Sorting, Organizing, and Filing Your Paper Piles

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Part two of our series to help you dig out of your paper mountain.

Recently on the Organized Priorities blog, I talked about doing a paper sort to start to get some of your paper piles under control. If you want to catch up you can check out that post by clicking here. At the end of that sort, you had a few different bins to contend with…

Stuff to shred

Stuff to recycle

Stuff to throw out

And then two bins of action items…one for now, and one for later.

The first couple of bins are easy to contend with, but you have these two action-oriented bins to deal with. The next step is to do a second sort. The bin labeled “Action Needed – Now” are things that need to be taken care of now or in the immediate future. If this bin includes things like bills to pay you can take care of them when you normally work on your finances. The bin labeled “Action Needed – Later” is where you will focus for a second sort. However, as we sort we are going to be taking some steps along the way to put new systems into place.

Today we are going to focus today on things that need to be filed.

Chances are your “Action Needed – Later” bin is going to have multiple things that need to be filed. The easiest way to get this done is to simply take them and file them. Intentions are great, but that is not always going to happen. You may not have the time, you may not have a filing system that works for you, or you may have some things that don’t need to be filed at all. You may also come across some things that may need to be kept, but only for a short period of time. 

Here are a few ways to manage your filing and to start creating a system that will help to keep you moving forward:

Have A File Basket

Not being able to deal with them properly, or not having time, are two of the reasons we end up with piles of paper. The problem eventually becomes a jumbled pile of mess. One way to curb this is to have a to-be-filed basket. In my office, I use a magazine holder labeled “To file”. When I don’t have the time to file things right away I have a place to put them so they are not only out of the way, but grouped together in a way that makes dealing with them easier. I will then set time to do some filing when I work on house finances.

Electronic Filing

Today it is easier than ever before to keep more papers filed electronically. Some you don’t necessarily need to file at all. Things like credit card statements, utility statements, and other documents are available to download at a moment’s notice. The nice thing about this is that you do not necessarily need to keep a physical copy on file as long as you have your login credentials. If you still like to keep copies of statements you can also use a tool like Dropbox or Google Drive to easily file electronic versions of these documents.

One thing to note: It’s always a good idea to check with a tax professional to make sure you are keeping the proper documents in the proper format. Not everyone’s situation is identical, so I suggest if you have a question on this matter you can ask your tax professional.

Use Binders For Long-Term Filing

Binders are great for holding on to things like warranties and manuals, or kids’ paperwork and memories from school. For more information on alternatives to traditional filing you can check out this post that I did a few weeks back where I talked about just that topic. 

Temporary Filing

You may have things that you want to hold onto but only for a short period of time. These types of documents don’t necessarily need to make it to your filing cabinet. Let’s be honest, the filing cabinet can be a place where paperwork goes to die. Once it goes in there it may never come out again. For items such as this, I use an accordion-style folder with a pocket labeled for each month. As I come across these items they go into the current month’s labeled slot. When I get to the same month next year I remove the paperwork from the previous year.  These items can then be shred, recycled, or thrown out as appropriate.

As we continue to go through our paper piles we will work on different tactics to help you succeed in keeping the piles from taking back over your life. Next time I will go over some tactics for electronic file organization that can help limit some of your paper piles for good.

In the meantime, If you would like some more information or need some personalized help, head over to my services page where you can schedule a one-on-one consultation. If you would like some more tips, some moral support, or even a little accountability, then head on over to our private Facebook group, The Organized Priorities Collective. I would love to see you there!

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