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Paper Everywhere? Take Back Control Over The Abundance Of Paper In Your Life. A Step-by-Step Guide

There is so much paper for this being the digital age. It seems like if I'm not careful it ends up in little disorganized piles all over the house. This presents a real problem when I need one of these hidden papers for something. Then the hunt to find the one necessary piece is on and wasting my time.

Before life got busy I had a handle of it with my filing cabinet. I love my filing cabinet. My parents got it for me when I was a teenager. I loved organization even back then. But the organization a teenager needs is quite different from what an adult wife and mother needs so it was time to reorganize (it was time years ago but now I have the time).

Home Filing System

Old faithful, complete with heart stickers from my teenage years and tape goop from multiple moves. This baby is getting a makeover after the next move.

How I Organised the Paper in my Life

Step 1: Review

If you already have a file system, review it and remove everything you don't need. If you don't have a system, skip to Step 2. This was the most time consuming step for me as I have been collecting since high school. I went through every file and removed anything I did not need.

Examples of things you don't need:

  • Product information books to things you no longer own.

  • Expired warranties.

  • Taxes, bank statements, credit card statements from more than 7 years ago.

  • Paid utility statements, phone bills, hydro bills etc. older than 2-3 years (unless they relate to your taxes, then you should keep them for 7 years).

There may be many other things you don't need. Consider each item as you go through each file, toss as much as you can but absolutely keep everything you are legally required to keep. Tax information must be kept for 7 years in Canada. Other countries may have different requirements.

You may have whole files you no longer need. Pull these so you can rename the file when you need another file. If you still have need for the original file, keep it and place the documents back in it.

Sort your unwanted documents into 2 piles:

  1. Things you must shred: Has personal information, financial info, anything you don't want anyone to know.

  2. Things you can toss into the recycling: Has no personal or financial information.

Paper work

So much to shred

Step 2: Make Your Files and Find a Place to Keep Them

If you have a lot of paperwork to sort, you may want to have a filing cabinet to keep it all in. You will need files, file labels and file hangers as well.

If you don't have lots of paper to sort through, you may get away with an accordion folder and some files. You may also want some labels.

You can skip labels completely if you are willing to get light coloured files and write directly on them. I liked the pretty dark coloured files so I needed some labels.

Label your files according to the type of documents you have to sort. The following is the list of labels I used. You may not need all these categories or you may need a few more. This will depend on what your unique needs are.

Possible File Headers

  • Account Information and Statements (sorted by date)

  • Son's Pertinent Details

  • Credit Card Statements (sorted by date)

  • Cards (Greetings)

  • Dental

  • Employment Info

  • Genealogy

  • Housing

  • Insurance

  • Legal Documents

  • Medical Information

  • Memories (Tickets and brochures from places we've visited)

  • Moving Information

  • Music

  • Pets

  • RESP (Son)

  • High School

  • Professional School

  • Student Loan

  • Undergraduate Info

  • Utilities

  • Will/ Power of Attorney

  • Product info (Ikea)

  • Product info (Large booklets)

  • Product info (Small booklets)

  • Tax Return and Information 2011

  • Tax Return and Information 2012

  • Tax Return and Information 2013

  • Tax Return and Information 2014

  • Tax Return and Information 2015

  • Tax Return and Information 2016

  • Tax Return and Information 2017

Step 3: Fill Your Files

First, to save yourself time, spend a few minutes scanning each room for paper work that needs filing.

Fill your files with the appropriate documents. If you have several statements in a file it is a good idea to sort them into chronological order so you know exactly where everything is but do this after you have finished sorting everything into files. This is faster than time sequencing different document types simultaneously.

Once you have filled your files, hang them in alphabetical order in the file hangers. That's pretty much it.

Step:4 Shred The Evidence

Shred everything you intend to get rid of that contains personal information. I have a shredder so that is what I used but you could theoretically burn them if you didn't have a shredder and you did have a fire place. Free kindling. It's fun to shred paper though. I felt like a billionaire hiding insider trading evidence.

If you don't have a shredder or fire place, there are shredding services you can use. I know some Staples will let you drop off paper to shred for a fee. There are places that will come to your house and pick up your documents to shred. A google search of local shredding services will show you what is available in your area.

Some work places have large wooden boxes to place sensitive documents to be shredded. A service will periodically pick up the documents and shreds them. If your employer doesn't mind (a good idea to ask first), you could maybe leave it in their shredding box.

Step 5: Maintaining Order

Now that everything is sorted you need a system that keeps things that way. In general, I do not file any document until I am done using it. I don't file a bill until it is paid or correspondence until I have replied etc.

It is best to file documents away as soon as possible. But life is busy and that is not always practical. When I don't have time to file but need to get a document out of the way I make a "to file" pile in from of the filing cabinet and do it when I have time. My husband can put stuff there too so I know when he needs stuff filed.

And that's all you need to do to get on top of your paperwork. This is actually a lot of work that took me a few days but now saves me time. Happy filing!

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