy online payments (ahem, life insurance companies!). However, with our investments, we found that we were getting paper copies for every single trade we made. We were able to opt out of those notices, yet still get our quarterly statements on the accounts by mail. You know your limits and what is right for you!
    • Simplify your debt. When you have paid off certain debt, you no longer get statements each month for that loan. Getting out of debt has so many other benefits too, but from a paper management perspective it sure is a winner!
  2. Create a system for your incoming paper. Think through what paper comes into your home each day. This may be from mail or papers from school. In an ideal world, you would quickly sort these items as soon as you get in your home and process them in a minute or two.
    • Pitch it. Are there pieces in your mail that can quickly be tossed or recycled? If so, touch them once as you put them in your disposal bin.
    • Holding Zone. Do you have bills that need to be paid? Pieces of mail that need to have action taken on them at a later time? We have a desk organizer and have designated the front slot to be for bills that need to be paid. My hubby manages paying the bills each month and knows that that front slot is where he should look. This Holding Zone is a temporary home for these pieces of paper. It keeps us organized, and also gets the paper under control.
    • To-Be-Filed Spot. Some of the paper we come home with is there for our records only and no action needs to be taken. In this case, those pieces of paper can go immediately to a Holding Zone for paper that needs to be filed. I file papers once a month or once a quarter and let this pile build up in our daily life until I’m ready to sit down and file papers.
  3. Get smart with filing. Filing systems can literally take up an entire book, but here’s how we do our paper filing and what has worked for us. If you have something else that works for you, I’d love to hear it!
    • Protect the most important documents. We have a fire-safe box that has all of our passports, social security cards, marriage licenses, vehicle titles, etc. This box itself isn’t overly organized, but we know that the MOST important documents all live here.
    • Long-Term Files. Some files are ones we DO want paper copies of and will need for the longterm. These are things like the paperwork from purchasing our home, or our tax files within the last seven years. We keep these in separate storage bins that are plastic (to protect from water). We also try to scan these documents before we box them up, so that we have a digital copy if needed.
    • Tax Documents. With our various businesses and projects, we sometimes have complex tax situations. I buy a plastic accordion file organizer to keep all these different items for tax records organized, yet together. These tax organizers eventually go into the Long-Term File storage container.
    • Current Year’s Files. As I mentioned above, I like to file papers once a month or once every few months and I have a file box with file folders for the core aspects of our life (utility bills, cell phone bills, insurance documents, etc.).  At the end of the year, I scan these files so that I have a digital copy and then box up the entire year’s worth of documents to save for seven years. We save pretty much all of our files for that timeframe because I have my own business and work from home, and it’s just easier to remember that we have “everything” should we need it.
    • Scan Files. I like to scan our documents. While I know this may be overkill, it does help give me a peace of mind, knowing that if we had any issues with the physical copies, I have a backup somewhere along the line too. I like to scan all of our cell phone bills from each year together in one combined pdf and I do it topically. Some people like to scan all of the files from each month, which might be faster to scan, but harder to retrieve.
    • Shred. Once you hit year eight of files, you can start shredding. You also may come across sensitive documents that you really don’t need to save, but do have sensitive info on them. Keep that shredder nearby so that you can protect your personal information as you clean out your papers.