Pandemic Paper Purge Part 2

Last month we talked about cleaning up some of the paper piles that you have been collecting and reducing the amount of paper you hold onto “just in case.” I hope that you are feeling lighter by now and can focus on reducing the number of places you keep the remaining papers so you can find what you need when you need it. If you didn’t finish, that’s okay but try to deal with all the paper that is coming into your home each day. Don’t wait until you have cleared out the backlog as that is an ongoing process, not one that can be done quickly.

Three Kinds of Paper

  1. The first group of papers are the irreplaceable ones. The social security cards, the deed to the house, the title for your car, your marriage license, passports, etc. Sure, you could probably figure out how to get a replacement but it wouldn’t be easy. This can include sentimental memorabilia and specialty items. Not photos though, they have their own storage needs.
  2. Then there are the bills – if anyone except me still gets paper bills - that need to be “touched” at least monthly or quarterly in the case of property tax or water bills. These are short term papers. The receipt for those gloves you bought but haven’t worn them enough to know if you really want to keep them. The utility bills, receipts for things you have purchased or papers from school. This category also includes the things you are thinking about purchasing and the fliers you want to review before recycling. Keeping magazines and catalogs in this category avoids the year long pile up that can occur.
  3. Lastly, there are long term storage These papers don’t need to be accessed for a year or more. This is where tax records, and warranty information and manuals live (if you tend to keep that kind of stuff).

Where to Store?

For Irreplaceable Items: These items should be stored in a fireproof, waterproof, portable container in case you need to leave your house in a hurry. You might want to put copies of your credit card information, your license and health care cards, doctors’ names and contact information in there too. Think of the things you would need if you had to leave your home and make sure those things (or copies of them) are in there.

Short term papers: I am sure you have one spot for all the bills – you do, don’t you? It can be wherever you want it to be, but all bills and short-term papers need to go there and no where else. No one wants to scour the whole house looking for that property tax bill that came two months before it was due. Some clients have set up “command centers” using a hanging file box and different folders for action, bills, school schedules, receipts, etc. I have a set of cubbies over the desk in the kitchen – best idea ever! Wherever you decide to keep them, keep all of the papers there so you only need to look in one place. If you are crafty though and keep a lot of ideas for future projects, you might want to set up a space to keep all that stuff together as well. Take the time to label things in broad categories so you don’t need to go through the whole drawer to find one pattern. Magazines and catalogs you want to go through can also be contained in a basket or bin. When the next one comes in – the first one goes out.

Long term Storage: This storage should be out of the way but still easy to get to. You don’t want it taking up valuable space in a closet when it can stay safely in a plastic box in the attic or a dry basement. As your kids grow, this may also be the space you put there most treasured items. Be sure to use an archival box to protect them. I hesitate to even mention warranty booklets – most are available online so there is no need to hold onto them. Think about how many times you have actually had to use one of them. Was it worth holding onto? The biggest problem with long term storage is it mostly likely will not get looked at again. Every year though when you go to put your tax documents away you can take out the documents from 4 years ago and shred them. If you are getting electronic copies, you can delete them too. The records your computer is holding also need to be gone through and/or put into folders that have broad categories with very specific file names. Computer documents are a whole newsletter on their own. I mention them because the push now is to scan copies and shred the paper copies in order to reduce the paper in your home. If you do that, be sure to tag them and use specific file names so you can find what you are looking for.

How Much is Enough?

You will need to decide how much paper you feel you “must” hold onto. Ask yourself can it be replaced, what is the worst that could happen if I don’t have this and seriously will I ever get to this project? Then decide where to keep it. If you have storage already set up, be sure to go through and purge what you can before adding in the new.  (Photos and memorabilia should have their own home). It is an investment in time for sure, but when you need something and can go directly to the cabinet to get it – you will feel so proud of the effort you put in.

Get started now – don’t leave it all for your kids to go through????

PS Don’t forget to shred anything with your name or identifying information on it. Identity theft happens. Good luck!

Clutter Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Pandemic Paper Purge Part 1

Last week we gathered together all the papers needed to fill out the tax organizer we received from our tax accountant for filing our Income taxes. You know the property tax receipts, the charitable giving receipts, the tax documents that come in the mail, etc. All of it pretty well categorized and easily accessible. Then it happened….I needed one receipt from a purchase two years ago that I hoped was in the supporting documents from that year-but it wasn’t.

The Search Begins

Being somewhat organized I first searched Quicken. If it had been charged, it would have shown up there – but it didn’t. Not in the receipt file either and that got me thinking (and fuming) about all the places I tend to keep “important papers.” How about you; do you keep papers “just in case” or “to read later?” Take a look around, how many different places do you have for those papers? Often, we tend to hold onto papers just in case we might need them later. I don’t believe we will ever be totally paperless but I am sure if you took a look at the papers you are saving – you may find some that can go.

What to Look For

Only you know where you have been “storing” paper so look around and check for:

  1. Warranty and Instruction manuals (still own it? Is the manual online?)
  2. Recipes you will never try (If you haven’t made them this year, what are the odds?)
  3. Helpful articles (health, organizational, inspirational, etc.)
  4. Bill receipts (the last year or more is available online – once it’s paid let it go)
  5. Tax records and supporting documentation from 2012 or earlier (CPA told me keep for 7 years)
  6. Kids’ artwork (can’t save it all be selective)
  7. Coupons – be serious will you use them?
  8. Junk Mail and Flyers (immediately into the recycle or shred)

Once you get rid of the backlog of papers you no longer need, you will want to focus on what to do with the important papers. Any system should follow the KISS philosophy of Keep it Super Simple. The first step is to consolidate those papers into categories. Some possible categories might be: taxes, reference, memorabilia, long term storage (birth certs, SS cards, titles, etc.) and of course your “might want this later” pile too. You’ll need to do the same thing with your digital files. Set up folders with specific names so there is no question what belongs in each folder. What can be scanned and kept rather than physically kept?

Look at all the places that you keep paper and try to decide the fewest number of possible places to store them. Just because you have a file cabinet, doesn’t mean it needs to be full. All the important (difficult to replace) papers need to be in one place – just in case you need them in a hurry. So, spend some time purging and grouping and then next month we will discuss how to retrieve this info you are saving.

As for me, I am still searching for that receipt – stay tuned.

Files, Files Everywhere!

file-drawerHopefully, by now your taxes are done. You’ve been through your files locating all pertinent information and now is a good time to clear out any left over paper clutter. Eighty percent of the paper that gets filed is never looked at again. Go through each file folder and weed out those papers you no longer need. For a list of what to keep for tax purposes and for time limits, go to

The information you used for your taxes should be labeled and kept in a separate place with the previous tax years’ information. Were your files specific enough to make locating tax information quick and painless? If not, add more file folders within hanging file folder categories. Label clearly (Label makers are great for this) and place all hanging file folder tabs on one side. Be sure the tabs are attached to the front of the hanging folder so that when you pull it towards you, the file you need opens up. Whether you file current things in front of the file or at the back is up to you.

Files can also be helpful for holding warranty information, personal hobby information, club information and project information. Those files you use weekly (ex. bill statements, pay stubs etc.) should be within arm’s reach of your desk, those used less often can be in other parts of the room. Tax information can be stored elsewhere as long as it is protected from damage. Take action and make next year’s tax process easier with effective files.

Papers, Papers, Everywhere – But Not the One I Need!

papersFamilies are bombarded with papers and mail every day. It never really stops and at this time of the year, there is also the added burden of finding the papers necessary to prepare the taxes. So, how do you keep up with the papers, handle them and find the important ones when you need them? This newsletter offers several solutions based on your paper personality. Which of the three paper personalities are you?

The “pilers” are the ones that make piles of this and that but leave them in the busy zones of the home and so they get relocated and re-piled over and over. The kitchen table and counter are two of the most popular landing zones for the mail and incoming school papers. Problem is when the table or counter is needed the pile is moved to another spot, or several piles are combined. With this method, all the papers need to be looked at to find the one you need. Are you a “piler?”

The “collectors” have a spot for papers and put all papers whether important or unimportant in that place. It may be a desk, small table or the corner of a counter, but all papers are dropped there. To find a specific paper they need to go through the entire pile – but at least all the papers are in one place. Are you a “collector?”

The “filers” separate their papers and put them in different places depending on their function. Bills go in one place, action items in another, magazines in another etc. Based on what they are looking for they know where to look. The problem with this system is that although the papers are in their “spot” there is no designated time to take care of the papers, bills, or action items.

Whether you pile, collect or file your papers, you need to ask yourself if it is working for you. Can you find what you need quickly and easily? Do the action items get handled in a timely manner or do some things fall through the cracks? If you answered “no” to either question, keep reading to find three solutions to get those papers under control.

desktop-fileA Desktop File can serve as a command center and is easily adapted to suit individual needs. It is easy to carry, keeps all papers contained and has hanging file folders labeled to fit your family’s needs. Some typical file categories are: bills, action or to do, to file, project title, tax info, and/or family member names. For example, when the mail comes in, it is sorted into the bills and action folders. What is left is usually to read or junk mail. With folders for each family member you can keep important information handy. Sports schedules, class lists, current sizes, the information on the upcoming field trip, whatever you need to be able to access for your child, spouse or self all contained in one place.

A Family Notebook is a three ring binder outfitted with plastic dividers with pockets and page protector pockets designed for your family’s needs. Use the dividers to categorize things such as family members, dining, town information, sports schedules, etc. Put your favorite take out menus in page protectors, put your child’s sports practice schedule in a page protector, put that upcoming field trip information in the front pocket of the divider with your child’s name on it so it is easily accessible. This works well for school and town information and those sheets of information you have to hold onto for a season or a school year. This won’t handle all your papers though so I suggest using “in” boxes or bins for each family member and two extras bins; one for bills and one for the rest of the mail. In case you can’t sort through all the mail or incoming paper at that moment, place it all in one “in” box and it will stay contained until you have the time to deal with it.

There are also various types of Mail sorters that can be used for papers. Find one you like with enough slots or dividers for what you need. Label the dividers so that anyone can sort the mail into the right category. The main thing is to separate the bills and action items from the rest of the mail. Each family member can also have a slot for their important papers.

Remember to go through each of these systems weekly to pay the bills and handle the action items. Then there is the question of what to do with your child’s papers. Check out my blog for tips on handling the three types of papers your child brings home.