How to Organize Your Home/Office Paperwork
The secret to taming the paperwork is to keep up with it, which is often easier said than done. If you have a slush pile already, first you need to weed through it and decide what to keep and what to throw away. Then you must organize what’s left into categories. Finally, you need to keep up with the paper flow.
Instructions and Things you will need:
- Pad of paper
- Pen, pencil, or marker
- Storage Boxes
- Garbage bags
- File folders
The easiest way to organize is to first cull everything that you can throw away. Start with junk mail and catalogs. Put them in your trash bags or recycling bins and immediately move them out of the area so you aren’t tempted to put anything back on your desk. Be ruthless — only keep what you absolutely must. Stack this stuff in a pile for now and move on to Step 2.
Next open any official mail, such as bank statements. Throw the envelopes and any advertising inserts in the trash. Shred loan offers and checks from credit card companies immediately. Resist the temptation and don’t even look at them. Then put this mail in a second pile and put it aside for now — but make sure to keep it separate from the first stack of papers from Step 1.
Anything that you need to keep but that you don’t need now can be stored elsewhere. Plastic bins work best, as they don’t deteriorate in damp basements or garages. Pack up anything that isn’t “active” and get it out of your office. Label the storage box clearly.
Begin sorting your official mail (from stack 2) into as many file folders as you need. Bank statements, credit card statements, utility bills, student loan papers, insurance papers, etc. Again, as you sort, get rid of any remaining inserts and trash or shred them right away. Keep the folders as lean as you can. Make a separate folder for “To-Do” items, such as bills that haven’t been paid or scholarship applications that need to be filled out. If you have a bright neon file folder, here is the place to use it!
Once your paperwork is sorted into folders, write on each folder’s tab to indicate what’s inside. Then put the folders away. A file drawer is best, but a vertical organizer also works well. Decide on an organization scheme: you can place the folders alphabetically, or loosely sort by topic. For instance, put all the bills together, then put all your mortgage papers and insurance papers, then anything else. Colored folders or tabs come in handy but aren’t necessary, although you might enjoy this task a little more if you can have some fun with it.
Put everything away. The goal is to get your desk cleaned off so you have a clear work space. Avoid piling folders on your desk. Take your “To-Do” folder and put it in the front of your drawer or organizer, where you can easily see it. Get a calendar you can write on and use it to record the due dates of bills, so you don’t need to pull them out of the folder and pile them on the desk in order to remember them. Alternatively, use software that helps you organize.
Make it a daily routine to look through the day’s mail. Pitch what you don’t want immediately. Open all the envelopes and file bills in the “To-Do” folder and write them on your calendar. Look through any catalogs and decide either to keep them for one month or trash them. At the end of each month, prune your catalog pile.
Tips & Warnings
- Sort through your mail immediately
- Keep tax receipts in an envelope
- Label all file folders/Watch for duplicate file folders
- Put papers away at the end of a work session
- Sort through stored papers once a year
- Avoid piling papers on your desk