Here's a simple way to get organized and eliminate paper clutter at home.
Is paper clutter taking over your house? Between the paper you already have floating around and the deluge of incoming mail that seems to grow every day, it may seem like a losing battle. For a simple way to eliminate paper problems once and for all, Carol Keller, with Organizing Experts in the Los Angeles area, shares her four-step plan.
Step 1: Analyze where the paper clutter comes from.
Start by making a list of the types of paper that you handle every day. Common clutter culprits include the following:
Step 2: Sort and purge.
Now it's time to make decisions about what will stay and what will go. You'll be sorting items into two categories: Keep and Recycle/Shred.
First, gather the loose papers, magazines, newspapers, etc., and bring them to your sorting area, preferably a clean, flat surface, like your dining table or kitchen counter.
Next, set out some boxes or bags for recycling and shredding. Bankers boxes work well for starting temporary files for the paper you are keeping.
Then the real work begins: Pick up each piece and make a decision about whether it goes or stays. If it stays, begin creating categories and group all like papers together.
If you can't decide what to keep, put it to the test by answering the following questions:
If you can't answer the above questions, then recycle or shred the paper.
For magazines and newspapers you want to keep parts of, try these strategies from professional organizer Linda Koopersmith.
Step 3: Classify, contain and label.
Papers that you are keeping will fall into two categories: Active or Reference. Your storage solution will be different for each of these categories.
Active papers will need to be front and center on a desk or counter for easy access. Desktop filing boxes work well as you can assign a folder for each person in the household or file by action. Some of the actions may include the following:
Reference papers can be stored away from your desk in a file cabinet or an archival container that can be stored in another room, the basement or garage. They should be labeled by category and placed in alphabetical order so you can retrieve them quickly and easily. Some possible categories for reference papers:
Step 4: Create a regular decluttering routine.
The key to maintaining your new paper management is to create a regular routine for processing what comes into your home. Here are four tips to help you stay on track on a day-to-day basis:
In addition to purging paper on a daily basis, you'll want to take time throughout the year to evaluate your reference papers and rid yourself of any outdated or unneeded info. Here's a guide to understanding what financial records and other important papers you should keep and for how long:
Be sure to consult your CPA or financial consultant as to the length of time to keep papers that specifically pertain to you and your family.
Items you may toss after one year:
Items to retain for seven years:
Items to keep forever:
If you're claiming a home office on your tax return, you'll need to keep everything that relates to those expenses, such as utilities, rent or mortgage payments and office, phone and computer expenses. Keep a file for each category that you list as a deduction.
If you are not claiming a home office deduction, you may toss the following each month: