Does paperwork pile around you at home and office? Piles of Paper might mean unopened mail, and papers can lead to cluttered horizontal surfaces. There are many reasons for paperwork to pile up. Getting to the cause can help you create a functional solution. Conquoring these piles can be overwhelming or totally rewarding! In this post, I share an easy first step to Purge the Paper Piles.
Piles of Paper might feel beyond our control but they don’t have to
Many organizers, including Marie Kondo, recommend gathering everything by category. In this case papers. Instead, we are going to start differently. Before you gather all your paper piles its helpful to consider and identify how you got to into this situation. I don’t have those answers for you. I can share what I’ve learned from my working 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 wasn’t a good fit and you were unable to maintain it. This is often the case when people feel they “should do” something a certain way or learned a system on the job, from a family member or friend. This can be incredibly frustrating and lead to feelings of shame.
- Or maybe you never learned how to create or maintain a paperwork system, it’s certainly not taught in school or even at home (in most cases)!
We all have our breaking points. There are more urgent, fun and important things than dealing with a paper piles that seem so unimportant. We push them aside and make a lot of excuses for not getting around to them. Day after day, week after week and sometimes for years. When you get to this point, it’s easy to see how overwhelm creeps in and we don’t where to begin.
When we fall behind we tend to ignore what is present because we are worried about what is past.
Instead of going back through everything in the past, start where you are. In my experience if you lost every single paper in your house, there is very little that can’t be fairly easily replaced. Just ask almost any millennial, they live with very few papers. Most of what we need to keep can be replaced with a few phone calls and emails.
Before gathering everything in your home/office, sit down and open your most current paper pile of mail, receipts etc. Consider what mail and papers you have coming in. What categories do they fit in? Here are some general and sub categories.
- Household-Utilities, improvements, reciepts, 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
Make a list of YOUR categories. Don’t think about what you had in the past or what you “should have,” start simple. As you sort, consider going paperless with utilities, insurance, bank statements or anything you can easily access online. Consolodate sub categories into one general category. For example, one file for all utilities (to keep track of account numbers etc). Simplifying your incoming mail and filing will help create a system that’s easier to maintain.
Simple systems work best. Over-organized systems are cumbersome to maintain.
Before you purg past paperwork, create a “staging” area and gather your supplies:
- A file box or two depending on how much you have. I prefer 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. Don’t buy them unless you need to.
- Hanging folders are optional but they do make the job easier (recycled is fine)
- Sticky notes for temporarily labeling categories
- Pens or pencils (pencils for starting, sharpies or labels for permanent labels)
- Labels or a Label maker
Now pick up and begin to sort through a pile to see how it fits into your 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. Looking for a stylish, yet practical file cabinet or container? Check out my inspiring round up here.
*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.