Organizing your paperwork will help you pay bills on time, preserve memories, and ensure you can find what you need easily. But the task can feel overwhelming. I’ll explain a simple process for getting and staying organized and offer a long-term solution to rid your home of paper.
When paper enters your home it generally falls into one of these categories:
- Not needed: catalogs, advertisements, and other “junk mail”
- Requires follow-up: forms to fill out, bills to pay, magazines to read
- Sentimental: your children’s artwork or school papers
- Must keep original: wills, social security cards, passports
As soon as you receive papers, immediately determine which of the four categories it goes in.
We’ll talk about how to tackle each of these categories. But, first, let’s talk about mail for a second.
Mail is one of the biggest contributors to paper clutter. And ignoring it for just a short time allows it to grow seemingly exponentially. Vow to tackle your mail pile right now. Then commit to dealing with mail daily. Taking just one minute a day to sort mail is the key to keeping the mail beast tamed.
Stuff You Don’t Need
Catalogs & Other Junk Mail
One of the simplest and most effective tips for tackling mail clutter is to never bring catalogs and other junk mail into the house. I put these items straight into the recycling bin, which is right outside our family command center. I don’t even look at them.
You may be wondering, but what if I want to buy something from that catalog? First, I would encourage you to make purchases mindfully and not just because something pretty on the catalog’s cover caught your eye.
Flipping through a catalog will most likely lead to unplanned spending or overspending. And making catalog purchases is another way to clutter your home.
If you were already planning to make a purchase from that company, you can still dispose of the catalog without looking at it. Everything in the catalog is in their online store. Look at the front and back of the catalog for any coupon codes. If you find one, snap a photo of it with your phone and recycle the catalog.
Searching for specific items on the company’s website will mean you’re purchasing what you need and planned to buy, rather than buying what the company is manipulating you into wanting—err, I mean, marketing to you—through their catalog.
When making online purchases, uncheck any boxes about wanting to receive special offers. It may not keep you off their physical mailing list, but it’s worth a try.
You can also register your address with the Direct Marketing Association to get your name on the national “do not mail” list. I don’t use this method since they charge a fee (it’s only $2, but for me, it’s the principle of the matter that I shouldn’t have to pay to get companies to stop sending me catalogs!) and it will stop only about 80% of the junk mail. If you’d like to give it try, you can get information here.
Credit card and other financial offers should get shredded immediately. Do not put this type of mail in the trash or recycling bin intact. Someone could open an account in your name and ruin your credit.
I use a cross-cut shredder for financial offers to ensure the information is not readable by identity thieves.
If you don’t want to purchase a shredder, put a grocery store bag in your family command center for mail that needs to be shredded. When the bag is full, take it to an office supply or shipping store, such as Staples or the UPS Store. Make sure you use a lightweight bag for your shredding because they weigh your shredding in the bag and charge you per pound.
Stuff that Requires Follow-Up
Bills, Bank Statements & Forms
Designate a place for bills, ideally near your computer if you pay bills online. If you don’t have a desk or computer area, make a mail organizer part of your family command center.
Immediately open and recycle the outer envelopes. Keep only the bill or statement and, if needed, the return envelope. Opening bills and statements right away alerts you to any issues that you’ll need to research, such as past due reminders or an unexpectedly high amount owed. And disposing of the outer envelope gets rid of unneeded paper.
I neatly store bills, statements, and forms on my desk in my desk organizer until I’m ready to act on them. And I have a recurring task on my electronic to-do list to pay bills monthly so I don’t forget. When other papers come in that require my attention, I add them as tasks with due dates.
As long as I have an online account with the company, I shred the corresponding bill or bank statement as soon as I’ve paid or reconciled the account. Since I can access a few years of account information, I don’t worry about keeping paper copies. (This may not be the correct way to do things though!)
Grocery and pharmacy coupons go straight into my purse so they’re with me when I need them. For restaurant coupons or others that I don’t want to carry around with me, I hang them on our family command center door, which is metal, with a magnetic clip. Check expiration dates often and recycle unused coupons.
Magazines to read go on our sling bookshelf or my office bookcase. Anything not read within a month is recycled.
Our children’s artwork, certificates, certain school papers, greeting cards, special handwritten notes…what to do with it all?
I tried some of the apps that are designed to store your children’s artwork online and was unimpressed because:
- I found them difficult to use
- I didn’t want to pay yet another fee
- I’d have to do my own back-ups in case they ever go out of business
- It was another app and system to keep up with
This drawing is still one of my all-time favorites by my daughter, drawn when she was 3. The picture is of “Mommy.” I just love my fancy dress!
What to do with Children’s Artwork & Schoolwork
- Take a photo and send it to Shutterfly: I know Shutterfly is technically an app, but since most people already have an account, and because it’s free and easy to use, I recommend it. Take a photograph of each piece of artwork or schoolwork that you want to save and upload the photo to Shutterfly (or set the app to upload automatically). Make an online album for each child and grade. At Shutterfly you also can put the art on a canvas or mug, create a photo book, and share photos using social media or the share site feature. Or do nothing other than store the photo there for safe keeping.
- Display artwork: Put two hooks 5-6 feet apart on the wall, string a pretty ribbon between them, and use clothespins to hang the art. Or frame some of the artwork and hang it on the wall.
- Keep a few: Keep just a few pieces of art per grade per child and store them in an art portfolio.
What to do with Other Mementos
Store other sentimental papers in a small storage box. Small boxes mean less clutter, so keep it small and be discriminating about what you save.
Social security cards, passports, birth certificates, car titles, mortgage papers, wills…you’ll want to save these important original documents in a water and fire-proof safe. I like small ones so that I’m not tempted to save papers that I don’t truly need.
You may also need or want to temporarily save a few items that don’t need to go into the safe. Again, be discriminating and keep the container small, such as anscan in your receipts and documents and store them digitally.
Commit to spending just a few minutes each day dealing with papers and mail rather than letting it pile up. And consider going paperless to keep your home clutter-free and organized!
Getting organized with your paperwork will help you stay on top of your bills and quit paying things late.
If you are constantly forgetting about certain bills, put a bill reminder in your phone and go paperless!
You can even get email reminders or set up autopay to make things easier.
Also removing the temptation from mail flyers will help you stay on track and focused with your financial goals.