Ultimate Paper Organizer

Follow these simple steps to file right and find your life.

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White File Cabinet

Remember when computers were going to eliminate paper entirely? Phrases such as "paperless office" were used when describing our eventual clutter-free days. So why is it you are still swimming in a sea of paper and your filing cabinet is still stuffed like a turkey? The reality is we are a nation of paper hoarders -- sometimes out of habit and often out of necessity. Whatever the case, there's no reason to give in to the mountains of mail. The art of filing is a skill that, once mastered, will save you countless hours (and gray hairs).

Filing Is Your Friend

First, conquer the fears you may have about that tax document disappearing. This concern is universal and prevents the best of organizers from throwing anything out (What if I need it someday?). Another stumbling block is decision making (Is it important and if so, where do I put it?).  Lastly, there's the visibility factor. Everyone is busy these days. There is a legitimate anxiety to feeling like if a time-sensitive document is tucked away, so is any chance of paying a bill or RSVP-ing to a party. Our successful system will help you confront and resolve these fears and stay on top of your correspondence.

Little by Little

When we talk to busy women across America, they tell us that the trick to getting and staying organized was to do a little bit every day.  Of course, even this can be difficult if you have the proper system in place to facilitate filing. Our approach to organizing your papers can be done a little at a time. Once in place, this system will feel as doable as brushing your teeth. Try our method to keep all of your papers in the proper place.

#1: Keep Them Separated

If you do nothing else, separate the mail that requires immediate action from items that are simply for safekeeping. This will quickly cut the filing headache in half. Place now items in a durable folder or plastic sleeve. Use an attractive wire or fabric "inbox" for notices or copies you will need to file for safekeeping.

#2: Stick to the Basics

Classify your papers as you receive them. Name them in simple and broad terms so you don't end up with a system to rival the Dewey Decimal system. We like using names based on the purpose of function of the item (e.g. "Insurance: Home," "Child 1: School," or "New Business"). This will make it a snap for you (or anyone) to find the appropriate file later. Be sure to write down the entire list of file names before you create them. This will avoid any redundancies and inconsistencies before putting pen to folder.  If the thought of creating a complete system is too much, build it up slowly -- adding one or two new folders every day until you have finished. Keep extra supplies on hand so that it's easy to add additional files going forward.   

#3: Six Makes a Habit

Commit to filing for six minutes each day (two at the start of the day, two at lunch and two in the evening).  You'll be surprised at how quickly those piles disappear. Lastly, carry the action-item folder with you and whittle away at its contents as you have "down time" throughout the week. 

Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore are the co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stretched and stressed people get themselves organized. They are also co-authors of Everything (almost) In Its Place.

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