Paper Cut: How to Organize Your Paperwork
by Julie B Cosgrove
Computer manufacturers promised us a “paperless” society. Uh-huh? Even though we are totally reliant on our computers, they seem to somehow generate paper like the proverbial rabbit. Yes, some stores ask if you want a printed receipt or have it emailed to you. More innovative companies have gone paperless. They email or text you a statement, and all you have to do is click to tell your bank to send them the money electronically. Speaking of banks, they are the pioneers of paperless systems. Now you have to print out your own statements or they charge you to print it and mail it to you.
However, if you are like me, your desk keeps getting cluttered. So does your mail box, which gets dumped onto your desk or kitchen table. How do you de-clutter enough to see the wood grain again?
Take it from someone who has slight OCD tendencies—yes, I color coordinate my closet and alphabetize my spices—organizing your paperwork is as easy as eating a hippo. You do it one bite at a time. What do I mean by that? Simple. You make time to take care of all the papers you accumulate by printer, mail or hand delivery each day that day. And once you get the hang of it, it won’t take you more than a few minutes. Trust me.
Set a certain time of day or night to spend a few minutes going through the papers. Here is a neat acrostic for paper organization, thanks to fellow writer and friend, Karen Whiting. Do it F-A-S-T:
F-ile documents and important information
A-ct on bills and current information quickly
S-tore or schedule to-do papers in an easily retrievable manner
T-oss any paper not needed
So let’s break those down and discover how fast you can breeze through those mounds of pulp and fiber.
The trick is having file folders. Most likely you have a filing system at your work place. You need to have one in your home as well. You can purchase the standard manila colored folders. Or, you can go all out and get bright colored folders and assign a color to categories: blue for banking, red for utilities and house bills, green for credit card purchases and payments, etc.
How you “file” in the file folders is a personal preference. Some file front to back so the latest dated paper is at the end of the stack. That way it goes from January to December. Others file back to front so the most current is first and foremost. It is kind of like how you hang the toilet paper roll. Heated arguments at social gatherings can occur, so be careful if you bring the topic up in casual conversation.
Next is hanging your file folders. These sleeves are slightly larger than the standard file folder and have metal hooks on each end to go over a bar or ridge in a desk drawer. You know what I mean. The white doo-dads that snag your sweater sleeve. Hanging folders come in two sizes: letter and legal, which is longer. Most are an ugly faded evergreen, though you can now purchase colored ones ranging from pastels to primary shades. That’s up to you and your budget. All kidding aside, they really do help you organize. Hanging folders make it quicker for you to find a particular file because you can slide them back and forth and organize them by category such as house, car, medical, school, etc.
Your filing system can be the deep double drawer in your desk, or you can purchase plastic containers, roll away bins or cardboard boxes. Spend a few minutes browsing through your local container or office store for ideas. Pick what suits your space and taste. If you are a black and white person, go for it. If hot pink polka dots widen your eyes, choose it. Turquoise makes me smile when I see it, and thus the task seems less gruesome.
Act on it. Sort through the papers each day. Stack the bills in order of needing to be dealt with—be it by setting up a payment or corresponding by email, snail mail or phone. Some people get a slotted accordion folder with the days of the month on it.
Then once a week, go through the stack. I do it while I am held captive doing the laundry. Two birds with one stone . . . The trick is, don’t pull out the bills due on the fifteenth the morning of the fifteenth. Keep at least a week ahead. Then once you have done what needs to be done . . .
Store it away. Put it in your labeled files hanging in their designated folders. At the end of the year when you do your taxes, you will be glad you had organized files. It will really cut down your time. You might find you have an evening free you didn’t expect to have. A reward for organizing your papers a bit at a time.
Check with your accountant, but for most people it is a good idea to keep paperwork at least five to seven years. After you have completed your taxes, box up that year so your filing drawer has plenty of room for the current year.
Toss it. If it is not tax-related, there is really no sense in keeping it, unless it is a special drawing made by your five-year-old, a love letter or card from your spouse or other sentimental things. In fact, if you really get into this paper organizing thing, you can have a separate filing system for these precious mementos. Box them up, categorized by year, and once a year―on an anniversary, birthday or New Year’s Eve—go through them. Bring tissue.
If you log receipts into an accounting program, decide if it is really necessary to keep them. The less clutter in your life, the better you will feel. Just please, if you are going to toss paper, take it to be recycled.
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