Organizing Papers, Part II: Don’t Over-Complicate It

Organizing Papers, Part II: Don’t Over-Complicate It

Now that you’ve used my last post, Organizing Papers, Part I, to sort all your papers into proper categories, here comes the best part—discarding, organizing, and filing papers!

Discard Papers

Toss or recycle any papers in your discard category that don’t have personally-identifiable or sensitive information. For the papers that you’re more comfortable shredding, you don’t have to spend hours using your home shredder to DIY. Many cities have commercial shredding companies that will shred for you—most charge a small fee per pound. Here in Rochester, MN, I refer clients to the Ability Building Center for secure and confidential document shredding.

Organizing and Filing the Rest

You shouldn’t have much left to organize, so this is the easiest part!

To start, put papers from the “store forever” category in the same file folder or storage solution, without subcategorizing them. You probably won’t go looking for these papers very often, and you don’t have that many, so you don’t need a complicated filing system—simple is best.

Now is a good time to make sure you have digital copies of your most important documents and that they’re password-protected on the cloud.

Handle the “store for the medium term” papers the same way as the “store forever” papers, and for the same reason. Create one file and put them all in it; no need to subcategorize. Generally, you will go to this folder pretty infrequently. When you do, quickly scan the papers you have there, and discard any that you don’t need anymore. Do this once or twice a year, and you’re covered. It’s really that simple.

For “papers that require action,” digitize any that you can. I include specific details in the names of those documents so I can easily search for them. That saves me the effort of creating a digital filing system.

Whatever papers are left should be those that require action or that you are currently using. These could be invitations you need to respond to, forms you need to fill out, bills you need to pay, articles you need to read, etc. Don’t procrastinate on the items in this group. Your goal is to keep this file extremely lean. Discard the papers after you’ve completed the task.

How you store the papers in this category is important. I do not recommend an inbox or any other storage solution that lets papers stack up. I suggest to my clients that they use a magazine holder so they can store papers standing up. Use this rule of thumb, especially for papers: Store items vertically, on their edge, so you can seem them and nothing gets lost at the bottom of the pile.

Congratulations! You’ve organized a category that causes a lot of us tons of anxiety! Go pour yourself a glass of wine or your beverage of choice.

In my next blog post, I’ll share how to handle incoming mail and papers. Spoiler alert: It’s super easy, so look forward to a short post.