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Paperwork: How to take control

Before you get to feeling like a book of matches would be the best way to deal with your paperwork, use these ideas to help you regain control.

  1. Reduce what’s coming in. Remove your name from junk mail lists, and think twice before you inadvertently sign up for more. Warranty cards, contests, and offers for free stuff are typically ploys to get your information and sell it to mass marketers. 
  2. Sort your mail by the Recycling Bin.  Until you have stopped all your junk mail (see above), much of your daily delivery is likely envelopes you’ll never open. Don’t let them accumulate on the counter!  Send them straight to recycling. 
  3. Designate a single location for incoming mail that makes it past recycling.  Set up an inbox and share its location with household members, emphasizing that mail does not go anywhere else.  (Let it be known that if it does, you’ll put the offender’s iPad someplace random.)
  4. Create 3 labeled folders for opened mail: to-do, bills, and to-file. Share this information with household members who need to know.
  5. Create folders for papers that you actually need to retrieve at a later time. One of the biggest problems as professional organizers that we witness when it comes to paperwork overload is that people keep papers they don’t actually need, resulting in more papers to manage. Insurance documents, immunization and health records, home improvement records, large appliances manuals, information on active projects — all these are things you should keep.  
  6. Create temporary folders for each of your active projects that generate paperwork. House renovations can be further expanded to a folder for each phase or each room you’re working on.
  7. Choose a storage method that works. Make sure that your box or file drawers are easy to use, attractive to you, the right size, and within arms reach of you desk chair for your regular papers. Sticky drawers, files in other rooms, and a storage piece that you hate to look at can all become subconscious barriers to working on papers. 
  8. Archives don’t have to be in prime spaces. Old tax records and other papers that you wish to keep but don’t need to access often can be stored out of the way in basements or garages, provided that they’re safe from rodents, bugs, and excessive humidity.  
  9. Scan documents for efficient long-term storage.  If you’re tired of storing and handling cumbersome boxes of papers you rarely look at, take the time to scan them and store them electronically instead.  Or, if that task seems onerous enough to have you searching for the matches again, hire someone to do it for you. Your personal organizer, perhaps even the one writing this blog, may offer this service or can refer you to someone who does.

Finally, one Bonus Tip: Once or twice a month, set aside time to review your paperwork and actually do the to-dos.  Schedule it on your calendar, and keep that appointment like you would any other.  Better yet, schedule it with a friend who similarly delays paperwork, to build in a little fun factor. Having a system like this assures you that you’ll keep up with details, relieving much of the anxiety that often keeps people from tackling their paper piles in the first place.  And if you’re wondering where you’ll find time to fit in this chore, that’s easy! If you follow these tips, you’ll spend far less time searching for lost mail, important documents, instruction booklets, maintenance records, and so on. Or as one happy client puts it: “Now, instead of having lists and lists of things to do, things just get done. It’s almost automatic.”

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