People who know me really well are chuckling right now. Me? Trying to give you advice on your paperwork organization? It’s nearly outrageous. I’m the creative, artsy, right-brained, ADD, ENFP type who has never balanced her checkbook. Isn’t that what the bank is for? I’m posting this while my sister is out of town on purpose. She’s the organized one and when we were younger, I always wanted to trade rooms with her because hers was always tidy. I was convinced that particular room must just be easier to keep clean. Alas, every space I occupied was creative and unique but never organized. She’ll get a hearty laugh out of this post.
Here’s why I decided to tell you about my system. You see, I’m a stacker. I make lots of stacks. And as soon as I clear the stacks, I make more stacks. I adore stacks. Only when the stacks topple over and my water bill is late do I reconsider my proclivity toward stack making. And the truth is, I’ve struggled for years with my papers. One thing I know about myself is that if something can be made beautiful (and almost everything can), I will be inspired. I searched high and low for a system that could be pretty. After my extensive searching for something that wasn’t bulky, I found these acrylic boxes at, some pretty sunshine colored file folders and a labeler and off to work I went. With the help of my staff, of course.
In about six hours, I turned chaos into beauty. It’s a system that’s sustainable and requires minimal effort to maintain. And it’s pretty.
Right before the fire, I found this book that inspired me (I’m still looking for it in my archives!) and made me feel that even I could conquer the paper stacks. So, I got my system organized and then 2 months later, it all went up in flames.
It’s taken me this long to set it all up again but I’m so excited to know exactly what to do with every piece of paper that comes in my door.
Here’s how even an artsy, messy girl got her papers in order.
1. Create a filing system in a way that works for you.
I have 3 of these boxes: one for home finances, one for everything related to our rebuild and insurance, and one for important personal documents, homeschooling related materials and keepsakes.
In my home finance box, I have a folder for every bill I pay and for all our bank and insurance accounts. You’ll have to decide how many boxes you’ll need but 2-3 will probably be plenty.
I plan to keep things in this box for a year and then (copying my sisters’ method), I’ll combine anything important into a 2012 folder so that I can start fresh in 2013.
2. Create an ‘incoming/outgoing/to be filed’ center.
I use this acrylic 3 tier organizer and have a section for incoming/outgoing/to be filed. With this sort of system, you immediately have something to do with your mail besides stack it. And then when you find time to process through it, you know where it is. The whole, ‘touch each paper once’ idea is finally starting to work at my house. I throw junk mail away, put bills into ‘incoming’ and then use my smart phone to add things to my calendar that I need to remember, like weddings and birthday parties, etc. And due to my tendency to forget to look at my calendar, I send myself 2 alerts for everything I enter into my calendar. How in the world could I ever miss a dentist appointment, you ask? I don’t know but it still happens occasionally. One thing is for sure, if it’s not recorded in my phone with 2 alerts, it probably won’t happen. But, I digress.
3. Don’t be afraid to throw it away.
Trust me on this. I’ve developed a low threshold for throwing things away. Why? Because I lost everything once and turns out, you don’t really need that much. You can survive your life fairly well with very few papers in it. And anything you really need, you can probably get from the person/company who sent it. If you’re brutal on the front end, there’s less to process through and file and the chances are better that you’ll keep up with the system. In my case, there’s one very important caveat—-insurance. I have to keep every receipt of everything I buy so that I can turn it into insurance for reimbursement. But after I’m through with this process, I’ll only keep receipts for major purchases.
A few examples of how it works for me:
graduation announcement—add the date to my calendar and set an alarm a week ahead to send a card. If I can attend the event, I try to RSVP (in a perfect world) and if it’s a photo announcement, I keep those in a file folder labeled keepsakes.
wedding invitation—add the date to my phone (calendar) and even add where the couple is registered so I’ll know where to look for a gift. Set reminder alarms.
homeschool catalogue—I almost always throw them away because most if not all of the info can be found online.
I’m sure this system is way too simplified for you OCDers out there but it works better than anything I’ve tried and it seems to be sustainable. Don’t tell me about your excel spread sheets because I’ll start to convulse. There’s nothing pretty about that unless you think spreadsheets are pretty 🙂 I’m sticking with my cute little boxes and my smart phone.
Hope this helps my ADD, artsy friends to see a glimmer of organized hope! You’ll feel like a full fledged adult with a host of properly filed papers. I love it so much I’m contemplating converting to OCDism and buying a paper shredder. Heaven help us all.