Wednesday, January 26

LGO#3 Developing a Paperwork System

Do you ever feel like this:
Photo source:
Often, paperwork gets out of hand, because we don't have a system to conquer the mountain. Now that you've conquered junk mail (i.e. DON'T LET IT IN!), you are ready to move on to developing your paperwork system.

Now there are several steps to this process. It will get worse before it gets better. Sorry :-(

Photo source:

Step 1: Determine what needs to be filed and retained. I like to sit on the floor for this step, because it gives me the greatest surface area to spread out. I usually start with four piles - 1) To File, 2) Shred, 3) Throw out and 4) Recycle. Make sure you are shredding anything that has personal or sensative information on it, and invest in a good shredder. I prefer cross cut. Strip shredders don't really hide much. We actually shred anything that has our name on it. Period. May be overkill, but better safe than sorry. (On a side note, when I first started dating my husband, I had to draw the line at burying our shredded paperwork in the yard. We all have limits on crazy.)

Step 2: Once you have gone through your paperwork, and sorted out what needs to be filed, take stock of what you have. This step will help you determine what supplies you are going to need to implement your filing system. Notice that we haven't purchased any supplies yet. I'm a firm believer in the assess first then buy process. :-) Think about the goals of your system and what records you have. Getting out of debt? Maybe you need a separate file box just for bill retention. Have alot of medical issues? Separate box for medical records and bills. I happen to live in a rental that includes a flat utility fee with the rent, so I currently have no utility bills. So I recently revamped my file system to remove the utilities section.

Photo source:

Step 3: Determine what you will need to make your system work for YOU! I believe that paperwork falls into two categories: static and dynamic files. Static are things that don't really change, other than the occasional update (car and house titles, educational records and career achievements). Dynamic files are those that are frequently changing (incoming bills, good info to read, tax records). For my dynamic files, I like file boxes - like these Iris File Boxes from Target:

You may prefer a filing cabinet. Some people file in the flip top expandable file folders. I find those very difficult to use because I need three hands - one to hold open the lid, one to part the file dividers, and one to put my papers in. Ugh. On a side not, I try to not let my file boxes get too full, because it becomes difficult to file with two hands.

Inside my file boxes, I have hanging folders only. No manilla folders. I don't like manila folders because gravity tends to work against them and they slump down into whatever is holding them. Boo.

For static files on the other hand, I like to use three ring binders with sleeve protectors for documents inside. I have static folders for the following subjects: 1) investments, 2) auto ownership, repair and maintenance, 3) career catalog (more on this later), 4) home ownership, repair and maintenance. Three ring binders let me flip through documents almost like a book, which is nice when I need to find something.

Step 4: File system maintenance. Once you've established a system that works for you, the biggest challenge is keeping it up to date. In my delusional little world, I would file my paperwork every day. Never gonna happen. I basically pile it up until I get into a cleaning frenzy and then I file it all at once. But it works because I know that the paperwork I am looking for is either filed away nicely, or is in the pile waiting to be filed.

Some rules of thumb for file system maintenance:
1) Each file should never be more than about 1 inch thick. More than that, and it is time to either clear out old documents or create sub categories (each in their own hanging folder.)
2) No category should ever be called Miscellaneous. If you can't figure out what category it falls under, perhaps it isn't that important?
3) Stay away from paper clips. Paperclips are fair weather friends. The next thing you know, they've latched onto a new piece of paper and given something important the boot. Use staples (or clam clips) instead.

I leave you with the following inspirational picture from Apartment Therapy:
So lovely.

A few tips:
1) Keep it simple - when I first started filing my paperwork away, my system was too convoluted and I couldn't find anything. If I couldn't use it, I guarantee that my husband wasn't going to use it.
2) Make it fun - I like the boring plastic totes because they stack well and I can see things. But if you want some cute totes or you found and refurbished a great credenza (like Centsational Girl's Credenza: Practical Meets Pretty) - go for it! Trust me, if you think your system is boring and no fun, you will never use it.
3) Periodically clean out old files, otherwise your system will quickly get out of hand. I clean mine out once per year, based on some record retention rules (more on this later).

How about you? Any paperwork nightmares to share? Any great tips?
Have a great day :-)

Stay tuned for more Let's Get Organized!
LGO #4: Record retention - February 9, 2011**
LGO #5: Creating a career catalog - February 16, 2011**

**My life overwhelmed my ability to blog this week, so in an effort to spread good information, I am postponing LGO this week. Even though I love organization, I am disorganized at heart. (Maybe that's why I love organization)

1 comment:

  1. How in the WORLD did you get that pic of me at my desk? ;) I feel like that some days. Definitely need to tame my paper clutter better. It's so hard to find a system that keeps me consistent. Particularly when we're moving so frequently. Yeah...I'll blame it on that. ;)



Hi! I hope you've had as much fun reading about my adventure as I have had writing about it! I would love to hear from you! :-) Barbara

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