What’s in all piles of paper? Delayed decision-making, visual (and often messy) reminders of what needs to get done, hope-in-a-stack that what needs to be done will be done on time. Fingers crossed. Fear not, here is a fool-proof system to get on top of your paper clutter and put an end to ever-expanding paper piles.
It’s an easy, two-step process. First set up the system that fits your needs as described below, then check it once a week. And as a bonus, in addition to having pile-free surfaces, I can practically bet you that we’ll find some extra cash waiting for you. Ready?
The four-folder system
To ensure paper doesn’t get handled multiple times, I suggest most of my customers set up a system divided into four categories.
- To do
- To pay/To claim
- To file
- To read
This system is really versatile. Are you looking for a sleek elegant office? Go for a wall-mounted classic organizing system, which can easily be found at IKEA. Looking to work with what you already have? You can keep hanging files labelled with these titles in your filing cabinet. Rocking it out old school? Dust off your accordion file or four stacked inbox trays and label, label, label! Are you transitioning to a paperless environment? Create notes in Evernote and file away!
The key here is to match the system with your family’s needs. First, the system should be located in or near the area where your landing spots are naturally occurring. If it’s too far away, the piles will keep creeping up on you, guaranteed, because of the inconvenience. Also, for my visual peeps, go for something wall-mounted or an inbox tray to make sure you keep it within view to ensure no deadlines are missed, such as payment dates. Those of us who need that visual reminder can still have a nice esthetic look, but we need to see it to feel more at ease and not worry that we’ll drop any important tasks.
While most of the categories are self-explanatory, the to do category requires a bit more explanation of what goes in it, along with some sub categories to make things easier and faster to find. This is where you will put post-it notes with reminders of things to do, random lists scribbled on realtor pads, activities you want to discuss with your kids (can anyone say ‘day camp registration’?), forms to fill out, people to call back, changes of address if you’ve moved recently. If any of these things are time-sensitive, before you stow it away, make sure to make a note in your calendar and set up an alert to remind yourself of the deadline.
Personally, in the to do folder, I like to have individual files for my larger current projects, such as birthday parties, a move, a renovation project. These are all stowed in paper folders clearly – wait for it – labelled. The idea is to know exactly where to look as you go through this vast category. It’s a personalized method of keeping papers accessible enough to refer to often, while keeping them off of counters and other surfaces. I also have one folder dedicated to my youngest child who has special needs. Along with having many forms to fill out for his special needs, the folder gets schlepped from appointment to appointment so putting it away in a filing cabinet is not the best solution right now.
Next in the To pay/To claim folder, you’ll put bills requiring payment, health care receipts waiting to be claimed, forms to claim your cash-back offers. This is the category where you’ll get the best return on investment of your organizing time. Frequently, people will unfortunately pay late fees despite having the funds in their accounts because the bills are waiting in anonymous piles. How many times is a cash-back offer finally found, only to discover that the delay has passed? Once again, if you are prone to forgetting dates, set up a quick reminder in your calendar.
The To file category will help save time by optimizing your filing through the process of batching. You’ll have things here to file in your filing cabinet, along with carefully selected children’s artwork, school work, certificates and other achievements to be saved in their keepsake box.
Finally the To Read category will regroup whatever you want or need to read before filing it away or recycling it. By regrouping it in one place, if by some miracle you end up with free time on your hands you know exactly what needs to get your attention and where to find it.
The second part of the process is making sure you set out about fifteen to thirty minutes per week, ideally at the same time and on the same day to go through your To Do files, pay what needs to be paid, and file what requires future reference. That’s it!
Keep in mind that piles of paper are universal, and they can creep up on every one of us. But putting this system into place will make it all manageable, in addition to saving you time, money and giving you peace of mind. Don’t wait! Happy organizing!
Mylène Houle Morency is a Professional Organizer, Speaker and owner of FLO Organisation, which specializes in organizing families with children ranging from newborn to the teenage years. She has the firm conviction that organized homes help parents become the parents they want to be, by freeing up time and diminishing stress. She has the privilege to lovingly test all her theories and organization inspirations on her husband and three children!