Do you have a ton of paper coming into your house each week?
One of the biggest obstacles to organization is paperwork. Bills, mail, schoolwork, and other papers enter our homes on a daily basis. If you don’t keep on top of it, the paperwork can quickly become a mess! I hate these papers piling up on my counter – it makes me a little bit crazy! You, too?
(By the way, affiliate links are present in this post.)
That’s why I follow a system to keep my paperwork organized.
I have two simple requirements for my paperwork system:
1. Easy to maintain.
If it’s not simple and convenient (like super easy) for me to keep up with the paperwork, I’ll ignore it. That will make life difficult for me down the road (perhaps missed bills, missing school notifications, etc.). This is my motivation for keeping on top of our paperwork!
2. Allow me to easily find what I need later.
If I’m going to have to spend a lot of time digging through a pile of papers or a bunch of folders to find something later, it will defeat its purpose. Convenience is a huge requirement with any system and this one is no exception. When I’m ready to do my yearly financial snapshot, it takes just a minute to gather the paperwork I need.
Given these two goals, here is what my paperwork system is not:
This paperwork system is NOT 100% electronic.
I do pay most of our bills online and keep some “paperwork” online (more on that later), but I don’t spend time scanning in bills or receipts. I know some people do well with a 100% paperless system, but it’s just not for me.
This system is not picture perfect.
My system is not pretty. It’s so not Pinterest-worthy! I don’t really care if the paperwork is perfectly filed or all my files are color-coded. I hand-write the labels on my files. My planner may have too many papers clipped to it on any given day. Sure, a pretty filing system or matching paper trays would be great, but it’s not a priority for me so I don’t let it bog me down. My priority is simplicity: simple to file, simple to retrieve.
Here’s how I handle all that paperwork.
Incoming mail and papers are sorted as soon as they enter the house. This takes just a couple minutes daily and this way, nothing is lost or forgotten until it’s too late.
Papers go into 1 of 4 places:
1. Recycle bin
(When in doubt, throw it out!) I don’t usually keep the stray catalogs that arrive. Junk mail is tossed immediately. (Cut down on junk mail here)
2. Mail for my husband goes into a cubby reserved for him in the kitchen.
(Tip: recycle the envelopes at this step, too, to cut down on the paper.)
3. My planner
Bills and other papers requiring my attention get clipped to the inside of my planner. I also usually jot a note on my running to-do list to attend to said item. If it’s a bill that isn’t due for a while, I’ll create a reminder in my Google calendar so I won’t forget. I try to process any papers that need my attention immediately. This might be paying a small bill (via online bill pay), signing a permission slip, or entering a receipt into my budgeting software. If I can do it in a minute or two, I’ll get it out of the way now.
4. Storage (Temporary / Permanent)
At this point, I’m left with just papers that need filing. I differentiate between two types of filing – temporary and permanent.
Some papers need to be kept for a short time (a volunteer schedule, an invitation to a party, etc.) These kinds of things might get taped inside a cupboard (our fridge isn’t magnetic or I would hang them up there). Other things get tucked inside my planner until I need them or can dispose of them (usually during my weekly review when I take a quick peek through all the papers in the planner). Other papers need to be kept indefinitely. This includes paid bills, medical documents, receipts for large purchases, etc. These papers have a temporary home in a cubby right in the kitchen. (It’s got to be convenient, remember?)
When the cubby gets full, it’s a signal to me to spend a couple minutes filing these papers away permanently. I take the stack upstairs to the homeschool room where I keep a couple plastic filing boxes (like this). I can file the remaining papers in a couple minutes.
Now my system is tidied up and ready for more paperwork.
Just a couple minutes daily keeps this system running. This may sound like a lot of steps, but it really just takes a minute or two on a daily basis and then maybe 5-10 minutes once a week or so to keep the system running smoothly (and keep the temporary storage cubby from overflowing). Martha Stewart recommends centralizing your paperwork for convenience.
How to separate your paperwork into categories
To file your papers, pick categories which allow you to easily find things later and also keep things relatively tidy. I have a standard set of categories and I may add a new folder (and category) as needed depending on what paperwork needs to be stored.
My standard filing categories:
- Receipts and warranties– large purchases
- Receipts and warranties – small purchases (I only keep receipts I might want to access later)
- Medical – bills (separate by person if necessary)
- Medical – records (separate by person if necessary)
- Utility bills and papers (make sure you’re negotiating the best rates on these bills)
- Tax returns – current year
- Tax paperwork
- Mortgage statements and paperwork
- Homeschool paperwork (until it gets compiled into a portfolio at the end of the year)
- Home maintenance records
- Appliance manuals (kept in a separate box due to the sheer quantity of them)
- Official paperwork (birth certificates, car titles, copies of passports, etc.)
- Life insurance policies
- Car insurance, maintenance records, and registration paperwork
- Mementos – I do keep a lot of personal letters I receive – I have a soft spot in my heart for personal letters written on physical paper!
Papers I don’t keep
- Bank and credit card statements – I balance my accounts at least monthly and I can always access my statements online.
- Most everyday receipts – once I’ve entered them into my accounts, these are tossed.
- Catalogs – I don’t like to let this kind of thing pile up. I find that catalogs just make me (and my family) discontented with what I already have.
- Cards – any cards we receive are displayed in the kitchen for a few days and then recycled.
Keys to making this system work for you:
- Having a designated spot for things, especially one for other people who also receive paperwork in your home.
- Doing the “little” things immediately. It’s so much nicer to touch these things just once and get them out of the way.
- Having a reminder system in place for things you don’t handle immediately.
- Having a simple permanent filing system. A cardboard banker’s box and some manila folders will work just fine.
Some paperwork IS better kept electronically.
Keeping a lot of my paperwork and record-keeping online is a huge help at minimizing the physical paperwork. (Stay tuned for a future post on what records I do keep online.)
If this is you, you must check out the Ultimate Guide to Going Paperless by Abby and Donnie Lawson.
What about managing kids’ school papers?
I keep a selection of schoolwork for our homeschool portfolio. Two of my kids are now in school so I only keep a few of their papers each week in case we need to spend extra time on something. Any notices from the school signed right away and put back into backpacks for the next day. Important dates are marked on the calendar.
What about all those paper crafts kids create?
Um, I’m a terrible mom in this area 🙂 I usually tape up the one or two latest creations in the kitchen and recycle the rest. My kids don’t seem to care – the fun part is really in the process for them and not so much in the end result. If they have something they’re especially proud of, we might hang it up in their room, file it for keeps or just take a picture of it and recycle.
Household paperwork is like laundry.
It regenerates itself on a daily basis! Make sure you have a system in place to keep it under control.