Does paperwork pile up around you at home and in the office? Piles of Paper everywhere and no system in sight…unopened mail, junk mail littering all your horizontal surfaces. There can be so many reasons that paperwork piles up but getting through your paper piles can be either overwhelming or totally rewarding! Today I share the first easy step you can take to Purge the Paper Piles in your home or office.
Paper piles can feel beyond our control but it doesn’t have to be this way!
A lot of organizers recommend gathering everything together first, but we are going to do this a little differently. Before you gather all the Piles of Paperwork it can be helpful to identify why and how you got to your current state of overwhelm. I don’t have all those answers for your situation but I can make some educated guesses based upon my observations with clients, friends and family.
- A “Trigger Event”-such as an injury, death, move or birth put you off course. This event caused you to go totally off track and loose your system or maintenance of it.
- Maybe you had a system started, but that system may not have been a good fit for you, not everyone works well with the same system.
- You never learned how to create or maintain a paperwork system, it’s certainly not taught in school (in most cases)!
We all have our breaking points and for some of us there are more urgent things in life than dealing with a paper piles that seem so unimportant! We push them aside, figure we will have time later and we make a lot of excuses for not getting around to it, day after day, week after week and sometimes for years. When you get to this point, it’s certainly easy to understand why we are overwhelmed and don’t where to begin.
When we fall behind we tend to ignore what is present because we are worried about what is past.
What do I mean? Instead of feeling like you need to go back through everything in the past to get started, start where you are. In my experience if you lost every single piece of paper in your house in a fire or other tragedy, there is very little paperwork that can’t be replaced. I’m not saying it’s something you want to happen just that so much of what we need to keep can be replaced with a few phone calls and emails.
First (before gathering everything in your home/office), sit down and open only your most current paper pile of mail, receipts etc (today or this week’s). Think about what you have coming in. What categories do they fit in? Here are some general and sub categories.
- Household-Utilities, finances, insurance etc
- Medical-You & your family members
- Vehicles-loans, DMV/MVA info, insurance
- Financial-Banking, credit cards, investments, taxes
- Professional-continuing education, employment, resume etc
Next, list of YOUR categories, don’t think about what you had in the past or what you “think you should have”…just start simple. As you go through what you have, consider going paperless with utilities and bank statements or anything you can easily access online. You may still need one general category for all utilities (to keep track of account numbers etc). By simplifying your incoming mail and what needs to be filed you will create a system that’s easier to maintain.
Simple systems work best, over-organized systems are cumbersome to maintain.
Before you get into purging past piles of paperwork, create a “Staging” area for this project and gather your supplies:
- A file box or two depending on how much you have. I prefer the any that hold hanging folders and still close, like these. Bankers boxes will work, just don’t use the hanging files.*
- File folders-new or used, different colors or one color…just don’t run out and buy them unless you need to.
- Hanging folders are optional but they do make the job easier (used is fine).
- Sticky notes for labeling categories, these will be temporary
- Pens or pencils (pencils for starting, sharpies or labels for permanent labels)
- Labels or a Label maker if you have one
I’ll be back next week with the next step but if you get through with your most current mail and want to keep going, pick a pile and see how it fits into this new simple system. Depending on how long this first step took, you can estimate how much time you will need to sort and purge all your Paper Piles! If you don’t have a good system for your mail when it comes in the house, check out this post on Creating a Practical Command Center.
*Some people may prefer a flat filing system like the drawers below or binders, but for the purpose of purging I will focus on file boxes of some sort.