One of the more difficult things to organize is paperwork! Some paperwork is not needed on a day to day basis but you still must keep it for reference just incase it is needed some time in the future, only to be discarded when it is no longer relevant (like tax information). Some paperwork is kept for easy references regularly like work related documents and possibly save the date invitations. Paperwork usually needs to be categorized, which makes the organizing and sorting process harder. The key is using a system that works for you, everyone has different needs and priorities that requires a custom organizational system for them! The system listed here uses areas for holding paperwork based on needs and then offers grouping choices that you can utilize within the holding areas. This allows an overall clutter organization structure but allowing you to customize it to your individual needs.
What is Needed to Organize Your Paperwork?
- Recycle Bin
- Temporary Quick Access Clutter Storage
- Short-Term Storage
- Long-Term Storage
- Scanner (optional)
- Computer/Tablet (optional)
The Paperwork Clutter System
As new items come in, they quickly get filed properly so there is not a chance to pile up the paperwork into an intimidating stack. This could be shredding the unwanted credit card offers as soon as they come in or if they are unpaid bills, they go into quick access storage container. For documents that might need to be accessed within the year you can use short-term storage container. For other documents like past taxes, they can be filed in long-term storage.
Within each storage container there should be a folder grouping papers by topics, dates, and or times etc. that you choose to organize by. Use as many folders as you would like in each container and label each folder based on what that folder contains for easy reference. The most common way to accomplish this would be tabbed folders labeled with your chosen grouping and stored either within a file box or a folder binder which would be your short-term/long-term storage container. Utilizing similar sized storage containers and folders means you can easily move folders to the new short-term/long-term area as the needs change. Check the grouping categories section below for ideas on how to customize your folder grouping!
Quick Access Storage
Everything that needs to be acted upon soon, such as unpaid bills/invoices or items that you will frequently access such as reference manuals or recipes for planned meals/desserts.
You can also move items from the short-term storage container to the quick access storage container when you know you need to act upon something soon. This could be your upcoming insurance renewal, and you move the paperwork folder here to act as a reminder that it is soon and that you should look through the paperwork to see if you need to make changes.
- Recommended Storage Container - Desk trays or a “Cascading Wall Organizer” or wall bins if you want to keep a clear desk.
- Recommended Cleaning maintenance period - Monthly
Short Term Storage
This container is for things that might need addressing within the year. This would be for new appliance receipts and warranty’s, receipts, ongoing insurance or medical bills. You can use filing boxes or binders for this type of storage.
- Recommended Storage Container – Shelf binders, File boxes
- Recommended Cleaning maintenance period – Bi-Monthly
Long Term Storage
This would be for things like your taxes that you are required to keep for years but may never need.
- Recommended Storage Container – Filing cabinets, File boxes
- Recommended Cleaning maintenance period – Yearly
This will be for immediate removal of clutter that isn’t needed. Credit card offers should be shredded to protect your identity or credit, mostly everything else such as junk mail should be put in the recycle bin.
You can scan a lot of paperwork and save it to your computer with a file folder and name that you can use to reference the document to save space. The file folder should be well labeled and the documents in the folder should be well named so that each document is easy to find. Some computer operating systems even have a search feature to easily find documents based on the text and or name of the document (check your operating system directions to see how to use this feature).
Within the storage areas you can further organize the paperwork by adding additional subcategories that best fit your needs. Everyone is different and while some will think family recipes should go in “recipes” in the short-term storage, you may feel you need them in your quick access storage and under a different subcategory such as “dinner rotations” and similarly manuals might be in long term storage under a subcategory pertaining to the type of manual (ex: car) for some but others will want to reference them frequently and would store them in the quick access storage area.
Paperwork is grouped by records belonging to an object. This could be all paperwork for your vehicle in one folder such as the bill of sale, warranty, service records, manual, copy of registration, etc. This grouping could be Pets, Individual People, Vehicles, Appliances, etc.
Paperwork is grouped by similar types such as warranties, invoices – unpaid/paid, receipts, insurance policies, ownership documents – deeds/bills of sale.
Paperwork is grouped by categories such as medical, insurance, financial, legal, etc. Proper planning is recommended as there is going to be overlap such as your birth certificate could be under legal or health.
Paperwork is grouped for quick access based on need and has some duplicate records. For example, you can keep all your medical records in medical folder and a few duplicate records in another folder titled employer or school, if it’s your child’s record. The basis is that if you are going to the school and need to inform them of your child’s medical history you can quickly grab the school folder and similarly if your new job requires a copy of your allergies you can just pull the employer/work folder.
See our paperwork grouping chart and our printable paperwork grouping chart.
Paperwork Clutter Maintenance
Each section should have a regular maintenance period where you determine if the paperwork needs to be moved to possibly the long-term container or should be discarded. You might have also found you are regularly going to the short-term container for certain records and they should be moved to the quick access container. A suggested routine would be a monthly check for your quick access container to be sure you don’t miss a monthly unpaid invoice, a bi monthly check on the short term container for missed tasks like doctor checkups or registration/license renewals, and a yearly checkup for the long term container to see if it’s time to discard some records.
Here are some additional tips to help with customization or general ideas regarding maintenance of your paperwork clutter.
30/60/90 Day Binders
Keep a few binders to hold items such as appliance receipts that have a 30/60/90-day return periods or warranties. You can substitute the short-term area for these binders and add a binder for the quick access storage so that it restricts your clutter size and really focuses what is important.
Use a planner or calendar to store your appointments and reminders and discard the reminder clutter. You can either scan or take a photo of the reminder cards so if you aren’t 100% sure you wrote it down correct you can look at the digital copy of the original.
Scan Paid Bills/Invoices
Scan bills or invoices after you pay them and shred/recycle the paperwork. Most invoices can be reacquired online should you need them, and you can see if they are marked as paid, so you won’t need the paper copy.
Magazine File Folders
There are special containers for most things including paperwork clutter. You can get special folders that hold your catalogs or magazines should you need to keep a few. The better option would be to scan the pages you need and print out the pages and discard the magazine to cut down the clutter.
Glove Box Organizer
For those that acquire clutter on the road such as business cards, you have a few options in planners/organizers that are compact enough to fit in your glove box of your vehicle.