For many people, the constant onslaught of paper is a challenge that never seems to end. I often hear:
"What should I do with this?"
"I have a file cabinet, but I have no idea what's in there."
"Do really I need this?"
The answer, of course, depends on the paper and the person. I have found the trick to managing household papers is to have a system in place that reliably catches all that paper and helps you decide what do with each item. Think of this as your paper flow.
In the Pick It Up Quick-Guide to Paper Flow, I discuss the three steps to creating an effective paper flow. Papers should land in the same location each day. They should be processed with regularity, and a system is needed for both short and long-term retention. For additional tips on creating your flow, subscribe to the Create Your Home quarterly newsletter and get the Quick-Guide to Paper Flow as a free download.
An area where many people get hung up is reference files. Most of us have a filing cabinet, but for many people, it is full of old files and is often in an inaccessible location. By following the below steps, you can bring your filing cabinet back to life!
1) PURGE. Dust off that cabinet and purge it like crazy! The older the files, the greater the chance they can be tossed or shredded. Ask yourself if you really need the papers for reference? Are these documents accessible online? Tax documents only need to be kept for seven years. Ask your CPA if you have any specific tax-related questions or check out the IRS retention guidelines. Always shred any documents with personal information like your social security number or account numbers.
2) STRUCTURE. Now that your file cabinet has been whittled down to current files, start giving it some structure. Do your remaining files fall into natural categories? Common categories would be Auto, Finances, Home and Health. Create a broad category and nest appropriate files under this heading. Here is an example:
AUTO (the broad category)
I find it is visually helpful to keep the broad category tab on the far left and the sub-folder tabs to the right. If you like to alphabetize, go for it!
3) MAINTAIN. Now that you have an easy-to-use filing system all you have to do is maintain it. Easier said than done, I know! File your papers right away, to avoid a huge pile of documents that need to be filed. Purge your filing cabinet a few times a year to keep it current.
Filing may seem tedious, but with a little time and work, it can become a routine that helps keep your life running smoothly.
Erin Becker is the owner of PICK IT UP, a