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How To Organize Paperwork: The One Simple System I Live By

Tired of those ever-present piles of paper cluttering up your house? This simple system makes it easy to keep it all organized!

You know that ever-expanding mountain of bills, forms, receipts, coupons, and statements that collects on the kitchen counter (or the microwave, on top of the refrigerator, by the phone, etc.)? I once heard someone refer to those tottering piles of paper as “denial piles,” and I couldn’t come up with a better name for them if I tried! 🙂

Paper clutter is not a fun problem to have, nor is it a problem that has a quick or easy fix (though, turning some of that clutter into homemade paper is a fun way to get the most out of it!) We all know that sorting through those piles is going to be a drag, so we’d rather carry on in denial and pretend the piles aren’t growing before our very eyes…

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in recovery, it’s that ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away—in fact, it actually makes the problem harder to deal with down the road! And such is the case with paper clutter.

But once you have a system in place to help you organize your paperwork, it’s not hard to stay on top of it! Today I’ll be sharing a simple system you can use in your own home to organize your paperwork and conquer those “denial piles” for good!

How To Organize Your Paperwork (And Eliminate Paper Clutter)

The simplest way to organize paper clutter is to divide it up into three distinct stations (not including the all-important important wastepaper basket!) These stations are:

  • Inbox
  • Reading container
  • Filing system

Let’s talk about each station one at a time, so you can get a better idea of each station’s purpose and how they will work together to help you stay on top of your paperwork.

Station 1: The Inbox

When papers of any kind enter your home, the inbox should be their very first stop. It will be your job to go through that inbox regularly and decide where each item should go next.

You can use any sort of basket or bin as an inbox, as long as isn’t too big. If your inbox can hold more than a week’s worth of mail and papers, it could easily get so full that you simply start ignoring it again. (And if you’re like me, that’s what got you into this mess in the first place!)

Station 2: Reading Container

Having a designated reading container is extremely helpful when it comes to emptying your inbox, because it’s the perfect place to store magazines, catalogs, and other reading material you want to look through later on when you have the time. You can use any type of storage box or bin as a reading container, as long as it’s big enough the magazines and catalogs you normally get in the mail.

Oh, and be sure to store your reading container somewhere you’ll actually use it, like next to your favorite armchair. (You could even store your reading container in the bathroom if that’s where you do a lot of your reading!) 😉

Station 3: Filing System

The final piece of the paperwork puzzle is also the most important: a filing system. The purpose of the filing system is to keep your all of your important papers and mail organized and easy to find.

Note: The reason I’m calling it a “system” rather than a filing cabinet is because you might end up with more than one location for your files. As you’ll see below, I have my files split between two different organizers. Whatever arrangement makes sense to you is a-okay!

File Folders

Your filing system will consist of several file folders, with each one designated to hold a certain type of mail or paperwork. I like to use hanging file folders, because they’re easy to use and widely available in fun colors and attractive designs.

Each folder should have a specific purpose and represent some segment of the paper clutter that normally piles up around your house. Here are some examples of file folders that I use. Feel free to borrow them, or else use them as a starting point for coming up with your own array of folders:

  • Each Family Member – Have a separate folder for each family member or person in your household for their school papers, important documents, etc.
  • Bills To Pay – A folder for bills you have received but haven’t yet paid.
  • Coupons – A folder for coupons, store circulars, and store ads you might want to use later.
  • Receipts – A folder to house receipts for recent purchases, in case you need to make a return or check the warranty.
  • Current Projects – A folder to store any paperwork related to an ongoing project, such as home repairs or renovations.
  • Each Month Or Quarter Of The Year – Have a separate folder for each month or quarter of the year to house anything related to a specific month or season.
  • This Week – A folder for any paper that requires immediate action, such as permission slips, contracts that need signatures, etc.
  • This Month – A folder for papers that require intermediate-term action. (Both your “This Month” and “This Week” folders should be reviewed weekly so you can rotate items as needed.)
  • To Be Filed – A folder for items you want to file away for safe keeping, such as paid bills, bank statements, tax documents, etc.

File Storage Container

Once you’ve gotten your file folders and labeled them for a specific purpose, you’ll need something to put them in. There are a lot of different organizers you could use for your filing system depending on your preferences, but here are a few worth considering:

  • Desktop Document Tray – This best-selling file folder rack has five tilted trays for documents, plus a bottom shelf for other desktop essentials.
  • Cascading Wall Organizer – Take advantage of vertical space with this cascading wall organizer, with six pockets and folders to keep papers easily accessible.
  • Plastic File Box – While this file box isn’t anything special to look at, these heavy duty boxes are built to last and easy to stack if you need more than one.
  • Linen File Box – A slightly prettier version of a file box with a slot for a label for easy identification.

I ended up using both a file box and a cascading organizer for my filing system. The majority of my folders ended up in the file box, while I use the cascading organizer to house some of the short-term folders (including “Bills To Pay,” “This Week,” and others.

Splitting up your files might make sense to you, or it might seem more complicated. Remember, the very best filing system is the one that makes sense and is useful to YOU!

Using The 3 Stations Together

Finally, let’s quickly explore how all of the pieces of this puzzle fit together. As new paperwork or mail comes into your house, it should go right into your inbox (AKA Station 1).

It’ll be your job to go through the contents of your inbox on a regular basis and sort them into piles. Make one pile for junk/trash, one for reading material, and one for things you need to keep.

Put the junk pile in your recycling bin, put the reading material pile into your “reading container” (AKA Station 2), and take the rest to your filing system (AKA Station 3). File the remaining papers into the appropriate file folders, and you’re done!

2 Bonus Tips For Reducing Paper Clutter

1. Go Paperless

If bills make up a significant portion of your paper clutter, take an hour or two to switch over to paperless billing for as many of those services as you can. The vast majority of companies now offer a paperless billing option that allows you to receive your bills or statements via email (and you might even get a small discount for making the switch!)

2. Scan Everything

Another highly effective way to cut back on paper clutter is to turn your physical documents into digital ones. You don’t need a fancy flatbed scanner or even a laptop to do it—all you need is your smartphone!

Apps like Evernote Scannable, Scanner Pro, and Scanbot use your smartphone’s camera to create digital images of your documents that you can save on your phone, computer, or the cloud. Most scanner apps automatically enhance the images to correct perspective and make text more readable, and some even offer text recognition that can make your documents searchable.

If you have an iPhone, you can skip the downloads, because you already have a powerful document scanner right at your fingertips! Learn more about the document scanner tool and other useful features hidden in the Notes app here.

How do you keep your paperwork organized?

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    Hi, I’m Jillee!

    I believe we should all love the place we call home and the life we live there. Since 2011, I’ve been dedicated to making One Good Thing by Jillee a reliable and trustworthy resource for modern homemakers navigating the everyday challenges of running a household. Join me as I share homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make life easier so you can enjoy it more!

    Every day I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

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