Take a look around the areas you spend the most time in. Are there piles of papers on your desk? Stacks of mail on the counter? School papers strewn across the dining room table?
There is a reason why every organizational book, method, or guru mentions paperwork: we are overrun with it. From junk mail to monthly bills, from warranties to kids school work. It all accumulates fast.
A quick Google search will tell you to handle each piece of paper that comes into your house only once, which in theory is a good rule. Decide what to do with each item the minute you encounter it, but then what? What if you only have three minutes before dinner needs to get started, Joey needs to head out the door to soccer practice, or you have to get to that important meeting?
What you need is a system for dealing with all of those papers. I know, the last thing you need is ONE. MORE. SYSTEM. For anything. This one is going to save a little bit of your sanity though. Let’s break it down by paper type.
Mail: all types. Mail is of those things you really should just handle once. In order to do this, you need to have somewhere for your mail to go once you’ve decided to keep it. As soon as you get in the door (or as soon as you can thereafter), go through your mail. Everything that you aren’t going to keep goes in the recycle bin. What’s left should fall into one of the following: bills, magazines, catalogs, personal mail.
Ideally, you’ll want a seperate bin for your bills, either in your home office or near where you pay your bills. After that you can either keep your magazines and catalogs together or seperate them (a basket works well for both of these uses, either one or two), and your personal mail gets lumped into the next category.
Personal Papers: there are many ways to deal with personal papers. I like to use David Allen’s method from Getting Things Done. It involves 3 bins that stack on top of each other. The top bin is your in-box, the middle bin is your out-box, and the bottom bin is your to-be-read box.
Here’s how it works. Everything you can’t deal with in 30-seconds or less goes into your inbox. Once a week you go through your inbox and decide what to do with each item in there. Does it need to be filed somewhere? Do you need to fill it out and return it to someone? If the answer to that question is yes, then it goes into your outbox until you see that person next. Does it need someone else to take action on it? I put those items in my outbox as well. Finally there is the to-be-read box. This can be manuals you need to review, .pdf files you need to read, articles you have to read and file, whatever falls into this category. I don’t advise putting catalogs into this bin because it will quickly overflow during certain times of the year.
School Papers: Use the 3 bin method for school papers, except keep your bins somewhere close to where your kids come into the house each day. Do you have a mudroom with a cubby and shelfs? Hooks in your kitchen near a counter? Maybe you have a command station in your kitchen with a desk. Wherever you are going to see these bins. As you sort through your children’s papers each day, pull out anything that needs to be returned back to the school right away. Papers from the school (notices, fundraisers, etc.) go in the top bin. The middle bin is for papers done by your children. Worksheets, drawings, whatever. The bottom bin is for art projects that you might want to save. When you are done sorting each day, attend to the papers that need to be turned in right away and put them back into your children’s backpack or school bag. Then, every day or so, go through the top bin. You don’t want to miss out on any important events or announcements from the school. Recycle papers as you finish with them.
Once a week (no longer then every two weeks), go through the other two bins. Here’s a secret: you don’t need to save every paper your child brings home from school. Praise them for a job well done, and then into the recycle bin they go. Save a few examples of their work throughout the year. Especially if it is in a subject they struggle in and they made good improvement, or it is a sample of their writing. Any special project like poetry writing or short stories should be up for consideration as well. Artwork is a personal decision. You can take photos of it, you can save small pieces, you can save a select few, or you can choose a storage container and only save what fits in that container. Speaking of storage containers..
Keepsake Boxes: Toni at A Bowlful of Lemons shared how she creates keepsake boxes for each of her kids in this post. The idea is that you take a file box and fill it with folders labeled to suit your needs. Toni used categories such as birthday cards, report cards, school photos, awards, different activities her children were involved in, and then one for each grade they were in during school. So whenever she had something to save such as an award or a photo or a memento from that particular event for one of children, it went into that box. Check out the post, it is really clever.
Do you have a tip on how to deal with paperwork in your home? Share it in the comments.
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