It’s easy to become overrun by paper — it arrives in the mail, comes home with kids, and lives with us as memorabilia we don’t know what to do with. Paper piles can become a serious source of stress when we can’t find what we need and don’t know what we have. Here are some suggestions for managing your paper documents.
Tackle the Piles – Are piles of paper scattered throughout your home? I call that system, “file by pile.” It can actually work, but you must schedule time regularly to go through them. Start by getting them all together, and work from the top down. Sort everything into categories of ACT (bills), KEEP (reference or taxes), and TOSS (trash, recycle or shred). If you have trouble getting started, set a timer for 15 minutes. Here’s a free, 30 minute class to try if procrastination is getting the better of you.
Enact a Pre-emptive Strike – Control what comes into your home, and toss immediately what you don’t need. Junk mail is easy: throw it in the recycle bin. Not-needed papers with sensitive info should be shredded. Here’s what the IRS has to say regarding what papers to keep and for how long for tax purposes. And here’s more thorough guidance on different types of documents. If you don’t have one, purchase a decent shredder. Wirecutter recommends several for home shredding.
Develop a Keep System – For what you keep, I suggest a filing system. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Get started in seven steps or through color coding (not required). And, if you are challenged by ADHD, try this, although these suggestions apply to everyone.
Consider Digital Options – Going paperless is a way to simplify, but it’s not necessarily simple. You can get started by following these steps. Don’t save documents, in files or digitally, that you don’t need. You can toss receipts for things you won’t need proof of purchase for, paid utility bills, or ATM/bank statements after reconciling.
Keep a Sense of Humor – When you’re going through your paper piles, it helps to make it fun. Play some music, put on a show, or get inspired by the knowledge that you’re not alone in your productivity struggles when you read something like this from The Onion. I’ve often wondered how that “news” source manages to crank out so much funny stuff. No surprise, even they have a system which – like dealing with paper – begins with overwhelm and funnels it all down to the stuff worth keeping.