A Simple System to Clear Your Papers and Get Organized

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Who doesn’t need a simple system to clear out paper and get organized? I must admit that I still have a thing with paper. However, my office doesn’t have unlimited space. So, it is time for a purge. I decided to do a bit of research and ordered the book, The Paper Solution by Lisa Woodruff. To my amazement, this book is in hardcover. Who knew you’d need an entire book to sort out your papers! 

Woodruff is a big fan of setting up binders to manage your papers. In addition, she is opposed to filing cabinets because they are not portable, allow you to store more paper than you actually need, and what you put in rarely gets referred to again. As I said to my colleague, “Papers go to die a quiet death in filing cabinets.” 

So, armed with the information, I got rid of my large lateral filing cabinet in my office and transferred everything to 15 binders many months ago. Unfortunately, there is a big drawback to binders that I hadn’t anticipated.

First, it isn’t as easy to file items in binders. For instance, you have to find the correct binder. Then, find the correct tab to place within that binder. Next, you have to snap it open and file your document. This is more time consuming than simply putting a piece of paper into a file. On the one hand this could be a good thing. For example, you may be more likely to reconsider whether that piece of paper is really needed. On the other hand, it can be bad if you have a fairly tall stack of papers that need to be filed. Since I fall in the latter category, I’m mourning my hanging file system that was so easy to use.

Undaunted, I’m going to compromise and try a hybrid yet still simple system. I like having binders for certain things. Consider a household binder that contains paint colors, repair and service companies, appliance information, and the like. Having this information in a binder is handy in the house because it needs to be portable. I also like having a binder with plastic sleeves for each child to contain their artwork. But I prefer hanging files for the rest of the paper because it is so much easier to file and retrieve documents.

If it is easy, I’m more likely to do a task that I generally don’t like doing in the first place. In fact, when I married my husband, I told him that I don’t do ironing, house cleaning or filing. I now do my own filing since my assistant works virtually in another country. So, I can’t ask her to come over and sort out the papers. 

Getting a simple system that works for you is key. So, I’d experiment with binders before you toss your filing cabinets! I’m now in the market for a smaller, two drawer filing cabinet. I think that by keeping the space limited, then I’ll have to purge more often.

But what about a major purge? What if you are confronted with the overwhelming task of having to go through a deceased family member’s file cabinets that are stuffed to the brim with all manner of documents? A friend of mine recently suffered a series of deaths in her family. She recounted the story of how her aunt struggled for months to sort out the important papers from the rest. She is now on a mission to get her papers in immaculate order so that if the worst happens, it will be a breeze to sort out. Consider it a bit of Swedish Death Cleaning.

What’s the Easiest and Best Simple System for Sorting Papers?

The best, most simple system I’ve found is actually from Nikki Boyd’s manual, The Beautifully Organized Home Planner. This is a binder for keeping important family information in one place. Plus, Boyd include organizing tips.

First, you need a large flat surface upon which to work and sort. Next, put sticky notes of all the essential categories from automobiles to wills and work. Boyd has three extra categories for returns, purge, and shred. I recommend using a box for the shred items since there will likely be many. Now, pull out the key essential documents for each category and put them under the sticky note. For example, under automobiles you’ll have titles, auto loan agreements, and spare keys. Under banking, keep a list of bank account numbers, the most current bank statement (if you still get paper statements), checkbooks, deposit slips, and the lease and key for the safety deposit box. Under investments, include things like retirement and 401K statements, pension plans, and savings bonds. Lastly, continue in this fashion as you work through all the categories. 

I love that Boyd has removed difficult decision making by listing the categories and what you need to keep in each category. Most families have the same categories and need to keep the same key documents. The rest is ‘fluff & stuff’ and can be recycled, scanned to keep electronically, or shredded if it has any personal info. 

By laying everything out, you can see exactly how much storage space you really need. If you are missing a key document, make a note of it so you can get it replaced. Once you’ve pulled out the key documents, then you can place them into labelled hanging files in a fire and flood proof safeThis way, everything that is mission critical is safe and secure in one spot. All other documents are now discretionary and you don’t have to keep them. Hooray! 

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