Every personal organizer who has ever answered the plea for help in paper management has seen the following organizing “systems”: the floor, the kitchen counter, the desk top, the entry table, the dining room table, the coffee table, the family room, the laundry room, the laundry baskets, the wicker baskets, the tote bags, the paper bags, the plastic bags, the shoe boxes, the cardboard boxes, the plastic bins, and my personal favorite, the dog kennel. When we’ve been shown actual filing cabinets, they are either empty or filled with buldging, toppling files labeled “miscellaneous” and “stuff”, which is right up there with naming all your children, “Hey You”. Anyone can answer that call including the neighbors next door whom you weren’t really seeking.
Ready to take on those papers? Think FAST: File, Act, Shred and Toss (recycle if you can). You may need large plastic bins with lids, a notebook, a shredder, a cardboard box or garbage bag, and some nice photo boxes or keepsake boxes. Put the papers you are keeping that will need Filing into the bins. In your notebook, write down subject headings ( insurance, health, pets, auto) as you go through the stacks. ( A personal organizer would do this for you and come back with the filing system ready to install). If you’re finding bills, correspondence or credit cards they go into an Act bin. Shred gets the shredder (to be tackled later) and Toss gets the bag. If you’re finding cards, letters, business cards, addresses and photos to keep, they each get their own memory or photo boxes. Organize those later, but for now, give them an attractive home. Remember, all you have done so far is sort; you haven’t filed anything yet. You may be wailing, “It doesn’t look like I’ve done a thing!” But you have. Those piles didn’t get there overnight; they’re not leaving overnight.
When you organize any space, you have to invite the “Ility Brothers”:
Visibility, Accessibility, and Versatility.
You want to see what you have, reach for what you want, and have space for something new. Hangingfile systems allow for more versatility;neatly tabbing and specifically namingthe files from the list in your notebook create the visibility; organizingyourfilesalphabeticallyorcategorically will give you the accessibility.
What filing system will work for you? Do you need your papers out in front of you, in a drawer, or a little of both? If you want papers in a filing cabinet, invest in a good one.If papers want to live right in front of you, then try portable systems for hanging files that could easily live on a desk or counter top. If you pile papers, then there are desk top shelving units and cubicles with labeling areas so you can name the piles.
Those “miscellaneous” papers often pertain to upcoming activities you want to keep available for some time later. How about a table top file with the months of the year? Clients who had their children’s school activity papers everywhere or have missed events because they couldn’t find the papers or tickets have found twelve folders labeled January through December to be a good solution. Since you’re dividing and conquering, file those papers that need some action into a specific month to act on them. If you still need motivation to act on papers that demand immediate attention or that need a holding place, a red folder labeled “Action”, “Check Into This”, or “Do or Die” might help. Itemizing your taxes and want a reliable place for all those receipts? A hanging file on your desktop labeled “Taxes” is helpful for quick pitching and easy finding. You can further divide and conquer tax receipts with manila folders labeled for specific categories (mileage, expenses, donations, etc.)
Let me end by sharing a secret: there’s a major slight of hand going on in the staging and makeover businesses on television. While you’re looking at the new couch and carpeting, the papers that were scattered everywhere are in bins in the basement or in the rented storage unit. Organizing papers is time consuming, and the results are not nearly as thrilling on camera as a new red dining room with chintz drapes.
No pile of paper will move and every pile of paper will become a mountain unless you actually do the filing. But with a system that is visible, accessible, and versatile, you can continue to give those papers their own home so you can enjoy the rest of yours.