How to Organize a Pile of Paperwork
Confession time: I have a weakness for paper. Whether it’s stationery, business cards, product packaging, or old pay stubs, I have a hard time parting with it because I feel that it tells the story of my life. Most of it is neatly filed away, but I’ve neglected incoming paper for a while and it has started to pile up. If you are also facing a pile of paperwork and feeling overwhelmed, here are some tips for tackling it.
Start by clearing off a work surface like your desk or dining table to spread out on. Next, grab a few sticky notes to label your categories for sorting. I recommend these six categories:
1. Action - These are time-dependent things that require some action on your part, like bills to be paid or cards to be sent. Put paperwork needed for future events here, such as tickets to a show or kids’ current activity schedules.
2. Keep short-term - This category includes items like receipts, bank statements, credit card statements, and cancelled checks. These things might be needed for reference over the next few months but don’t need to be kept longer than that.
3. Keep long-term - This category is the place for home improvement records, insurance policies, receipts for large purchases, and product manuals/guarantees.
4. Keep forever - You are hopefully storing things like social security cards, passports, birth certificates, military records, divorce papers, deeds, and wills in a safe place, but if you come across any of these in your sorting set them aside in their own category.
5. Shred - Anything that is no longer needed but contains sensitive information.
6. Recycle - Keep a bin handy for the things that can just go!
If you’re confused about which paperwork should be kept short-term or long-term, this reference will help. Remember that everyone’s situation is different and this is simply a guideline. Consult your tax preparer to determine how long you should keep things for your specific situation.
For your initial sort try to stick with just these six categories. Once your entire pile has been sorted you can break them down further in your filing system. “What filing system?” you might be asking! Here are two additional posts of mine that will help you set one up:
To prevent paperwork from piling up again carve out a few minutes a day (or a longer weekly session) to address it. Designate a home for your action paperwork so that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, such as a shallow desk tray or basket placed in a prominent spot. Remember, the majority of the paperwork we file we never look at again, so be selective about what you keep.
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