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Organizing Paperwork

Posted on Wednesday, March 6, 2024
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by AMAC, D.J. Wilson
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Stop losing things, living with a mess, and feeling out of control. Four steps are all it takes to get your papers organized.

This article also includes top tips from a professional organizer.

So many benefits!

Let’s face it, thoughts of organizing paperwork can be stressful. But it doesn’t have to be. When done quickly and effectively, one can reap instant benefits. It provides great comfort knowing exactly where things are and it’s pleasing to have one’s home function smoothly.

It builds up…

Paperwork, when left unattended to, invites disorganization. Piles grow larger and larger – until one’s desk or kitchen countertop is covered.

Signs of disorderly paperwork

Tired of gazing at messy piles of paper? Find yourself frustrated looking for important things like an invoice? These are just a few signs that your paperwork is disorderly.

There’s hope!

Conquering the paperwork looks like it’s going to be an endless and overwhelming task. Per Control the Mess, an organizational advice specialist, don’t throw in the towel. Take a deep breath and rest in the knowledge that organizing papers is manageable and easier than you think– using their special method of organizing.

Awesome tip from a professional organizer (P.0.):

Before organizing, have supplies on hand that can make your job easier. This includes baskets for sorting mail, a letter opener, a pen or pencil, a notepad, a staple remover, a stapler or paper clips, a shredder, a recycling bin, and a trash bag. A smart device and calendar are also helpful for taking notes and setting reminders.

Shall we begin?

STEP ONE: Sort by recipient. If different family members or friends receive mail at the same address, begin sorting the mail by person. Create neat piles using your baskets. Example: Put all of Joaquin’s mail in one pile, Collette’s in another, and continue doing the same for each mail recipient. Obviously, the mail should be distributed, unopened, to the proper addressee. However, if you are the sole recipient of mail, skip this step and jump to step two.

STEP TWO: Say goodbye to junk mail.

The second step is going through pieces of mail fast. In this quick step, you’ll toss, recycle, or shred your mail that is obviously junk. Examples include unwanted business fliers, solicitations, sales ads, restaurant menus, coupons for stores you don’t frequent– essentially these are papers that get sent to you from solicitors. Since junk mail has no value to you, this type of mail can be disposed of. Note that not all paper mail is recyclable, so check your county rules. Plastic sleeves and laminated materials typically cannot be recycled. Important: If you are uncertain whether a piece of mail is junk mail, or you are interested in keeping an ad, do not toss it. Rather, save it for the next step to determine what should be done with it.

Special tip from a P.O.

To help with organization, immediately put magazines and catalogues you want to save in a dedicated space, such as in a magazine rack.

Now that your junk mail is out of the picture – move on to step three.

But first – a very helpful reminder

Unfortunately, there is always a risk of someone going through your garbage. This is all too common, especially in cities. Thieves may pick through trash looking for credit card statements, banking information, and so forth. Do shred trash mail that contains your name such as credit card offers. Mail containing sensitive personal information that you no longer want, or need, should always be shredded rather than tossed whole or recycled.

STEP THREE: With junk mail gone, it’s time to deal with your important mail. Open & sort your mail into one of these two categories:

Pile one is for act now. These are “on fire” items that need to be acted upon immediately such as paying a bill or calling your doctor for an appointment.

Pile two is for everything else. These items may be important but do not require any immediate action. They are mainly needed for future reference, such as a tax document or a warranty notice.

Sorting: As you begin opening mail, staple (or clip) loose papers that need to stay together. Discard non-essential papers and unwanted envelopes. Sort the mail into one of the two above piles. As you place papers in your act now pile, create a list of things you need to act upon. This list enables you to visualize what needs to be done as well as prioritize tasks.

Stay focused: Prioritizing means doing the most important and essential things first. Once you’ve acted on something from the act now pile, check it off the list and decide whether the paperwork can be discarded or kept and filed.

Safeguarding papers

Keep your “act now” pile accessible in a handy wall file holder, designated desk area or bin, or filing cabinet so you’ll know right where these important papers are located.

STEP FOUR: Now that your “act now” pile is in order, it’s time to concentrate on “everything else.” Since these papers don’t require action, they are mainly papers that need to be read – then filed or discarded.

As you sort: Keep and file important papers like tax documents. Discard or shred monthly bill statements for which you have automatic payment records, as well as other items you deem non-essential to keep.

Tips to creating a filing system: A portable accordion file folder is an inexpensive solution that allows folks to categorize paperwork they wish to hold onto. Here are examples of categories: automobile, bank statements, coupons (that you plan to use), homeowner association documents, Johnny’s permission slips, medical forms, pet care, mortgage info, tax papers, warranties.

Advice worth repeating:

  • Do not allow mail to accumulate on desks or countertops. Open it promptly and use a sorting technique such as the one shared above. Sort mail daily to keep up and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Remember that act now items get top priority. This means do it today. Each day, take a minute to review your act now mail. Expect priorities to shift each day. Be flexible and focused on your priorities to get things done.
  • Make use of lists and calendars to stay on task. Keep track of those tasks that need action in the future. This can be done on paper or using your smart device.
  • Have a designated place for your act now/everything else mail. Also create your own filing system that allows for the safekeeping of forms, etc. Categorize paperwork so you can easily retrieve what you’re looking for.
  • Periodically review saved paperwork to see if there is anything you may safely discard. Keep only what’s important.
  • Whenever possible, reduce the amount of paper mail that comes to you. Pay bills online, use email for correspondence, use online menus for ordering food, opt out of junk mail, store non-confidential material on your smart device, and consider signing up for paperless statements from your bank and other providers.

Let’s review:

These four steps are designed to help sort mail quickly and efficiently. It involves 1) breaking mail down by recipient 2) tossing junk mail as soon as possible 3) opening and dividing one’s mail into two basic categories (act now/everything else) and 4) Using a workable filing system to organize important paperwork you wish to act upon – or store and later act upon.

You can do it!

Know that you have the power within you to change behaviors you don’t like, such as disorganization, and gain control of your life and paperwork. Organizing paperwork is well within your reach.

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