Taming the Paper Tiger

Staying on top of the mounds of paper is probably my biggest challenge. Piles seem to grow when I'm sleeping!
If this sounds familiar, keep reading and maybe you'll get a couple of ideas to help. The problem with papers are that they are never-ending and changing. It's not the same as organizing a room, or even a closet.

That's the first thing to really have to pay attention to them on an on-going basis (preferably every day, even if it's five minutes!) I have read countless books and articles over the years but it seemed they were not much help until I accepted this simple (okay, and obvious!) idea.

I'm sure you've seen articles and books with elaborate systems to keep you know, the ones with the beautiful "after" pictures (does anyone really live there?!). If you work in an office by yourself, maybe you can attempt to come close to that idea. At home it is different, especially if you have young children. That "picture perfect" idea should not be your goal! (Raising happy, healthy children is!) Remember this if you tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. Many people have this problem and procrastinate until they have time to "do it right".

The key to having any success at keeping the paperwork organized is to have simple things in place-so that you'll do them! Keep an open mind when looking around at problem areas; don't be afraid to try something new. If you're busy with children, try to make small changes and stick to them for a couple of weeks to see if they'll work. It's probably not a good idea to gut your office area and try to start over! Yes, they do it on TV, but they have a team of people to help, and someone is watching the kids!

Every person is different, their house is different, the stages of their families are different...that is why there is no "right" way.

For example, how do you keep track of appointments, activities, school forms, birthdays, etc.? Is it working for you? Could it be improved? Some people use day-timers, some prefer electronic methods, hand written on calendars, etc. You might try a couple of ideas that appeal to you.

I have tried different ways; for me I find it best to use a calendar with large squares on the refrigerator. I write in pencil (I don't use different colors for different kids but some people do. Since mine are young I'll be driving them and want to see everything for that day.) Everyone can see it, and I include reminders such as which days my son has to bring his instrument to school, etc. I try to get rid of papers as soon as possible. If there's a paper that has a class trip or other info, after I send in the permission slip or $ I mark it on the calendar (inc. pd., bring lunch, etc.) and the rest of the paper can go in the blue bin. I do write (in red pen)birthdays, anniversaries, etc. on the top of the squares. I have a large magnetic clip on the refrigerator next to the calendar for those "pending" things, reminders to send something to school, activities coming up we may or may not do; sort of a short-term file. If I was to file them away, I'd forget about them!

organize file cabinet

organize at home

What about your file system? Can that be improved/made easier for you? At one time I set up a small area for an office in an out of the way room. It looked great! Nice neat files, etc. But it was so out of the way I didn't use it! My kitchen became piled with notes from calls, school work, bills, things to be get the idea. So what could I do? Well, most of "paperwork" time was obviously in the kitchen since that's where it all ended up. So I moved the file cabinet to the kitchen! Ok, so maybe the files weren't in my original plan of what the kitchen would look like, but neither were the piles! Is your system convenient to use? Could there be a better way? If there isn't room for a file cabinet where you'd like it, you could try a small portable file tote that can be left on the counter or even tucked in a cabinet.

What about how you are filing? Are you making it more complicated than it needs to be? Years ago I filed everything in separate folders. Each bill/company got it's own folder. It looked great until I got too busy "to file" and they piled up. Guess what? You don't need to do that! (That was a small revelation for me!) So now I have a "Bills" folder where all the incoming bills go, and right behind it is a "Paid" (w/ the yr.); after I pay a bill, I can easily put the statement into the pd. folder. In front of both of those I have a folder where I keep some envelopes, address labels, and stamps. I can pull that out easily when I pull out the bills folder.

One common problem is the little "miscellaneous" type things. The trick is to find a place for each thing that collects. For example,
-Do you collect stuff for school, like box tops or labels? Tape an envelope w/ the flap cut off to the inside of a cupboard. Put a sandwich bag in it to deposit items. When you're ready, pull out the bag and send it in.
-Always finding stray game pieces, battery backs to, um, something!? Use a small basket or container (how about one of those coil bowls the kids made in art class; they'd love to see it used!) to corral them. That way you don't stop what you're doing and get side-tracked.
-Scraps of paper with phone numbers, etc.? Here is what I did: I bought a phone address book that is the binder type so you can add/remove pages. It's small, maybe 6x8 or so. In the front I put dividers of different colors for each child. We put their friends phone numbers in there (doesn't have to be in order really). Then I can write things in there-parents names (am I the only one who can't remember all the names?!), addresses (great for party invitations etc.), and as they get older if the child has a cell phone I make a note of that too. Now the kids and I have an easy way to find information!

Behind their info I have a divider with commonly used numbers such as doctors, hair salon, car repair, library info with hours of operation, etc. I have, in the past, written that on a back page of a calendar. That works well too if you have one.
What to you do with all those manuals that come with everything? I have seen some use notebooks with top loading sleeves and dividers. Actually I tried it once. I think it's more work than is necessary. The first thing to remember is you'll likely never look at them again (maybe with the exception of some big ticket items like appliances). The second thing to think about is most of the information can be found online. More and more companies are making their manuals online anyway. We recently got a new camera and the manual basically told us the main parts and told us to go online for directions on how to use it (although it told us that in several languages!) So now I just use an accordian type file.