Paper - recurring theme but I can't seem to conquer it!

mommabirdDecember 10, 2012

I realize we've talked about paper many, many times over the years but it seems to be the one thing I just can't keep under control.

I've tried so many different ways to organize mail, records, etc but nothing seems to be a long term solution.

I do put all junk mail in the recycling bin immediately after opening the mailbox. I try to have designated basket for mail but it always seems full to overflowing.

I do have files pretty well under control. My son 'totaled' one of our cars and I actually had everything I needed in one file. That was a MAJOR accomplishment for me & I was pretty proud of myself. BTW son wasn't hurt. The car was a 28 year old classic car. Normally it would have been a fender bender, but due to lack of parts, the ins co declared it a total loss.

Help! What works for you?

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jannie

Sorry about your car. Car insurance is like men. Can't live with em, can't live without them. I have a small file cabinet in my dining room, two drawers,finished to look like wood furniture, looks like an end table but has two file drawers. I sort mail over the waste basket, put bills to pay on my kitchen table, receipts and mail to keep get put away in the files. I have one folder for each family member, plus taxes, medical, pets, warranties, etc. I can lay my hands on anything within a few minutes. And my Christmas tree is standing on the file cabinet right now!

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 10:00AM
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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana

Help! What works for you?
Nothing that I have found yet. I am determined to get through the small mountain of misc papers/mail, and if I then come up with a system of 'keeping up' with it, I'll be sure and post it.

I do have a small filing cabinet and do use it.

Right now the pile is
stuff to be pitched
stuff to be filed (or put away somewhere)
stuff I need to address/do
probably just some misc 'stuff'

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 10:22AM
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LuAnn_in_PA

"I do put all junk mail in the recycling bin immediately after opening the mailbox. I try to have designated basket for mail but it always seems full to overflowing. "

I have paper under control, and most of my friends think that is so very freakish.

First, stop the junk mail. I get practically nothing, as I have removed myself from mailing lists.

Second, why have a basket for mail?
I deal with the mail right away.
Magazines go into the magazine basket. When I put one in, I remove last month's and toss it.
Catalogs go into the catalog basket... the previous one gets tossed.
Mail is opened, envelopes tossed. Bills go on the desk, to be paid that day (whether by mail or online). The bill is then immediately filed. DH's business mail goes on his desk. Etc...

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 12:33PM
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talley_sue_nyc

It sounds like a lot of stuff actually *IS* working for you!

What works for me is to forgive myself.
And, to set aside some sort of time to actually handle the papers.
Which, of course, I don't do consistently.

Stuff that just needs to be filed actually gets filed. This works.
That's because I have a really, really good filing cabinet. full-extension drawers, strong glides. And decent folder system.
But it's also because I didn't get TOO granular. (though I wish I had in at least one area)

The paper I can't control are the pieces that need me to do something with them, but I can't do it when I first get my hands on the paper. (the company is closed; dinner's about to be served; whatever)
I *CAN'T* "deal with the mail right away." I just walked in the door at 7:15--dinner's on the table, and the companies are closed.
And so it goes somewhere and I don't do whatever it is I'm supposed to do.
I have to do it during the day, from work, but I'm not good at carving that time out.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 2:18PM
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cozyfarmhouse

What kind of mail is going into the designated basket?

It sounds like you are already doing pretty well, getting rid of the junk and filing things that need keeping.

I have to toss the junk every single day or it piles up. I look through catalogs the day they arrive and toss them. If I see something I want I make a note and order online. The bills are clipped together (so they stay tidy) with the stamps and get paid twice a month. We have a filing cabinet for things we need to keep.

I don't have any magazine subscriptions.

We keep small notebooks handy for writing notes and lists. I used to write things down on old envelopes, which led to a lot of paper clutter. Notebooks keep the desk much more tidy and important notes don't get lost.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 10:20AM
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jannie

One thing I did years ago, when I was working over 50 hours a week outside the home and raising 2 daughters, was I bought a briefcase. When I came home, I'd look at mail, sort it, junk went in recycling,magazines to my coffee table, coupons, bills, mail that needed a reply/action etc all went in the briefcase. I'd eat lunch at my desk at work, out came the briefcase and bills and "to-do" mail. I paid my bills at lunch, convenient and there was a mail pick-up at my office every afternoon. I had a scare once when I left my briefcase in a pizzeria after work, but I got it back. Guess nobody wanted my bills!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 10:56AM
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graywings123

Dealing with paper is like dealing with the dirty dishes. It's a daily process.

One issue I solved was finding a simple way to file paper, and the beauty of my system is that I have a systematic way of purging the papers I keep.

Most paperwork is not important enough to keep, yet you are reluctant to throw it away immediately. My system is 6 folders labeled:

Jan - Mar
April - June
July - Sept
Oct - Dec
Jan - Mar
April - June

Everything that I am not quite ready to throw away goes into these files by the date they come in. Every bill, receipt or whatever that comes in during the period January to March (that I am not ready to throw away) goes into that file. I file very few things by subject matter.

Why six files? I added the extra two quarters of the year so that when I did my taxes in April of the following year, I had the previous year's papers available to me.

Why don't the files say Jan- March 2012, for example? I don't put the year on these files because I reuse the files. Right now, the Oct-Dec file is in the front of my file drawer. In January, I will go to the back of the drawer, find the Jan-March 2010 folder, empty it and start filling it again. That then purges the files and keeps the amount of my paperwork in check.

This system proves to me how seldom you refer back to old paperwork. It is there if I need it, but honestly, most all of it sits there for a year and then gets shredded.

You could also use this system for things you want to come back to and read later. Don't have time right now to read it? Put it in a quarterly file and pull the file out when you have time. If you have not read it in a year, it's probably not important to you.

This speeds up filing because everything goes in one file. You are not flipping through various file folders looking to put one piece of paper in it.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 11:00AM
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trancegemini_wa

I spend a few minutes sorting the mail every time I bring it in. The first thing I do is open all of the envelopes, then sort out junk mail and envelopes into the trash, things like credit card applications go in the shredder. Bills get unfolded and put in a separate tray until they are paid and then they get filed. Catalogues go on the coffee table where I'll look through them later. Things like reminders from the dentist etc get stuck on the refrigerator. I really just have a place for everything so that it's properly sorted as it comes in, but I know if I don't open the mail right away, it won't get sorted properly.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 1:43PM
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talley_sue_nyc

I *love* the "briefcase" idea, Jannie! I think I'm going to adopt that in some way. Maybe an envelope that can go in my tote w/ my lunch and my shoes, but really the same idea.

I just have to make myself carve out the time to handle that stuff at work.

And Graywings, I love the folders! That sounds genius!
My big problem is ditching the old stuff; I originally intended to put in a new bill and pull the old one out of the back. But I don't tend to do that.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 4:55PM
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LuAnn_in_PA

Another hint, if someone has complicated taxes, as we do...

My file folders are labeled with the lines on the 1040 form.

When I pay a bill, if the receipt is needed for taxes, it goes right into the proper file. Come tax time, all the receipts are already sorted out!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2012 at 5:30PM
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hlove

LuAnn...that last one is genius! Although our taxes aren't currently complicated (they were a few years ago when I had my own business), I can see this helping me with some of my sorting.Thanks!

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 2:56PM
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wantoretire_did

I recently did a major paper cleanout - EOBs for the last couple of years, old financial info, credit card statements, electric, outdated car insurance policies, and so on. Had a deep plastic dishpan full. I had discovered that our Staples takes paper to be shredded and feeds it into a large metal locked box, to be picked up by Iron Mountain for shredding. You can watch it going into the box if need be. At .79 cents a pound, worth every penny to be rid of it. It cost $6 or $7 for the whole batch and it is GONE :-)

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 3:12AM
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donnawb

I have had and sometimes now the same problem. I found that you have to use what works for you but the most important thing is to do it every day. If you let it go a few days then you will put it off a few more, at least in my case.

I have a folder in the cabinet that I put all my paid electric, telephone, credit card bills, etc in and empty about once a month when I pay the new ones. I have files for health, car insurance, etc.

I do like the idea of the quarterly folders because I seem to save more than needed but getting better.

I don't get catalogs any more as I can view them online. I don't get much junk mail any more after I opt out of the credit reporting agencies. Seems they send your name to more places than credit card offers.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 9:39PM
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jannie

When I was working (for the federal government) we had a great filing system. Important papers were saved for six months, figuring, if there was a problem with something, we'd know within 6 months. Legally, you have 60 days to challenge a government decision in my Dept, so keeping things 6 months is generally enough. Anyhow, we filed everything by month, One through Seven, not January to December, and on the first of every month we'd pull open the file drawer and reach in the back for the oldest file, empty the papers, shred and discard them. The old empty folder was then rotated to the front of the cabinet, and new papers for the current month would be filed inside it. It took six months for a folder to rotate from the front to back.I've thought of using this system at home, but haven't put it into place.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2012 at 8:47AM
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mustangs81

MommaBird, I feel your pain--NOTHING works for me!! I am anally organized in other areas but I can't get a handle on the paper situation. I never bring junk mail in the house, I go from the mailbox to the recycle bin to sort through the daily mail.
I pay bills online and request paperless statements when available and save them online.
I have numerous filing systems to deal with the sorted mail and other incoming paper, 3 just in my kitchen and more in the office. The problem is I'm not consistent in which file I use.
I spent 3 days going through files, files, and stacks of paper; filled a 45 gallon black bag with paper and shredded about half that much. I still have more to sort through than what I have gotten rid of.
When company comes, I scoop up the stacks of paper and put them in the guest bedroom in a dresser drawer only to find them months later.
I keep the books for 10 Mustangs teams, that requires a lot of receipts and record keeping.

I think fear of the IRS is to blame for this area of my incompetency.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2012 at 10:35AM
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williamsem

Does anyone have a link to a reliable source on how long papers need to be kept? We generally keep anything we needed to do taxes that year bundles with the tax return form. Obviously notices that loans/debts are paid in full keep forever, but all the other stuff? My issue is I can imagine scenarios for keeping just about everything. What if I need to prove date of purchase for a warranty repair? Or recall? DH had considered a career in the FBI at one point and had to list every trip out of the country on his background check. We live a few hours from Montreal and took long weekend trips there frequently when the exchange rate was $1.65 with all taxes refunded (ridiculously cheap getaways!). Lucky we had credit card statements for those years, we didn't keep track anywhere.

I have GOT to figure out some kind of system soon. The papers are a real problem!

    Bookmark   December 15, 2012 at 11:13AM
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joann23456

Graywings, I *love* that idea! I will combine it with my habit of putting stuff I can't quite let go of in a box, labeled to dispose of six months in the future. And I don't allow myself to look in the box when it's time to dispose of it, because if I'd needed something, I would have got it out long ago.

I'm going to try that with paper. I have bills under control, because they're all electronic. And I recycle all catalogs immediately, and don't subscribe to magazines. Still, there are things to deal with.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2012 at 5:37PM
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Chemocurl zn5b/6a Indiana

Does anyone have a link to a reliable source on how long papers need to be kept?
See link below.

What if I need to prove date of purchase for a warranty repair? Or recall?
I 'try' to staple the dated purchase receipt to the Service Manual that comes with an item. I found it interesting that my old TV that finally gave out some time ago, was actually 25 years old. Pretty amazing, huh?

Here is a link that might be useful: USA-Gov Managing Household Records

This post was edited by chemocurl on Mon, Dec 16, 13 at 11:27

    Bookmark   December 16, 2012 at 10:58AM
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gsciencechick

I keep a couple of bankers boxes for shredding. I just throw everything in there, and wait for the next free community shred day. If you cannot wait, some places like office supply stores will also do shredding by the lb. and often offer coupons towards it. Especially now after the first of year, be on the lookout for the free community shred events. Here, a lot of them are sponsored by the police or else the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 2:09PM
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williamsem

Thanks, chemocurl, that's just what I was looking for!

I was already inspired by this thread to get something together for 2013. I went and purchased a file box and folders. They are set up with a hybrid system of common categories such as utilities, credit cards, etc and quarterly folders for anything else we think we want to keep. Should be easy to file things, then review at the end of the year. There is also a folder for tax stuff and FSA receipts.

We still have an embarrassing amount of past paperwork piled around. I'm hoping we can move forward in the right way, and deal with the backlog a little at a time. My goal would be to get caught up by the end of the year, if the kitchen remodel doesn't kill me first!

    Bookmark   December 18, 2012 at 11:32PM
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quasifish

Over the past few years I've completely simplified my filing system-- mainly because at one point it dawned on me that I almost never reference most things, so while they need to be in a designated location, it's not as important that they are in order or even individual files.

We have a drawer that most paperwork goes in. In that are a couple of folders labeled as follows:

Keep- this is things like RX info, insurance info, DH work info- anything that might need to be referenced quickly and easily. It is a small folder.

Bills- I use to keep them a year past due, but since they are all online now anyway, they get shredded every few months.

Financial- that's pretty much everything else- bank statements, CC statements, etc. At the end of the year, everything gets jumbled into there, a rubber band goes around it, it's labeled, and put in a filing box until it's old enough to get shredded.

Inside that file box are also a few other folders that contain information that we need to keep, things like DD's school info, or medical/dental info.

Taxes and related information are the one place I stay organized with like things clipped together and everything nice and tidy in a good folder.

If your looking for a professional's opinion on the matter, Peter Walsh's book "It's All Too Much" has a nice chapter about paper control.

Oh, warranties, instructions manuals, and things like that go into plastic bags and then into one of those magazine storage containers that sit either on a closet shelf or on a shelf in the laundry room.

Last year DH was helping a neighbor with a computer problem that appeared to be a warranty issue. Their office was so overrun with paperwork that they could not find the warranty. When the wife finally went through the whole office and shredded everything she deemed they no longer needed, the garbage bags filled the back of their full sized pick up! It's amazing how it builds up.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2012 at 11:23AM
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ayesha_irshad

have you ever heared about hidden storage items? like storage beds, sofas and even foot stools. these hidden storages are best to save your documents and keep them away from your kids because most of the times they do not know about that hidden storages. you may dedicate different items for different sort of files. or you may also do partitioning in a single item. bed having hidden storage are too much spacious!!

    Bookmark   December 21, 2012 at 5:37AM
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peegee

Thought I'd join in as paperwork has always been my downfall, but I devised a new system months ago that seems to be working well for me. First, a couple years ago I let go of the idea that I needed to save everything; I realized that in decades, I really never needed to compare old bills, policies, electric or gas usage, etc. except for one time and I was able to request a full accounting. That got rid of a ton. I shredded it all and put in the recycling bin. I also called all junk mail companies that I could and requested to be removed. All junk mail is disposed immediately into a single stream container in my kitchen and dumped into the cities container outside, unless it has personal info on it and then it is taken into my office and shredded as soon as it comes in.
This year i bought a new student desk with matching 3 drawer cabinet placed next to it; the desk has a file drawer, and a top drawer that is slightly larger than a full sheet of paper into which I put ANYTHING I want to save/file/read later, etc. (except bills). When I clean each room, if there is a stray paper found, unless it is a bill, it gets tossed in that drawer. When the drawer starts filling up, I go through it and toss, file, etc. If a paper needs attention soon, I will place it in a tiny holder on the top of the chest. Almost nothing goes there; it almost all goes in the drawer. The desk also has a narrow drawer above the chair area that accomodates a laptop, and the back has an opening for cords. There is a cross cut shredder next to the desk.
All bills go into a shallow box in the chest's top drawer where I keep check books, stamps, etc. I pay bills online, and after paying, write the date/amount, and put back in the box and shred last months statements. I never keep them any longer anymore. The other two drawers contain office supplies. The file drawer holds no billing statements (they are all shredded monthly and kept in the bill drawer) but will hold files with information like my current policies, contact info, investment reports, medical files, etc. For the first time in my adult life I don't have piles of paper all over the house, I know where everything is, and can find things quickly. Yeah!!!!

    Bookmark   December 23, 2012 at 2:27PM
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ChrissyOrg

Hi - I too had a problem with the never ending paperwork that came into my house - wherever you turned there would be a new pile - something had to be done.

Being sick of never finding anything it took a LONG time to come up with a system that works, and I have used it for years now very successfully.

I wanted to share some tips with you to see if they help at all:-

1. Keep ALL your files and paper storage in one place, and make the papers journey through each section (incoming, to action, actioned, filed, rubbish etc...) easy by putting relevant sections one after each other.

2. Have a bin BY THE FRONT DOOR - and put in all envelopes, rubbish, junk mail etc... straight into it before it even gets past the first room (recycle of course where possible)

3. Shred all important information

4. When you file anything, ensure that the document its taking the place of is shredded straight away - that will keep on top of the pile growing)

5. use your diary for scheduled items, and any paperwork related to appointments etc... should be kept in a dairy add on file - which can be kept by the diary with a section for each month.

6. Only file and keep what you will REALLY need.

7. Don't make your system complicated - if you do you simply won't use it and will end up more disorganised than ever

Hope these help!

This post was edited by ChrissyOrg on Thu, Jan 3, 13 at 12:22

    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 12:19PM
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ChrissyOrg

Hi - I too had a problem with the never ending paperwork that came into my house - wherever you turned there would be a new pile - something had to be done.

Being sick of never finding anything it took a LONG time to come up with a system that works, and I have used it for years now very successfully. I wanted to share some tips with you to see if they help at all:-

1. Keep ALL your files and paper storage in one place, and make the papers journey through each section (incoming, to action, actioned, filed, rubbish etc...) easy by putting relevant sections one after each other.

2. Have a bin BY THE FRONT DOOR - and put in all envelopes, rubbish, junk mail etc... straight into it before it even gets past the first room (recycle of course where possible)

3. Shred all important information

4. When you file anything, ensure that the document its taking the place of is shredded straight away - that will keep on top of the pile growing)

5. use your diary for scheduled items, and any paperwork related to appointments etc... should be kept in a dairy add on file - which can be kept by the diary with a section for each month.

6. Only file and keep what you will REALLY need.

7. Don't make your system complicated - if you do you simply won't use it and will end up more disorganised than ever

Hope these help!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2013 at 12:21PM
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suska6184

Some good ideas offered here I ought to try. I have tried similar systems in the past, but once I put something off until I have more time, that's when the piles start and I'm back where I was. I've seen commercials for the Neatdesk on TV where everything can be scanned into an electronic file, but I sure hate to spend a couple hundred dollars when I should be able to get a handle on this with a bit more discipline LOL.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 4:39PM
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donnawb

The secret is to keep up on it. If you do it daily it takes a few minutes if you wait a week you have a pile of papers and then seem to put it off. I find when I do it daily it works much better for me.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2013 at 8:44PM
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