More and more I am hearing feedback that paper is the #1 source of disorganization and clutter. And it makes perfect sense because we have paper coming at us from everywhere--mail, newspapers, magazines, things the kids bring home from school, work papers, personal papers--it goes on and on!
Add a bit of procrastination and most people's dislike of filing and the result is a paper jam! Once it becomes your major organizing issue, it can become overwhelming. Most of my clients really do not know where to begin this type of project. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
If you are currently dealing with papers everywhere, try this for instant results. Get four cardboard boxes and label them "Current Action," "Current Filing", "Archive Filing" and "Trash". The Current Action box if for current items that need your attention. The Current Filing box is going to go into or become your filing system. These papers should be for the current year. The Archive Filing box is for any papers from 2004 and earlier that will be made into your archive files. If you are dealing with a lot of paper, you may want to make additional Archive Filing boxes and put previous years on them so you can separate them as you go through things. Continue to do this throughout your entire household, removing papers from every area where they have accumulated.
Once you have completed this, you will want to decide where your paperwork is going to be handled in the household. I suggest that all paperwork be dealt with and kept in once central location, i.e., a home office or desk area. Archive filing should be stored elsewhere such as garage, attic or basement.
After you are finished, you will want to go through your "Current Action" box and make sure you take care of any time sensitive materials. Then it is time to start thinking about your filing system, if you don't already have one. Keep it simple as possible and label things as you will think of them when you look for them. If you are looking for your car insurance policy, will you think to look under "Insurance" or "Auto Insurance" or "Allstate"? You can perfect this over time once you get used to your habits and what comes to mind when you are looking for things.
You also need to think about how to handle the future incoming paper. When the mail arrives, deal with it immediately. Throw out any nonessential piece, i.e., ads, credit card offers, catalogs you don't want, brochures, etc. Put all magazines and catalogs in reading baskets. You can have a basket for each member of the household and make sure you see the bottom of the basket at least once a month.
The remainder of the mail will either be items that you need to take action on or items that will be filed. Keep a filing basket near your filing cabinet for the "to file" items and you should see the end of this basket at least once a week. For action items, have a "to do" basket in your office or on your desk. Items should be looked at on a daily basis so due dates are not missed.
Action items include things such as bills that need to be paid, items that are to be entered into your schedule, i.e., invitations, tickets, travel reservations, meeting notices, appointments, events for children, etc.
Each document that enters your life becomes either trash or filing after it's dealt with. The key to success is to contain papers for ease of maintenance and retain only what is absolutely necessary.