I go through phases of super organized and not so organized.
There is no rhyme or reason to it but I will go weeks being good at filing, shredding and tossing paperwork and then weeks (or longer) where I just let the papers stack up like crazy until I can no longer use my desk at home or dining room table. And when I finally go through it I find expired coupons, blank papers, neighborhood flyers… the list goes on and on.
The thing is that I love being organized. I have to-do lists. I make notes. My email is divided into subfolders and my computer has detailed folders for projects and personal documents.
The paperwork in my life? I wish there was a good reason why my paperwork gets out of control but there isn’t. It’s just my own laziness.
So when I saw what this week’s challenge was I got excited because my piles of paper were no longer organized chaos, it was just pure chaos. And it had been that way for a long time.
Sure, I was going through the papers but they weren’t being filed. After moving a few times this year, papers were just in the filing cabinet, but randomly, which is really no way to find anything when you need it. Let’s do this – let’s organize those files!
Week 32 Challenge: Organize Your Paperwork
Challenge Details: Set aside 3 hours to organize your paperwork. This means that you will need to be ready to file your important documents and receipts. You should also be prepared to shred any documents that you no longer need.
Your Deadline: August 15
Bonus points if you start your system from scratch – be sure to share your photos with us on social media using #make2016mybitch.
Here’s how to organize your paperwork.
Figure Out Your System
For me this has taken a few years to master, and it continuously evolves, but I have a filing cabinet with hanging folders for each topic. Those topics include taxes by year, paperwork related to each place we’ve lived, car information, etc. I also have a miscellaneous finance folder for those things that just don’t seem to have a category.
Our important paperwork (e.g. Social Security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificate) stays in a binder at all times so that I always know where to find those.
After 5 years of marriage we have a lot of paperwork, so I have file boxes for archive purposes. These are non-active things but paperwork that I just don’t want to part with (like all those taxes). They don’t need to be at the ready/easy accessible, but I am not tossing the paper. I move folders to those boxes as needed.
To be honest, this is a new part of my paperwork filing system. I bought the boxes when we PCSed so our files were contained and could come in the car with us. I like them so much that I decide to keep them as my archive.
Buy Your Supplies
Once you have an idea of what your system will be, go to your favorite store with office supplies, and buy what you need. We already had a filing cabinet, but my file boxes are from the Container Store, and then I buy hanging folders.
Other great supplies are accordion folders, three-ring binders, paper protectors, three-whole punch, etc. Definitely look for coupons and ask for military discounts. This is something you will likely have to budget for, especially if you want to buy a filing cabinet, so be prepared to spend some money.
Make Piles Upon Piles of Papers
For me, the best way to start organizing paperwork is to go through all of those papers. Then I find common themes in which I want to organize them (2016 receipts for taxes, receipts and warranties for our current home, lease or mortgage documents for our current home, 2015 tax return, health documents, etc.)
As the piles begin to form and make sense I start creating my hanging files and label them. I then put the relevant papers in them and put the folders in my filing cabinet. If I come across other papers that need to be in those files I add them as I find them.
This helps me get a sense of what I have, but also keeps my working space (either my desk or the floor or the kitchen table) clean-ish, or at the very least allows space for new piles.
I also make a pile of paperwork to shred, like bills or receipts that I don’t need anymore.
Sometimes I shred as I go, sometimes I don’t – just depends on my workspace and my mood.
Organize Within Your Filing Cabinet
Maybe you know that the one file you will always need access to is 2016 receipts, so put that up front so you don’t have to dig all the way to the back of your filing cabinet for it every time you go to file something away. The great thing about hanging folders is that they are easy to move around, so while I may haphazardly put them into the cabinet at first, I take a look at the end and see if that makes sense to me and then move accordingly.
If you already have a filing cabinet, use this week’s challenge to review your old documents. Do you need to keep them? Is it time to shred them and make space for new documents? Is it time to move this hanging folder from the filing cabinet to the archive box?
Organizing Military Documents or the “I Love Me” Book
Honestly I did not understand this when I first married my husband but it’s pretty common practice for service members to have all of their important military-related documents in one spot.
I leave the organization of Army orders, awards, etc, up to my husband. His binder has a home in our file boxes.
While organizing your paperwork this week, you may want to encourage your service member to organize his or her “I love me book” and tag team this week’s challenge.
Organizing Your Sentimental Items
I will admit that the next organizing project for me is to go through our photos, cards, memorabilia and other miscellaneous things that we’ve each held onto through the years and find a good system for those.
Right now my sentimental items are in a combination of boxes with no rhyme or reason. When I find the time, they will get a similar treatment – probably not hanging folders, but specific boxes or containers for those memories to make sure that they remain preserved.
I’ll admit that I am the primary organizer of our household paperwork but this is a great activity to do with your spouse. You can figure out what needs to be saved and what doesn’t.
Who knows something you think can be tossed may need to stick around – like all of that PCS paperwork.
Organizing your paperwork sounds like a lot of work but I promise that it is worth it in the end. Plus, once you have a system in place it’s easy to build on it and stay organized long-term.