Paper Organizing 101
Illustrations from Pendaflex
Books have been written on the subject of organizing household papers and I have a chapter on it in my own book. This article, however, will simply address the basic needs that everyone should have to control the paper piles.
Paper comes into the house through the door on the people entering either from the mailbox, in a tote bag or briefcase, etc. At that time there should be a place to put them. A container of some type should be conveniently placed to collect those papers and preferably have a system of categories to sort them. This simple inbox/basket can be as large or small as the family requires but should hold the papers vertically in sections so they can be retrieved as soon as needed. Some frequently used categories are: Bills, To Do/Respond, To File (permanently), To Read, Receipts, Coupons, etc. Vertical sorting and storage allows easy access in finding a specific item later on.
A companion container would be a Household Notebook that contains information frequently needed by the family. While a calendar might have the date of Johnny's soccer game, the notebook might hold the information sheet containing the other game information such as which field, the color jersey to wear, who has refreshments, etc. The notebook could contain frequently needed and emergency contact numbers, babysitter information, school schedules, menu ideas, etc.
A permanent file box, drawer or cabinet is recommended for permanent papers such as insurance policies, medical history and information, appliance manuals, automobile records, financial statements, etc. Papers filed here are for future reference when needed and should be separated by appropriate categories. About once a year it should be cleaned of items no longer needed. Most financial and purchasing records are now stored online or in computer records at the institutions or retail outlets. This eliminates the need for long term storage of some paper items. Those used as documentation of tax related deductions should be kept with the tax return forms.
Finally, we recommend storing legal documents and those that may be needed in an emergency in a fireproof/waterproof box in your home or bank's safe security box. Copies might also be given to trustworthy relatives as an off site option. Having more than one copy of vital information can help in locating it in an emergency.
Putting the items needed for good paper management is just the first step in keeping paperwork under control. Keeping them organized requires persistence in following your system and avoiding the temporary put down of papers on a table or counter. Over time this stack can become an unmanageable pile and even mutate into unrelated items. More detailed information, retention guidelines for keeping papers and illustrations of paperwork systems can be received from me or located in my book, Orderly Places. You may contact me through my website: OrderlyPlaces.com