How’s the paper pile looking at your house? Can you see your desk?
When it comes to simplifying, there’s nothing more important at our house than creating a simplifed sense of order to the slews of paperwork that trickle in. We’re big fans of going digital – getting online statements and scanning as much as we can. Yet papers keep coming in. (Tell me about it, right?)
It’s taken a bit of work to create a system that works, so I thought I’d show you how we stash the papers in our house and juggle with paperwork in two different countries. Yep – there have definitely been days when we’ve had to walk other people through our filing system 4,000 miles away to get a receipt or certification.
Luckily, it’s going pretty well so far. Here’s how to make it all managable:
1. To start off, find out where you can take your papers to be recycled in your community. The key to decluttering is often thinking about what you can give. And last time I checked, nobody in my neighborhood was interested in taking my junk mail from me unless there was a really good coupon. So I like to have a plan for recycling from the get go.
If you don’t know where to recycle paper in your community, call the county dump, the rescue mission (they often hire men to run a local recycling program), the scrap metal recycling/distributors in town, local green companies, or the courthouse.
2. Then walk around the house and pick up every loose paper. You won’t believe how many papers get tucked away here and placed there. Pick them up. Put them in a pile. (I’ve mentioned this little technique for decluttering paperwork back in the day.)
3. Pull out your filing supplies and the stacks of paper you need to tackle, and set up shop (floor? table? desk?). Get rid of the obvious junk. You also want to get rid of the articles and papers that are interesting tidbits because if that’s all they are, they’re taking up space in your life. Every time you start working on paperwork and see the funny little joke because it hasn’t been filed, it slows your progress. If the joke is that good, share it with someone else. I like to have a little pile of items to send to other people. It includes bills and little papers to stick into letters. Pass it on or pass on it.
4. File everything. Just like with the little jokes on slips of paper, anything that doesn’t get filed keeps landing in the to-file pile. There’s nothing worse than a to-file pile that never ever is completely finished. Does your office have a pile like that? Probably not. So do your best to file everything in your home office, too. Set aside a to-do pile, but set a timeline for when it needs to be done.
5. Organize your files so you can walk someone through your folders over the phone. Juggling between life in two countries certainly means this is a huge issue for me. It’s also really handy when you’re trying to explain where a document is to your spouse. The best way I have found is to file by categories and subcategories. So for example, in the US I have a category called “tire house”. It breaks down into categories like “utilities”, “landfill permit”, and “rental contract”. Categories and subcategories are key.
6. The second key is to organize the papers within each file. I organize anything that I receive on a regular basis by date and tack them down. The newest item always goes on top. It makes looking for old paperwork really easy. But you know what I really love? When it’s time to get rid of old information, it’s super easy. All of the old info is on the bottom.
7. Scan everything you can and recycle the original. If you don’t need a paper copy, scan it. (Here’s a whole post on all of the ways that we’ve got digital.) Then make sure you BACKUP. A thumb drive/flash drive is not an appropriate backup. Burn cds or dvds or use a backup hard drive.
8. Actively eliminate junk mail. Call companies and cancel catalogues you don’t want. Put a sign on your mailbox. Unregister your name online. I’ve talked more in depth about how to stop junk mail. Set up a paper recycling bin right next to the front door or your desk so junk mail immediately goes to the recycling pile instead of on your desk.
9. Store receipts somewhere specific. I’ve done my share of receipt sorting, and it gets pretty tideous. What’s the point? We now keep all of our general receipts in a little plastic drawer at Martin’s desk. Receipts for business projects, house remodeling, and big purchase items (like bikes or the couch) all get tucked away in subcategories in our filing system. We just empty our fabric bags or wallets when we get home and put the receipts in the drawer, so the most up-to-date receipts are always on the top of the pile.
So you can see that decluttering paperwork at our house comes in two forms: getting rid of it and getting it all under control. That’s the peek into our drawers. How do you do with keeping paperwork under control? Any particular items that you struggle with? We’re all here to help. So go tackle that paperwork as we continue The Decluttering Project. And if you have any troubles or good ideas, leave them in the comments. We’ll tackle this together!
Psst… here are some pointers for how to file in Germany for all you expats. No manilla folders.