Paper, Paper, Paper

Paper clutter is challenging because of the volume of paper we all seem to accumulate, and because pieces of paper easily stack and hide each other. Filing is both a way of organizing papers and communicating the contents through labels. To file effectively, follow the five steps to "corrall" your paper clutter.

Look for related items and gather them together.

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You’ve done this a million times: sorted through a stack of papers and divided them into small stacks, such as Bills to Pay, Bank Statements, School Papers, To-Do Lists, Ideas You’d Like To Try, Things I Might Buy, and blank yellow pads. But you probably stopped there. Keep going through the next three steps, and you won’t end up re-stacking all those papers, only to go through them again later.

Dispose of unneeded or duplicate items.
Did you find duplicates, or old documents you no longer need? Toss!

Examples: Toss expired warranties. Toss magazine articles that you kept but can’t remember why. Toss information that you could easily find again, such as printouts from web sites. Toss financial statements whose information is repeated on later statements for that month, quarter, or year. But be sure to shred or destroy properly.

Choose containers for each group of items.
Look at each stack of papers and consider what kind of container will work best. File folders are a natural, but consider other alternatives:

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  • Three-ring binders can be stored on shelves, and contents can either be hole-punched or placed in pockets and page protectors.
  • Box-bottom folders handle bulkier items well.
  • Large envelopes can substitute for file folders if you don’t have a filing cabinet or if the papers are various sizes and apt to fall out of a file folder.
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  • For voluminous stacks, you don’t need to organize further, try a box. If you do need to further organize a big stack, think about an accordion file or a notebook with dividers.

Choose a home for each container.
Store frequently-used papers in convenient locations. Files that are organized by related topics are easier to use than alphabetized systems. You’ll also locate files easier if you line up all the tabs on hanging file folders in a straight line, rather than alternating from left to right.

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As you have new papers that need to be filed, label them with the name of the file where they belong. Also do this when you remove a paper from a file. It makes filing a snap, whether you do it yourself, or have someone else help you.

Reduce the amount of paper you receive.

Become fanatical about stopping as much paper as possible before it comes into your house. Possibilities include:

  • Opting to receive electronic statements and notices.
  • Reducing the number of financial statements by using only one or two credit cards and consolidating multiple financial accounts (such as IRAs, brokerage accounts, etc.) to a single financial institution or manager if you can do that without sacrificing investment choices or service.
  • Asking your credit card company to stop sending you checks to use against the account.
  • Asking anyone who asks for your mailing address how it will be used.

Consider consolidating investments, bank accounts, credit cards, or other services to reduce the number of statements you receive. Or elect to receive the statements via the Internet.