Are piles of paper in your home driving you crazy? If so, you’re going to love Day 12 of The 30 Day Home Refresh, today we’ll put some systems in place to help you organize your paperwork. We’ll go over what can be recycled, what can be electronically saved and how to organize and store the items that need to be kept.
Stop It At The Source
Stop the paperwork before it ever arrives at your house. Mail is a huge contributor to the amount of paperwork building up in your house (we reviewed how to minimize the amount of mail on Day 9 of The 30 Day Home Refresh). Switch to online billing for credit cards, bank statements, and utilities. Receipts also pile up quickly, opt for electronic receipts sent to your email when checking out in the store.
Gather Your Documents
Before you can organize all of your important documents you need to collect them all in one place. Check your home office drawers and grab the papers stacked on your desk or table. Check the piles of paper cluttering your kitchen countertops as well as kitchen drawers and baskets. Look on your bedroom dresser and nightstand. Also check your purse, wallet or laptop bag for important documents you are accidentally carrying around.
Divide and Conquer
Go through the stack and quickly organize into two major piles – toss and save. The items in the toss pile can be immediately recycled or shredded if they contain personal information. Things in the toss pile will include catalogs, receipts for minor purchases, bank statements, credit card statements, monthly loan statements, paid bills, and paystubs. Some of those are important documents – but they’re most likely available to you online (double-check with your providers before tossing).
There are a lot of documents that are important to have but you don't necessarily need to have the hard copy. Scan those documents, I use the app Adobe Scan on my phone but there are lots of options out there. The scan is so much cleaner looking than if you just took a picture of the document, plus the apps allow you to bundle multiple sheets into one PDF and upload it to your computer or cloud service. Be sure to back up your digital data. Some things you could scan but don’t necessarily need to keep originals of include annual loan statements, annual investment account statements, pet records, receipts for large purchases, vehicle or home repair receipts, warranties for appliances/electronics.
Create a Filing System
There are some pieces of paper that we just need to keep. Having an organized filing system makes it easy to sort those papers and find them when they're needed. Everyone's system is going to look a bit different but the keys to creating a successful system are making the files easy to access, keeping them logically organized and giving yourself extra room to continue to add new documents over time. Think about where you could keep the files in your house. Could you use a desk drawer? If so then file rails and hanging folders with tabs would work great. If you have some closet space to dedicate to the files, portable file bins would work well for you. If you'd prefer to keep your files in plain sight because you know you won't maintain them otherwise, then a system of binders on a shelf might be best. If the system you set up isn't easy to maintain, you won't use it. So if binders sound appealing to you, ask yourself, will you hole punch each item to put in in the binder? If not, you should get clear sleeves and fill each tab of the binder with empty sleeves so you can easily drop paperwork into them.
Everyone's filing categories will look different but here are some basic ones to get your started.
- Automobiles (a separate file for each car)
- Home Maintenance (contracts, warranties, receipts of major expenditures)
- Insurance (create a file for each policy)
- Investments (one file for each investment, 401(k), IRA, etc.)
- Loans (one file for each loan)
- Medical (one file for each family member, including pets)
- Real Estate
- School Records (one for each child)
- Tax Documents
- Vital Records (such as birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates, will, etc.)
You could have binders with broad topics and tabs inside each for more specific topics. Or large hanging file folders with individual folders inside drilling down to the specifics. For example, a large folder labeled School Records and inside, a smaller folder for each child. Or a binder labeled School Records, with a tab inside for each child.
Also, consider keeping a file folder for each current project in your life. These won't be papers that you need forever, just files for upcoming events and projects so that you can keep those items organized. For example, planning your wedding? A home renovation? Keep all of those documents together and then when the event or project is finished, the contents of the folder can either be refiled into one of your permanent files or recycled.
Keep the Routine Going
After you've set up the organizing system that works best for you, vow to actually maintain it. Set aside a little time each week, try sticking to one designated day, where you sift through the week's worth of paperwork, filing, scanning, shredding and recycling as you go.