Organizing Paper Documents | Blog
Cleaning Up The Paper Trail: Organizing Paper Documents
No matter how advanced technology gets, sometimes it still feels like you have a ton of paper to deal with, doesn’t it?
Bills, catalogues, invoices from that visit to the doctor’s office you never paid for, magazines you keep getting even though you don’t remember renewing your subscription, owner’s manuals to the washing machine, notes from school...the list goes on.
Sure, most of this stuff winds up going straight in the trash where it belongs, but there’s a lot of it that you need to hang onto for later, and it can all start to pile up after a while if you’re not careful.
If you’ve got a few mountains of paperwork to scale and are looking for advice on how to get rid of it all, read on.
Pull It All Together:
This might sound a little intimidating at first, but the best way to get started on the process is to go through every room you leave paper trails in and compile it all. Check the entryway, any room adjacent to the entryway (living room, dining room, etc), the home office, and even the bathroom (especially if you’re the bathroom-reading sort) to find any paperwork that might have been left behind. This will help with the next few steps, and will also give you an idea of where these letters and magazines tend to end up so you can try and prevent this mess from piling up later.
Ask Yourself If You Need It:
Next comes the great purge. If the paperwork you found has been just sitting there taking up space, the odds are great you don’t actually need it. Instead of tackling this all at once, let’s break this down into a few different categories of commonly-found paper clutter:
Magazines: Unless you really need it for a recipe, or it has some help for a video game your kids are currently playing, you probably don’t need to keep magazines around for more than a month or two after they arrive in the mail, and if you do keep them, try to get a magazine rack to hang onto them. If you’re the crafty type, you can turn these into collage art of some kind, but otherwise - out it goes!
Warranty cards and owner’s manuals: Some products still come with physical warranty cards and actual owner’s manuals, but these have a tendency to stick around long after you’ve gotten rid of that particular fridge or TV or whatever. Manuals for things you still own could be kept closer to the item itself - on some wire shelving in the laundry room next to the soap for washing machines, out in the garage for power tools or car parts, cable boxes and video game systems can go in the drawers in your TV stands, etc - and warranty cards can be mailed back in if they’re still relevant, or tossed out if they’re not.
Bills: Have they been paid? Are they coming up? Is this for a phone you haven’t owned since 2015? Did Mastercard not get the previous tenants’ change of address? Unless you absolutely need it to remind you, most paper bills can be tossed out once they’re not relevant anymore, as nearly every bill can be accessed online these days.
Greeting cards: These can likely be kept somewhere safe (we’ll get to that in a second) but they also don’t need to be taking up a ton of space on your mantel like they have before. Set these aside for now and find a place for them later.
Business cards: Yes, some people still have business cards, and unless you have absolutely nowhere else to store or access the contact information on them (via your phonebook, Facebook, other kinds of books) these can all be tossed out. Don’t feel guilty - whoever made them expects them to get thrown away eventually.
Tax papers: Now we’re starting to get to the important stuff. A lot of tax experts recommend hanging onto your W2s and returns for up to four years, which means you’ll want them somewhere safe. If you don’t have a safe or anything in your house, consider getting a locking drawer for your desk to keep them safe from prying eyes or accidents.
Medical paperwork: Similarly, if someone in the house has undergone a medical procedure of any seriousness, it’s a good idea to retain the records in the event you need to go in for follow up. Keep these in a similarly safe place as the tax papers for at least five years just in case.
Stop The Mess Where It Starts
Finally, after everything has been sorted out, take steps to make sure it doesn’t get nearly as bad next time. Get some mail organizers to sort things out as they go and help you keep a better eye on what you can throw out, make some space in your home office to hang onto the big long-term stuff, and a few fridge magnets and/or whiteboard planners never hurt anyone if you’re the kind that needs to see something to remember it’s there.
Got any other tips for organizing paper waste? Leave a comment below!