The number one way that a house can be simplified and organized is by reducing the amount of paper that is kept and coming up with a system to determine what stays, what goes and then following through with it consistently.
In Part 1 of “Clear the Path!” I gave 6 easy steps to start gaining control over the paper piles in your home and setting yourself up for creating a system to follow in order to keep the paper overload from happening again! You can review Part 1 and the process of conquering the paper overwhelm here.
So now you are in a position where the paper is under control, but it is inevitably going to start coming in again so you need to be ready with knowing where it goes and organizing it to fit your life. There are going to be papers to throw out and there are going to be ones you need to keep. Here are my biggest issues when paper comes into our house (maybe you can relate to one or all of these issues…):
What do I keep and what do I throw away?
How do I maintain organization for all the “to keep” papers?
Where do I put the papers I need to keep so I can find them later when I need them?
When and how often do I need to go through the papers in order to avoid the piles and overwhelm from developing again?
Basically the How, What, Where, When of paper clutter and organization! 😉
You can develop an easy to use system for the incoming papers in your household! I know it may seem like a job, but trust me when I say once you start putting an organizational system into place for your household paper it will only take a few minutes each day to maintain and live a mostly paper free (or at least organized paper) existence 😉
4 Easy Steps to Developing a System for the Paper Clutter:
- Create areas for the Paper to Go Once it Comes into the House– This depends somewhat on the types of paper coming into your house. Is it mainly bills and mail? Or do you also have school papers and work papers to organize? Do you need a place for receipts and budget forms? *Think of the types of papers that come into your house and go from there… and then determine various areas that work for you in your home for each of the different types of paper. I essentially have 5 main areas where the paper goes once it comes into the house (and one is *usually* not a pile on the counter!). 1st area is the recycling area…we put papers that need to go to the recycling trash can that is in the garage by the toaster in our kitchen (so I guess it creates somewhat of a pile, but I take it out once it gets more than 4-5 papers and this is done about 2-3 times daily). 2nd area is the cabinet of our kitchen “command center”, or desk area in the kitchen. There are several cubbies in this cabinet and I labeled each cubby to help organize them further and to know what goes where. 3rd area is also in the “command center” but to the side of the cabinet I have a fun 3 compartment filer. 4th area is our personal magazine files…we each have one file with our names on them. 5th area is the basement office…file cabinets and a ‘to be filed’ container. These 5 areas are where the paper goes in our house. You may have less than 5 or more than 5 depending on what works best for you! Determining the types of paper coming in makes it easier to pinpoint the areas where the paper will go once it comes into your house. Keep reading for what papers go in which areas!
- Ask yourself these Questions for each Paper that comes into your house– Every time paper comes into the house I used to struggle with knowing what to keep and what not to keep….asking myself these simple questions helps me to eliminate the guessing game and get on with life 😉 1. What is the purpose of this paper? 2. What category does it fit into? (categories include- bills, coupons, fun reading, school papers, important information, advertisements, junk mail, receipts, etc.) 3. Will I ever need to use this or refer to it later? (if not then it goes to recycling…) 4. What area should I put it in? (see above for areas and this takes us to the next step….)
- If the Paper is not going to the Recycling then Decide where it should go (see Step 1 for the paper areas) in order to find it at a later date- Each paper, if not recycled, will then have a purpose for why you are keeping it. Sometimes certain papers have to be kept as a matter of record for a short amount of time and then can be recycled, others need to be kept for longer. So depending on what you figure the purpose and category of it to be will then determine the area in which it is stored. In our house the 1st area is the recycling trash can so that is pretty self explanatory. The 2nd area, or the “command center” cabinet cubbies, is where we put insurance EOB’s that we are waiting on bills for, gift cards we haven’t used yet, bills that need to be paid, cash and checks that need to be deposited at the bank, pizza/restaurant coupons, the current grocery store ad and our box of checks. I also have baskets in the cupboard where I will put grocery coupons when I clip them and one for recent receipts also. The 3rd area is the fun 3 compartment filer! I love this thing! I used to keep extra papers that I wanted to make sure to remember out of the command center cabinet because I didn’t want to forget them, but not now! I use the top compartment for any paper or magazine I want to remember to read, the middle compartment for forms, school papers, etc. that need to be filled out or turned in and the bottom compartment is for current store coupons (other than grocery store). I also keep fun clothes pins on this fun item to clip important school notes to remember (and I want to make sure to see!), checks to turn in somewhere and small coupons, like the book-it pizza ones in the pic, that would get hidden in the compartment! The 4th area is what I call ‘magazine files’, although they do not only house magazines! I think that is what they were called in the store when I bought them so the name stuck! Each family member has one and that is where the personal stuff goes; the doctor notes that we can’t throw away yet, the birthday cards, the catalogs that I might want to refer to, the school papers brought home…anything that pertains to just one person will go in there. I then go through these (or my husband goes through his) at a later date to determine where the paper goes from there. I know this may sound like delayed filing and in some ways it is, but especially with Paisley’s school work I find it is sometimes best to put it in her magazine file right away and go through on a later date, then to have it sit in a pile on the kitchen counter. I also like to have a place for everyone’s own items that we might need to refer to, in a place where we can get to it quickly. The 5th area is the basement office! Here I have a ‘to be filed’ basket where all papers go once we realize we need to keep them more long term! I then go through these papers and file them in the file cabinets or in Paisley’s school papers container (see Post 1 here for more information on how I put this together!). I don’t file these everyday, but usually about once a month. Usually the items that I keep here are her art projects and school papers that show her development, pictures, special programs and/or school mementos and also bills that have been paid, any papers/info needed for tax purposes and receipts/documentation needed for business. These areas help to eliminate the clutter by giving each paper a place and a purpose, whether the paper is needed to be kept for long term or short term purpose, it is so helpful to have an area to refer to in order to get to it when you need it!
- Checking Paper Areas Daily and Monthly– I think the ultimate key to this system, besides having designated areas for the types of paper, is going through the paper that comes into your house on a daily basis. Check your mail everyday and sift through it as soon as you can. The longer it sits on the counter, the more likely it will continue to sit there. The same goes for the backpacks! So go through mail and backpacks daily and follow your steps 1-3 from above. Another key is to go through main areas (command center, magazine files, etc.) once a month and sift through to decide whether to keep or toss anything that is there and file all to be filed papers (basement ‘to be filed’ basket) in their designated areas…clearing the areas for the next month’s collection, if you will. I will decide at this time whether to keep or toss the school work that is in the magazine files. I can’t keep all of it so I keep the work that shows her progress, writing and any pictures that accompany it. I can also toss expired coupons, notes of events that have passed and receipts from the past month (unless you need to keep it for documentation purposes so in that case it would go in the ‘to be filed’ basket). I love clearing all the excess on this day and knowing where it is all to go makes it so easy. It also is not very time consuming because I know where to put it all!
Four easy steps that, once in place, will have a huge impact on how organized and less cluttered your home is from here on out! As I said in Part 1; Sometimes in order to simplify our homes we need consistent routines and systems that help us organize, make decisions and also relieve us of what weighs us down.
A paper organization system will definitely help you enjoy a more weightless and simplified home with less paper clutter, the ability to find what you need when you need it and more time to take in the moments that really matter! 🙂