On average, each of us receives 41 pounds of junk mail every year*. Much of this gets tossed into the trash, but what do you do with the the portion that needs to be attended to, not to mention the mail that isn’t junk, but that is actually important and needs to be held onto? If you’re a piler, chances are you have ever-growing stacks of paper around the house. If you’re a filer, then your papers (ideally) find their way into the appropriate file and can be easily retrieved when needed. This newsletter on paper clutter is intended to help the filers make their system easier and more functional and maybe even convert some of you pilers out there. Follow these simple steps to streamline the process of dealing with paper clutter by establishing a simple routine for setting up and maintaining your filing habits.
1) I’m often asked what to do with papers that need to be attended to “soon”. For items that aren’t ready to be filed (or don’t ever need to be), create a station for papers to be organized when they enter your home. This is where you’ll put receipts, coupons, pictures, bills, notices–everything that would otherwise pile up and become one of those things “I’ll take care of when I have time.” Many of us absentmindedly dump these items; instead, take a few minutes now to set yourself up for success. Think about a place in your home where it makes the most sense to put these items. Then, decide on a structure that works for you. I find a vertical paper sorter (shown below) works well for most people. Another option is a bulletin board; this is ideal for visual learners, subscribers to the belief “out of sight, out of mind.” The key is for your system to be easy to use and space-limited. The great thing about a desktop filer is that it doesn’t hold very much. It is a natural limit-setter, so you know that when it is full it is time to clear it out. Tip: Common labels for a desktop filing system are: bills to pay, coupons, to file, recipes, to read, and upcoming events. Another approach is to have a file for each member of your family. Below is a picture of what mine looks like. This is a living, breathing system. Papers don’t go here to disappear–they are used or attended to within the week (or month) and then either tossed or filed.
2) For those documents that need to be kept but not accessed in the near future or on a daily basis, implement a filing system. The key here is to create categories and labels that make sense to YOU. You’re the one using this system, so whatever you put in place needs to be tailored to you. (If others in your household will use the files, be sure to give them a rundown of your system.) Ask yourself, “Where will I think to look for this?” and then make the label accordingly. For example, I might look for my Geico documents under a file labeled “auto”, but maybe you look for it under “insurance”. Once you’ve sorted your papers into categories and established labels, the next step is to decide how you’ll arrange them. I recommend sorting files alphabetically. Tip: For larger systems, consider color coding by category, and then alphabetizing within. I recently set up a system for a client that had 8 filing cabinets, and designating a different color for each drawer (and thus category) helped enormously. Creating an inventory with the names of all of her files was another great way to help her keep track of what she had and where it all was without even having to open the drawers. Ready to enter the world of color-coding your files? Try green for finances, red for household, yellow for taxes, and blue for medical.
3) Remember the infomercial for a rotisserie-type appliance, whose slogan was “set it and forget it”? That is NOT the motto for dealing with your paper clutter. All your hard work on establishing a system for dealing with incoming items and for filing documents will be wasted if you do not set up a way to maintain your system. Ask yourself these three questions: “When will I clear out my desktop files or bulletin board,” “when will I set aside time to file papers into my filing cabinet,” and “when will I clear out documents that no longer belong in my files?” My personal filing system works well because I go through my desktop files on Sunday evenings (usually takes 10 minutes), file documents into my filing drawer every other Monday (about 5 minutes), and go through my files to purge irrelevant documents when daylight savings happens twice a year (less than an hour each time). To hold myself accountable, I mark these tasks on my calendar so that I don’t forget. Tip: If you’re unsure about what documents to keep and for how long, email me and I’ll be happy to send along a guide I use to make these decisions.
*according to the Center for Development of Recycling at San Jose State University
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