How to Simplify Your Paper Files

How to Simplify Your Paper Files

 

Organizing your files today? Or would you rather watch paint dry on a wall?  It’s seems that this is not the most exciting topic however it can be one of the most necessary in every day life and in emergencies.  Simplifying your filing and paper files includes knowing what’s holding you back as well as knowing what to keep.  Build your simple filing system with your strengths in mind.  Here’s how to simplify your paper files.

 

Assess what’s holding you back

What is filing for?  Here’s the first step to get clear. Files are your reference section to keep information to be used in the next year or so.  It’s not necessary to keep every piece of paper that comes into your home or business, especially if it’s not useful for you.  Be ruthless when it comes to keeping what you need now, knowing  you can use the internet, friends’ references, or other ways to get information instead of keeping extra paper.

 

What do  you need to keep and how long?  On Oprah.com, Julie Morgenstern has an extensive list.  Print this to keep as a reference while filing.  However, that’s not generally what’s causing a filing problem.  Instead it’s the articles on parenting, decorating, landscaping or other hobbies that keep holding us back.  Remember, that’s what the internet, pinterest, blogs, podcasts and google are for when we are ready to get started on a project.

 

Simplifying your system

What’s the best system?  The best system for you is the simplest way to move paper into a system. It’s also the best system for you to know where to retrieve the paper.  Categories are often the context that’s easiest to use in creating files. Whether there are for file folders, hanging files, notebooks or digital notebooks, using general, broad categories helps us file and retrieve.

 

For homes, these are the general categories I suggest:

  1. House and Auto
    1. Auto purchase
    2. Home Major Purchases
    3. Home Repair/Maintenance
    4. House inventory
    5. Insurance
  2. Financial (anything to do with money)
    1. Banking
    2. Credit Cards
    3. Investment
    4. Retirement
    5. Property Taxes
    6. Life Insurance
    7. Mortgage
  3. Personal (anything to do with people or pets)
    1. Medical Benefits
    2. Medical History
    3. Medical Explanation of Benefits
    4. Medical Paid bills
    5. School/University
    6. (Interests such as parenting, decorating, guns, etc)
  4. Work
    1. Work history
    2. CV or resume

 

For office files, here are categories I include:

  1. Clients
  2. Resources
  3. Vendors
  4. Projects
  5. HR or Employees
  6. Financials 20XX
  7. Expenses

Use hanging files for the broad categories and file folders for the subcategories. Use naming conventions, where the file names are created in a parallel way, in order to stay consistent and find documents.

 

Archive annually

Tax records for each year, legal documents such as purchase or sale of property, and final loan payments are should be kept permanently. While you only need to keep tax preparation documents for seven years, please consult your own lawyer or accountant to be sure.  It’s best to archive annually when you are preparing for tax time in the spring.

 

What’s left?

  • I typically keep mementos and keepsakes in a box, one box per person, in the closet of that person. A one box per person system also helps you limit keepsakes.
  • Important documents are generally kept in a safe or safe deposit box.  Here’s a list of important documents. It’s critical to keep these up to date each year. While you are archiving during tax time, update your important documents too.

 

Paper can be overwhelming and it’s always coming in. Always keep in mind the document’s value in terms of “shelf life.”  How long will this information be “good” is a relative value and you may be able to find information more easily on the internet or elsewhere.

 

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Start Small Go Big

Start organizing small, then go big

 

 

How can SMALL and BIG be used together for organizing?  When we think of these opposites, can we use these together in getting organized?  Well here’s how!

 

Organizing and productivity are overwhelming. The most frequent question is how do I get started?  Whether your view is a cluttered desk or home, it’s not clear where, when or how to get started. And what about the next steps? Is that starting with the small of units, like organizing your paper clips or the shoes in your closet?  Or do you go big with the big stuff? Here’s answers to these 2 important questions.

Start small

I love the question, how do I eat an elephant? Its the analogy I use most often in presentations.  Of course the answer is one bite at a time!  It’s in getting start in a small way that gets you started at all.  It doesn’t matter if you take a nibble at the trunk or the foot, starting with a nibble gets you started. Your nibble in your home could be the junk drawer in your kitchen, the floor of a closet, the shelf in a linen closet or the papers in your kitchen.  Nibbling can be an amount of time, like only 15 minutes.  A nibble can be a number, like picking up 3 items to donate.  Your office nibbling can be your inbox, a bookcase, or a file drawer.  Decide what small looks and feels like to you then set a date on your calendar to commit.

 

Go big

Look around at your home or office.  What’s the big stuff in your way?  We organizers call it macro organizing.  Start with the big stuff when you keep on organizing.  It’s not the time to launch into complex sort ing of your stuff. It’s also not the time to go to that shoebox full of small random items.  Work on the big stuff first.   Big stuff open up space. That’s the space you see and feel.  It’s the big stuff that helps you break through being stuck and you feel the openness of your space.  Take a big picture with your papers too.  What are the big categories you can sort?  Broad categories make it easier to work through tedious papers.

 

Is this a new perspective for you?  Have you thought you needed hours to organize and never started?  Have you walked about from your papers after creating an overly complicated system?  Here’s a new way to make organizing happen for you.

 

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3 Essential Filing Tips for Home and Work

3 essential filing tips for home and work

 

According to the Economist the average American uses the paper equivalent of almost six 40-foot (12-metre) trees a year.  That’s a lot of paper!  While we would ideally have less paper in our home and office, frankly we need to find great strategies to create filing solutions and more efficient strategies to find what we need.  Check out these basic filing techniques and tips.

 

#1  Know what to keep and how long to keep it

In the tsunami of paper that comes in your space, knowing what to keep is the crucial first step.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed so look to a resource to help you.  Every situation is a little different so start with your lawyer and accountant. They know your home and business details.

 

A detailed list of what to keep and how long is critical.  My favorite resource is Oprah.com ABCs of Important Papers.  Julie Morgenstern has a list that includes details about your home and work. For finances, I rely on Real Simple 5 Steps to Simpler Record Keeping.  This document focuses on your financial documents.  Between these two resources I find that your record retention is up to date.

 

While much of this information can be found online, it’s up to you to decide if you want a paper statement too.  In some circumstances you can save a PDF of the online document to your personal Dropbox account or on your computer. Be sure you are always backing up if you decide to keep your documents electronically.

#2 Separate your documents by how long you will keep them

Divide your filing into two categories: reference and archive.  Reference refers to document with information you refer to regularly.  These are documents that are up to a year old.  Archive refers to documents you must keep for the duration.  By categorizing your files, it’s much easier to keep up to date and much simpler to know what information is kept in what area.

 

Set an annual file organizing time.  It’s when you move files from reference to archive. This keeps your files updated and uncluttered.  There’s nothing worse than a paper cut from overcrowded files! It also reminds you what you have in your files.

#3 Keep your filing simple

The simpler your filing the more you file.  There are a few options for filing systems, depending on your style.

  • The 1 box method takes only a little time and effort.  Have a box in your space to drop in papers throughout the year.  Label the box 20XX and you are all set. You can go through the box as needed to find papers.
  • Notebooks make paper storage more accessible and visual.  You can assign one category of files per notebook.  It’s also an attractive way to store paper.
  • File drawers with hanging files are the traditional organizing method. Use your label maker to create tabs for the files. You can see what the titles are and drop in  your papers.
  • File bins can used for archive documents and can be stored in the top of a closet or attic.
  • Keep a basket for “to be filed” papers.

 

General, consistent categories make it easier and simpler to file.

  • Traditional Home Categories: Financial, personal, home and auto
  • Traditional Business categories: Financial, clients, vendors, administrative
  • Traditional set up for file cabinet is a hanging files for category and an inner file folder for more specific details.  (Financial drawer or notebook -> Hanging files Banking -> Bank of America and Compass Bank file folders)

 

Your file system is ready to go! Now it’s time to establish a weekly administrative time.  Each week go through papers and place those that needed to be filed in your “to be filed” basket.  Once a month or every other month do your filing. Make filing “fun” with a music set or while watching your favorite show.  Filing is like laundry, there’s always some to do!

 

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Hugs and Happy Organizing: Office Organizing

Hugs and happy organizing are client success stories.  Here’s a story about a client’s office.
Home offices are cluttered!  These spaces are jammed paper, office supplies, books and more.  Why not add more vertical storage to create more order.
  • Each different category of paper needs a “slot.”  Create a slot with a basket labelled for each  type of paper.   These categories can include taxes, small business, utilities, instruction books and other papers.
  • Create more space by going up!  With these additional bookcases, there is a basket for each type of paper.
  • Keep your desk clear by having a slot for unprocessed, unopened or to be reviewed papers.
  • Keep papers in notebooks or magazine sorters so these can be orderly.
  • Editor’s note: Our work together was done virtually!

 

Check out more Hugs and Happy Organizing stories here.

My Organizing Obsessions: Wall Pockets

wall pockets organizing

 

 

From a young age, I loved adorable small boxes, neatly arranged closets and all sorts of planners.  Of course these obsessions molded choice of my profession!  I’d love to share my current organizing obsessions with you  ~ wall pockets!

 

Wall pockets are used for paper management in your command center. These can be in your office, kitchen or other places to keep paper clutter away.  You can label these with different categories for your paper, such as To Do, To Pay, or To File.  For your kids, there can be one pocket per kid for incoming school or activity papers.

 

Container Store wall pocket paper management

Container Store Wall Pocket Charleston style

 

Office Depot wall pocket paper management

Office Depot See Jane Work Wall Pocket

 

wayfair wall pocket paper management

Wayfair Wall Pocket

 

Here are a few ways to use wall pockets and see them in action!

 

office with all pockets

 

wall pockets command center

 

 

Match  your wall pockets to the colors of the space.  Be sure you have one pocket per category and be sure to label your pockets.  Happy organizing!

 

 

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Paper Processing (How to make your paper disappear!)

paper management

 

Overwhelmed by paper and just want to make it vanish?  Paper processing is a way to be sure you are getting rid of as much extra paper as you can.  Check out these ideas!

 

Gather paper together mail, your kids’ backpacks, and other areas.

  • Set up a command center with slots for action, pay, file and receipts.
  • Set up baskets for your kids’ school papers to keep for a month
  • Process incoming papers 5 minutes each day
  • Create a weekly administrative time for one hour to process everything in your command center and file.

 

Kids papers

  • Once a month review your kids papers. Keep only what is precious.
  • Keep precious papers and art in a box in your kids’ closets, photo it for a photo book, or use a large portfolio to store it.

 

Annual paper review

  • Each February as you prepare for taxes, gather papers for tax prep, archive financials, and shred papers.
  • Group papers by year that may be of  more importance, such as medical explanation of benefits, credit card statements or kids school documents.

Going paperless

  •  Use PaperKarma to eliminate paper
  • Use Catalogchoice.com to eliminate junk mail and magazines.
  • Choose a scanner to move from paper to digital.
  • Include a To Be Scanned section in your command center.

 

References for what to keep

  • Oprah.com ABCs of Important Papers
  • Real Simple 5 Steps for Simpler Record Keeping
  • Ellen’s Blog Important Papers

 

More ideas for getting rid of paper in my monthly newsletter.  Join here!

 

Organizing Tax Receipts and Papers

 

scanning tax receipts

 

It’s that time of year when tax papers flood in. It’s the last task we want to do! But it’s much easier if we are organized. Tax papers arrive throughout January, February and March depending on IRS requirements. Many expenses occur all year that are tax expenses and deductions. If you have struggled with organizing your tax receipts and keeping up with tax documents, here are two options for you.

Paper Organizing

Many people have a designated location that holds their tax documents. It can be an actual drawer, a file in their cabinet, or a box once the year is over. Throughout the year, various tax documents arrive and are stashed in this spot. It’s a habit cultivated over the years. It serves you well as you always know where your papers are. Once the files are accumulated, organize them into categories and total them, possibly with an excel spreadsheet so that you know general total.

 

Digital organizing

It’s the 21st century and scanning your tax papers is the way to go. Not only can you scan tax documents in all year, you can track and categorize them. You can share these files with your accountant by sharing access to Dropbox where your tax files can be located. Tax information is easily accessible when you need it. There are lots of choices for scanning, including your ipad, multi-function printer, Neat Desk or Fujitsu SnapScan.  Keeping your papers digitally means you will never lose them.

Tax time can be less stressful knowing where all the documents you need are. Get started organizing tax receipts today to make this year much easier.

Your Most Organized Year Ever

Your Most Organized Year Ever

Each year as we start the new year, we think of ways to make a change and improve our lives.  Did you know that organizing is one of the top three goals each year?  Throughout the month of January, I will be offering 31 tips to help you have Your Most Organized Year Ever.  Implement just one of these tips, tools, techniques or tweaks this year.

 

Are your files jammed with papers?

 

Did you create an amazing filing system and never go back to retrieve anything?

 

Are you bogged down with too much filing?

 

Most of us simply want a spot to put a paper in case we need it.  As a result, we have a lot of folders with only a few papers and we put off filing.  Simple filing systems help you file.  Simple systems include broad categories,  like home and auto, personal,and financial. A simple system for monthly bills can include a box that all paid bills are placed in.  A simple system for monthly bills can be January, February,  etc. where you file all the bills by the month paid.  A simple archive filing system includes your taxes and home purchases in an additional file drawer.

 

Not sure what to keep and for how long? Here are two resources.

Real Simple 5 Steps to Simpler Record Keeping

Oprah.com ABCs of Important Papers

 

 

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Your Most Organized Year Ever

Your Most Organized Year Ever

Each year as we start the new year, we think of ways to make a change and improve our lives.  Did you know that organizing is one of the top three goals each year?  Throughout the month of January, I will be offering 31 tips to help you have Your Most Organized Year Ever.  Implement just one of these tips, tools, techniques or tweaks this year. 

 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by paper.

 

Incoming mail and papers clutter your counters, your bedroom and your car.

 

Your papers have important information and bills to pay mixed in with coupons, credit card offers and advertisements.

 

Get started on conquering paper clutter by trashing and triaging daily.  Triage your papers daily.  That means go through and recycle or shred papers that are not needed each day. What’s left are tasks to act on, bills to pay, papers to file and what is really important.  By triaging and trashing each day, you are ready to act.  Make this Your Most Organized Year Ever by working with your papers every day.

 

A visual array of ideas for working with your papers on Paper, Paper Everywhere Pinterest Board.

 

 

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Favorite Blog Posts 2014

It’s almost a wrap! The year 2015 starts this week. Thank you for your commitment to organizing and learning new tools, tips and techniques on Ellen’s Blog this year.  Here are your favorite blog posts for 2014!

 

 

organizing your add family

Organizing your ADHD family

 

3 steps to organize  your desk

3 Steps to Organize your Desk

 

14 productivity tips

14 Productivity Tips for 2014