Our paper has been a total mess lately, and I’m so excited to get things back in order again. I recently polled my Instagram followers and learned that the paper category is where most people struggle! I wasn’t too surprised because paper is one of the only things that inundates our home daily! When you think about junk mail, greeting cards, bills, kids’ artwork, printed recipes, etc., paper can easily become exhausting to handle without a plan. It also means that creating paper systems can have a huge impact on your daily life! In this post, you’ll learn how to divide your paper into categories, what to keep, what to toss, and when scanning is appropriate.
If you’ve followed along for a while, you may know that my family and I moved about 3 times in the past year and a half. We have two kids and three businesses, so we have a lot of paper. All of the paper systems I created in our previous home vanished as we moved and split our time between two places during the transition. I didn’t always have access to my paper files, so as new documents came in, they often got stuffed into whatever folder I could find to be sorted later. My in-home office space was completed this summer, and it’s finally time to create those systems again!
4 Steps to Organizing Paper
Step 1: Sort
Just like any other category, you must sort the papers into like categories to see what you have. The true KonMari Method™ would not combine business and personal papers in a tidying session, but since I’m working with myself, I get to make my own rules! My categories are a little complicated because we have multiple businesses.
First I divided the papers into the broad categories listed below.
Within those broad categories, I sorted based on how often I need the documents and possibly a few other subcategories.
Step 2: Keep vs Discard
Do not throw away anything that could be legally or financially important without consulting your CPA or attorney.
Generally speaking, my paper disorganization stemmed from papers not having a proper home rather than me keeping too much. A year of stuffing papers in random folders really creates a mess! I went through every single sheet to make sure, and I was surprised at how much I could toss because it wasn’t important anymore. Your way of evaluating will be different than mine, so I’ve included some questions to ask yourself as you go through your piles of paper.
Is it expired or out of date?
Will I actually reference this material again?
Can I find this information easily online?
Is it something I can digitize?
Have I discussed it with my CPA or attorney?
Step 3: Storage
My storage setup is fairly simple. 90% of our papers live in a file drawer in my office. The pending items (usually kids' school papers) go on the bulletin board in our pantry, the frequently accessed items are in the file drawer, and the infrequently accessed items (passports, birth certificates) are in our safe or the attic (tax returns and supporting documents). I will have a post soon on all kinds of more specialized paper storage solutions. In the meantime, store papers based on how frequently you access them. The more frequently they are accessed, the more accessible they should be.
Step 4: Systems
It’s so important to create systems for incoming paper. I’ve listed my systems below as examples but create yours to work for you.
Junk mail gets tossed in the recycling bin outside and never even makes it inside. Most catalogs get recycled immediately also.
Paper Bills go in a specific place in a specific drawer. I use the drawer daily, so it's almost impossible to forget to pay them.
Invitations are added to my calendar and pinned to the bulletin board in the pantry.
Kids’ artwork and school work either get displayed, tossed, or put in the homework drawer. (Here's a link to info on our homework drawer.)
Kids’ notes from school are pinned to the bulletin board or tossed after I add information to my calendar if needed. Sometimes I'll snap a picture of it just in case I need it.
I try to handle things as quickly as possible. I also try to have systems or routines for where things go, so that other people know where to find them and so that those items don’t end up being stacked to be handled later.
A word about scanning.
I see you. You know you don't need a hard copy of something, so you'll "just scan it" in case you need it later. Don't do that. Decide confidently whether you need something or not. Do not clutter your computer files with unnamed scans that end up being even more cluttered than your digital files.
I include scanning as part of my storage systems, but I avoid using it as a way to keep papers that should be tossed.
I’m so happy to have our systems in place again. With systems in place, I don't have to decide what to do with each piece of paper each time. My system tells me what to do! I also love being able to find things quickly, and I found that not being able to quickly put my hands on important information can be stressful. Just another example of how being organized can lead to a simpler, calmer life.
Thanks for reading!