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Have you ever been so frustrated because you couldn’t find a paper you needed? Or have you felt so overwhelmed by the papers you have that you don’t even know where to start? Here’s how to simplify and organize paperwork in your home.
How to simplify and organize paperwork
I often hear from people that paperwork is their biggest challenge in trying to simplify and declutter their homes. Let’s walk through some practical steps you can take if you’re overwhelmed by the papers in your house.
The first step is to prioritize decluttering and organizing your papers. Working on paperwork is definitely not the most fun part of decluttering. It takes a concerted effort. Because paper is smaller you don’t necessarily feel the same immediate results from decluttering it.
The process can be tedious and take quite a bit of time particularly if you’ve been avoiding it for some time. Decide now to make it a priority.
Schedule time to work on it even if small increments of time. Dedicate yourself to the task and imagine how much better you will feel when the burden of paperwork clutter is gone.
Before you begin sorting, scope your paperwork project by the time you have available. Don’t take all the files out of your filing cabinet at once. Work in smaller sections at a time so that it’s not so overwhelming or chaotic.
Next, make sure that you are working in a space where you have enough room to sort the papers into separate piles. As you go through the papers sort them into the following stacks:
- Needs action
- Sentimental (if applicable)
Needs action means you need to do something with that paper whether it be to pay a bill, contact someone, etc. Recycle any unneeded papers without identifying information on them. Shred the papers with that information on them.
For filing, you will want to contact your CPA for guidelines on what files you need to keep for your records and for what length of time. Having a clear sense of what you need to keep and what can be gotten rid of is essential.
For papers outside of your CPA’s recommendations, be ruthless in recycling and shredding them. Be realistic about whether or not you’d ever refer to or need them for anything. If you’d forgotten you’d even had them, you can let them go.
If you tend to be sentimental, this is not the time to reminisce over the papers you are coming across. To simplify and organize the paperwork in your home, focus on making decisions quickly.
When you come across something that isn’t easy to make a decision on, put it in a pile to deal with after you’ve gone through the bulk of your papers. Decluttering forces you to make decisions and they get easier the more practice you have.
One question I hear a lot is what to do with kids’ artwork. There are various approaches to this. I had my kids pick out decorative boxes that they get to keep their most special papers in.
Other people love taking pictures of artwork and then creating memory books out of them using sites like Snapfish or Shutterfly. Personally, I would find many of these books to be additional clutter, but again what is clutter to one is not clutter to another so if that works for you, great.
3. Create a system
Don’t overcomplicate this. You want to create a sustainable organizational system for your papers like you would for other areas of your home.
Consider what makes the most sense to you. How would you easily find that paper? Create a system that you can maintain and that’s logical. To simplify and organize paperwork in your home, you need a clear system for where papers go.
I immediately sort our paper and have a small box where I put bills waiting to be paid. Items that need to be recycled are immediately put in that bin and shredded items sit in a shallow box waiting to be shredded.
Papers I know we need to keep are kept in a folder initially, but I make sure to empty it out regularly into our larger filing system. Our system may be larger than others because it’s very important to someone in our house to keep paper copies on hand.
To file our papers, I use a tall filing cabinet and hanging files with categorized file folders inside. I write on the file folder what type of papers go there and the year. Each year I use a different ink color to make it easily identifiable too. If you have fewer files these carriers are great too.
For important documents having a waterproof and fireproof container in case of emergency can help you have peace of mind.
Your system doesn’t have to be exactly like anyone else’s. What you want is to create something that works for you and your household. Mail sorters can be helpful, but you need to maintain it or it attracts clutter.
4. Start new habits
A large part of maintaining your new system is starting new habits and letting go of old habits. Practice the one minute rule with papers. If you can put it where it needs to go in under a minute, do it immediately.
To simplify and organize paperwork it needs to become part of your regular routines.
Procrastination fuels clutter. This happens with paperwork often because papers are small and initially it may not seem like a big deal to keep setting it aside. But those papers end up in stacks and those stacks can become paralyzing.
Create a system that makes it easy, and sort papers right away and you’ll be successful in keeping paper clutter at bay. Family members are more likely to get on board with where papers need to go when they can easily understand it (although, that doesn’t mean it won’t take some reminding).
Create your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly habits with paperwork to stay on top of it and prevent clutter from piling up.
5. Routinely re-evaluate
As you’ve set up these systems and habits make sure to be routinely re-evaluating whether or not it’s working for your home. You can create a process with the best of intentions but it may just not work for you.
That’s ok. Continue working to find what is a workable solution for your home. Generally simpler and easier is best in order for it to be sustainable.
Stop the inflow
As I mentioned earlier, it’s very important to one member of my household to have paper copies on hand so going totally digital wasn’t an option for us. That said, opting out of paper statements and storing your files electronically is great as long as you don’t end up with a digital clutter mess.
If you decide to go the digital route, you’ll want a paper scanner that can quickly save your existing documents. We have a similar model to this one that we use for saving some of our files. You definitely want the auto-feed feature for the time and headache it will save you.
If you want to cut down on the junk mail that is being sent to your home, you can fill out a form here to request to be taken off mailing lists. You can cut down or eliminate the catalogs being sent to you as well.
Let this be the year that you get on top of your paper clutter and finally simplify and organize your paperwork. A burden is lifted when you can find papers easily and no longer have paper piles.
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