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Tips for Organizing Paperwork

Organizing paperwork………you’re cringing right now aren’t you?? I can’t tell you how much I hate paperwork. I think it stems from my career as a banker. So many files and loans, papers for this and that, then the paper money. Everything has to be all organized and neat. Everything has to be facing the right way, all in perfect order. Sign this, initial here. It’s enough to drive a person bonkers!

Does the thought of organizing paperwork make you cringe? Me too! I'm a paper-hater, but I've found ways of overcoming that paper monster, and you can too! Tips for Organizing Paperwork

It’s a scary thing to even think about because for years it has mounded up into a nightmare of a situation in your home. If you were asked for an important document, could you find it within ten minutes? If not, than you are like most of the population the paper nightmare has gotten the best of you.

But, there is hope!

First and foremost you must get your old paperwork under control. This may seem a little scary at first, but if you gather your old stuff and put it in one spot, you can go through it as you have time. Get rid of the things you no longer need and file what you do need to keep in the proper folders in your filing cabinet or drawer. Check out the tips below for some awesome tips for organizing your paperwork! Let’s get rid of that nightmare monster, okay!

Related: Organizing your home can be so difficult. You have no idea where to begin or how to organize your home in a way that makes sense. This organizing essentials guide is the perfect solution. With real life advice, this go-to guide covers almost everything you own! Get started now and say goodbye to clutter forever!

Use the 1-Touch System 

This is very simple when you think about it; you are only allowed to touch an item one time! Sounds like something you can do right? Paperwork usually comes in the mail or is brought into the house by us. Once it has crossed the outer limits of your household and comes into your living space you MUST put it where it needs to go. If it is a bill that you need to pay it needs to go in the bill file. If it is paperwork that you will need to reference at a later date, file it. It’s that simple! DO NOT set it on your desk to deal with it later; this will only lead to more work (and late bills). If you use the 1-touch system you will touch it once and be done with it!

Set a Timer

I like to set timers for myself. If you read 2 Organizing Tips That Will Change Your Clutter Forever, you know that you can easily apply this 10 minute rule to your paperwork monster too. Everything you put in that large stack of old paperwork, just go through it 10 minutes a day. Before you know it, you will have gone through all of it, and it’ll all be where it’s supposed to be. Hint…keep a file folder for misc. paperwork. I have a drawer that’s not junk, but it’s papers I honestly don’t know where to file. I know that if my paperwork is not in the labeled folders, it’s in there.

Consider using Online Banking and Bill Pay

This can seem quite scary for some who were not brought up in the age of computers. Take the time to sit down and research how to use an online banking system. If you run into an area that you do not understand, your local bank will help you get it set up and they may even reward you by using it. After you finally make the plunge with the online banking system, you may as well go ahead and work with your bank on setting up your bill paying online. This will make an amazing difference on the amount of paperwork that you have in your home.

When you pay your bills online you still have access to your statements…they just aren’t in paper form. If you want to hang onto them for future reference, save them on your computer as a PDF, then put them in a document file. You may want to also back them up on a USB that holds other bill and banking statements. It’s an easy and paper-free way to keep track of your bills.

Likewise, if you still prefer to get your statements in paper form, some credit unions will allow you to put your mailing address as theirs, so that they get your paper statements and just store them for you, usually up to a year. After a year, you’re not really going to need those statements anyway.

Invest in a Good Paper Shredder

A lot of times things end up being filed because we just don’t want our information thrown in the trash for the world to get their hands on. Invest in a good paper shredder (here’s a nice one with amazing reviews, and it’s only $30!) It will help immensely when it comes to discarding old paperwork. If you want to keep items like old paperwork for bills, set up a folder system to hold them and then discard after one year or after your taxes have been completed if you use them for that. Otherwise you can usually contact the company if you need copies of old bills.

I have found throughout the years that I have never needed any of them yet, but I do save 3-6 months at a time, just to compare the numbers sometimes.

Another good way to make sure that your personal information isn’t out there for the world to see is to keep an eye on your community’s calendar (or those of neighboring towns.) Many towns have paper shredding events. All you do is take your bills and other documents to a set location and watch as they are torn into bits and pieces…never to be viewed again.

Invest in a Filing System

Don’t get too concerned over finding the best filing system. All you need is a simple file box or drawers and some hanging file folders. Make sure you have plenty of extras when you begin because you will quickly find out when you first start a filing system that things crop up that you didn’t think of in the beginning. It will take you a bit to figure out what sort of system works for you, but stick with it and eventually it will become second nature to you. Having this sort of set up will really help you stay organized.

When you’re deciding where to put your filing system, think about places that will be easy to access and will be safe from water damage. If you choose your basement, consider elevating your filing system (by placing it on a wooden platform) in the event that you have an issue with water. Keep in mind that your files need to be available for quick reference.

How to set up your Files

So now you have your files, but what do you do with them? There are several ways that you could organize your filing drawers. One way is to set them up by date. That way, when you’ve hit the 3-6 month mark on bills, you know that they can go to the shredder.

First, you organize your bills by month. January comes first, then February, etc. Next, place them in your filing drawer in that order. Once you’ve got a drawer full of bills, label it (with an adhesive label) with the dates that are in that drawer. That way, if you need to refer to them, you know exactly where you can find them. When it comes time to shred old bills, simply pull the label off of the appropriate drawer and get it ready for the next series of dates.

You may want to put your tax paperwork in your files too. Simply organize your documentation (receipts, medical forms, etc.) in file folders by year. Then place the folders in sequential order in your file. Make sure to label the box or drawer that holds your tax information, so that you can go back to it. Don’t forget that tax paperwork should be kept longer than bills…about seven years is a good rule of thumb.

Invest in Binders

Binders may just become your best friend when it comes to getting your paperwork organized. The nice thing about binders is that they come in different sizes and you can designate one for each important topic.

If you’re like I used to be, you might struggle if asked for a copy of your mortgage, lease, or a birth certificate. Binders help you to get it all together so that you have it all in one place.

First, purchase a series of large (3-inch) binders, binder divider tabs, and clear sheet protectors. You can use baseball card holders to organize your store loyalty cards and social security cards.

Then figure out how you want your binders organized. You might want to have one that holds important documents: birth certificates and social security cards, passports, insurance policy information, etc. and another that holds home purchase/rental information along with documentation on any remodeling that you may have done along the way.

Next, figure out the categories that you’re going to break each binder into. Remember that this is for your organization, so do it in a way that makes sense to you. Label your binder dividers accordingly, and put them into the binder.

Lastly, put important documents into the sheet protectors and place them in the appropriate section of each binder. Some documents may only need to be 3-hole punched and put into the binder as is.  Make sure to label the spine and cover of each binder so that you remember what contents are inside of it.

Similarly, binders can be another great way to store your W-2’s, bank statements, and other tax documents. Rather than storing multiple years in each binder, you may want to purchase 1-inch binders (here’s a set of four 1-inch binders on Amazon) and have each one hold one year’s information. That way it’s a quick and easy way to pull the information if you ever need to do so.

 What to do about Really Important Documents

Some of your paperwork holds so much importance that you must find a way to store it in a way that will preserve it for future reference. Some such examples are trust and will information, old family pictures, and investment information. These are the kinds of things that in the event of a catastrophe, you would want to be able to retrieve.

Planning ahead will help you to be sure that your important documents will be there for years to come. One idea is to purchase a fireproof, waterproof safe for your home. Make sure that a trusted family member or friend knows how to access it. This can be a great way to have the peace of mind that your documents are safe.

Another idea for storing your important documents (and other family treasures) is a safety deposit box at your local credit union. Again, make sure that someone else knows how to access it, in the event that you need their help. This is another way to be able to rest easily knowing that your information is safe.

What about Memories?

Paperwork such unsolicited mail, magazines, and newspapers can definitely be a nuisance. Some papers, however, hold special meaning…making them difficult to get rid of. Are your drawers overflowing with notes and pictures from the kids, newspaper clippings of special events and much, much more? Then it’s time to organize your memories, too.

Rather than choosing a single drawer to house all of those papers that bring back memories, purchase a series of plastic bins. Label each one with a different source of memories, for example, kids’ artwork and family memories (from those who have passed). Then go through each artifact that you’ve hung onto to ensure that it is worthy of making it into a bin. If it’s not, recycle it, knowing that you’ll have plenty more to go back to later. If it’s one that you have to keep, put it in the appropriate memory bin.

When choosing where to store your memory bins, make sure to put them in a place where you will have easy access to them, but where they will be safe from the elements. If you have a basement, garage, or attic, that may be a good place to put them.

Organizing your paperwork doesn’t mean having to part with each piece of paper that comes your way…just prioritizing which you really need to keep.

 How about Magazines?

If you’re like me, you get magazines and catalogs in the mail that you’ve never subscribed to. In fact, you may get them on a regular basis from all different companies.

Are the tempted to keep the magazine to save an article? Have you found, though, that no matter how much you feel the need to keep an article, you rarely go back to it? This is a great way to get a heaping pile of magazines with the good intention of reading each and every one.

Here’s the thing, if you like an article, tear it out! Keep a stack of JUST those articles in a notebook or a plastic bin, so that the next time you really do want to find the article, you won’t be traipsing through hundreds of pages of dozen of magazines. Simply look through your bin or notebook and you’ll find it easy! This saves a great deal of time for me.

Absolutely have to keep your magazine stack? Go through the stack and commit yourself to only keeping the most current issues. If there is a story or recipe that you feel you can’t live without, then be sure to take it out and put it in the binder (along with other important stories) and recycle the rest. Be sure to allow yourself to only keep as many pages as will fit in the notebook or plastic bin!

If you find yourself not reading the issues that come, or putting them aside for a later time (and not returning to them), you may want to consider canceling your subscriptions. Often times, you can find similar articles online. It will save you the extra effort of organization as well as the cost of receiving the magazines!

 Don’t Let Your Paperwork Define You

Above all, know that your paperwork: bills, memories, and magazines alike don’t define the person that you are and when you get control of them, you’ll feel so much better! By putting paper in its place as soon as it enters your home, you’ll get your life (and your home back)!

Once you get your new system up and running and finally get your old paperwork gone through, the hard part will be done, and you can sit back and enjoy your home without all that paperwork clutter. The main thing you will want to keep up on is the 1-touch system. Always remember that you want to touch an item just once….. anything more than that is a waste of your time.

Do you have any tips on how you organize your paperwork? What works best for you?

Does the thought of organizing paperwork make you cringe? Me too! I'm a paper-hater, but I've found ways of overcoming that paper monster, and you can too! Tips for Organizing Paperwork

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  1. All good tips. I set up files within files on Outlook (I suppose any email program could work) so that if I want to save an email but not keep it in my inbox I might stick it in “Jack’s school” file right off to the left.

    • That’s a great tip Terri! Thank you for sharing. I do the same thing with my email. I really love the search function in email too. Makes it so much easier to find things.

    • That is such great advice I remember how things simplified at work and home when my supervisor showed me how to file emails that way

      I love ziplocs… They are perfect for putting things in your purse (anything with liquid in it or kids snacks, heck your own snacks… and they are see through, reusable) I am sold on them

      And Sarah the one touch system is something I have only heard one other place with regards to other clutter… It is hard to get in the habit but well worth it.

      Thanks for the advice.

    • Glad to help! I know, paperwork is so overwhelming! I also like to limit what’s coming in, in the first place. You can tell the credit reports to take you off the spam mailing lists, so your junk mail is drastically reduced. Likewise with the phone. There’s a Do Not Call Registry for telemarketers! 🙂

  2. I have never applied to work at a bank, and don’t think I ever will. Paperwork is the bane of my existence, the gum stuck to my shoe, the Kryptonite to this “somewhat Super Man”. 🙂

    I think my problem is just being so busy with day job, side hustles, family time, and occasionally, fun… I have stacks of paper everywhere. Who wants to deal with that? I don’t know how to tame the paper, so I put it off as long as I can.

    I do use online payments and e-banking at my credit union, and I do have a decent paper shredder. My problem is the “one touch” rule… Something comes in, I don’t know what to do with it, I get interrupted, or it is not something I can make a decision on immediately, so it goes in a pile.

    Anyway, you have given me hope. I shall soldier on in an attempt to defeat this relentless foe! 🙂 lol

    • Knowledge is power Super Man. Now you know how to tackle it and you can defeat your enemy! LOL Maybe you could leave the pile of paper somewhere that annoys you. It’ll stare at you with it’s beady little enemy eyes until you take care of it. I put mine on my coffee table and it works every time. 🙂

  3. Ahhh the paperwork dilemma. I am a homeschool mom and I am constantly being overtaken by this monster…lol. Thanks for the great tips:-) Lovin’ the one touch rule. Now to implement it.

    • LOL! Yes! Sometimes when I don’t follow that rule (gasp!) I put the mail on my coffee table and it sits there. I won’t move it until I deal with it, because I know myself. I get really urked when there are things all over. So, when I see it several times, I go over and take care of it. That seems to really help me when I’m super rushed and literally can’t do the one-touch rule.

  4. I use my scanner now for all paperwork that I need to keep or feel i might need it later. So far, I have worn out 1 scanner. Don’t forget to back up a lot.

    • That’s a great idea Mary! A person could easily store it all on a little card and title them as appropriate, use folders, etc. and be able to search MUCH faster than through stacks of paper! LOVE that idea!!! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  5. My New Year’s resolution this year had to do with taming the paper beast in our home. I committed to dealing with 30 papers per day. Even though I haven’t been meeting my goal, I have been making great strides in getting rid of a lot of stuff and dealing with a lot too (filing, giving it to the person it really belongs to, or recording the info I need from it before recycling, etc). I have been digging in to numerous boxes and doing lots of recycling. It’s been wonderful and freeing! Another thing I’ve been doing for several years is using a port-a-file for each year. Thanks for your great post!

    • That is great Nicole. It’s awesome to have goals and work on meeting them. Much more effective than not having them at all. 🙂 Keep up the great work!

  6. This is a Great Idea! as well as some of the other comments on here! I too have the best intentions, but sadly, I do your “one touch” sort of by putting it in a tote that I carry back and forth from work EVERYDAY with the intentions of spending that few minutes to “deal” with it, but most often don’t get to it in during my busy day. It piles up until it’s so heavy I almost can’t carry the tote anymore! I also used to carry a calendar around with all my bills and amounts to pay when they were due and check them off when they were paid. Which is really doing it all twice! EVERY MONTH!

    But, since I typically pay them online while I’m at work, last year I created a spreadsheet and listed ALL my bills. I sorted them by due date (actually listing them 2-3 days prior to the actual “due date” to allow myself time in case I got busy, or it was the weekend and i forgot! Thus, assuring nothing would be late!). I set them up with Bill/Creditor, Minimum pmnt., Estimated pmnt., End date, rate, limit, balance, Specials. This way I could really have an accurate account of where my money goes. Also I have a few things that are automatic drafts, so I highlighted them in orange. Anything that was “variable”, like electricity, or gas, basically core household bills, I highlighted in light blue. Anything due quarterly or annually I marked as such under “end date” and highlighted that field only in purple! Anytime something is closed or finished I move it to the bottom of the page and mark it as such. I never delete it in case I need the info later! Under “Specials” I put things like “No interest 6 months, ENDS March 2015”; stuff like that! The REALLY IMPORTANT part is the blank column to the left! Every time I pay a bill, I highlight the field in that column RED and if its a credit card that I paid the whole balance on, I type in “IN FULL” as well!

    This has really helped me A LOT! I also have flash drive on my key-chain that actually looks like a key! All the bills have their own folder where I save a copy of my confirmation as a .pdf. An easy way to accomplish this is by downloading “PrimoPDF” and it’s FREE! This will allow you to “print” anything into a .pdf form! I also do this with the online bills that I no longer get paper bills for. I’m trying to ween myself off the paper thing!!!

    I have files set up for each of them. But my biggest issue is, I NEVER file them the way I had intended to! So I saw this “calendar/book” at a dollar store recently that gave me an idea to take a different approach and possibly allow me to actually FILE THEM and save time, paper, and patience!!! It was a book that had a calendar and folder for each month. The folder was for putting the bills in for that month! So I have about 27 items on my spreadsheet that I keep up with every month. So instead of having 27 files to deal with, I could potentially have 1, yes, ONE folder for the WHOLE YEAR!!!! I’m so excited! But frugal as I am, I will probably make my own folder so I can customize it a bit! I’m thinking legal file folders, folded, and bound together, and a printable calendar on sticker paper should do the trick!

    I know this was a lot, but if anyone can use any of it to help them, I’m just happy to share! This has been a long struggle and stress of being late on stuff to get where I am now!!! Also thinking of adopting some of the ideas above!!!

    Thank you all so much!

  7. I have two big binders with 6 thick plastic pocket sleeves (with sideways/slash pockets), one each for Jan-Jun, the other binder with pocket sleeves for each month Jul-Dec. In the front cover of each binder are a few envelopes, stamps and return address labels. As bills come in they get put inside the pocket sleeve for the month they are due. Receipts go in the pocket for that month too to be reconciled with credit cards or reconciled with the bank statement (ATM & debit receipts). Even birthday cards can be put in there, party invitations, etc. We pay bills 2x a month, via our bank online for most of them. When they are paid they get clipped together and put in the back of the pocket for that month in case we need to refer to them for the month. We usually keep the monthly bank statement with the monthly packet as well. Anything to be used for taxes goes in the back pocket of the binder cover. Anything that’s not a bill to be paid (i.e. Medical insurance statements of what was paid by them, stock/bomd statements) goes into its appropriate hanging files in the filing cabinet. At the end of the year, stuff for taxes is in the back of the binder, ready to use. In January we spend a few evenings unclipping each month’s paid bills and filing each item into its hanging file in the file cabinet. At that time we also shred old files. What I like about this is the binders can sit on a bookshelf and accessed easily when needed, and laid out flat on the table. Don’t have to dig thru a file cabinet, just flip to the appropriate month in the binder!

    • Thanks for sharing Carol. 🙂 That sounds really cool. I love the idea of a binder that you can set on a bookshelf, like you said, when it’s not in use. Fantastic!

  8. Great tips. I used to struggle with organizing my paperwork. One of the best things I ever did was set up my bills to be paid by direct debit and go paperless with anything I can. I read all mail as it arrives. I then have a 3 step system. 1. bin it. 2. I have a box for things to be filed once a month. 3. And an area of things I need to act on. These get dealt with by the end of each wee.

    The one thing I do intend to do this year is invest in a good shredder.

  9. I have filed in a over the door plastic shoe holder for years. It helps me to see what I actually have instead of hidden in a folder. Once the pocket gets full I usually realize I don’t really need most of the papers I keep and put them through the shredder. I do have a filing cabinet for car titles and important stuff, but the monthly bills etc., it’s easy to just stuff them in the pocket. This saves me from the stacks of papers on the the counter, the table, basically any flat surface I happen to be standing by when I open the mail (haha). At first I labeled the pockets with post it notes, but then those that I used for a while got a real label with large magic marker writing so I could easily identify each pocket.

  10. I need to share these tips with my husband – he is the worst about keeping old paper work! I definitely like two of the tips – setting a timer and starting a good filing system. Thanks for sharing!

  11. These are great tips! Online bill pay is such a lifesaver for us. Without it, I’d spend hours each month just going through bills. I like the idea of saving up for a nice paper shredder. That would save a lot of time too.

    • I got a nice one at Staples on sale for like $25! Omnitech is the brand and it’s done really well for a long time. Not sure how many papers it can shred at once, probably a lot, but it’s been a good machine and not all that expensive either. 🙂

  12. I spent a lot of time getting my mother’s paperwork in order and into binders. One binder each for taxes, paid bills, medical information, addresses (this notebook holds the addresses, return labels, stamps, address labels of the people she has frequent mailings to), household events- like when the HVAC filter was last changed, batteries changed in the smoke alarms, etc.
    This familiarized myself with her finances and household expenses. My other brothers and sisters can go to her house and know where to look for anything as well. This is allowing her independence as an aging person to stay at home with her children to “keep an eye on her.” With her memory not being as good as it once was, now she can keep on top of everything.

  13. I have always avoided the paperwork monster because, like most, I’m not sure if I should keep a paper or not, and if so, what to do with it. I’ve been making headway on it this month though, and I seriously feel better already!

    I’ve also implemented something new. Before, at the post office, I would go through my mail and immediately recycle any junk mail or magazines. (At least it doesn’t make it into the house then!) But lately I’ve made a point to take the junk with me and have been opting out of Every. Single. One. I am so sick and tired of having to sort through it all and wasting paper like there’s no tomorrow. I’m sure feeling better, even if there is no end in sight!

    • You can opt out through your credit reports too. That’s where the companies get your address. You’ll still get a few here and there, but it’ll stop a lot of it. 🙂

  14. Hi! This has been very helpful, I didn’t realize that I needed this so bad! The one touch is such a great idea! I’m in the process of trying to get my mess under control! I didn’t realize how hard this was gonna be! I started, but I have a difficult time of staying with it to get it done! I always get distracted, with something else! One day, I will be done with it!

  15. I found you on pinterest, I am very delighted with all the information you have been nice to share. I love it, plan to use all I can of it and I will continue to read your work. Thank you so much for all your efforts.

  16. But where to find the time? Paperwork is the bane of my existence. I still haven’t done last years tax (Australia’s is due July 1st).

    I have to disagree with you about memory bins. I have 13 years of art folios from my eldest son and 3 years from the youngest. I photograph the art that is a lovely memory and a record of his progress, but not really worth framing. Then I recycled the rest. The photos get stored on my computer until I’m ready to scrapbook them.

    Funny how I can be organised with scrapbooking but not with paperwork! LOL

  17. I have already been using binders in many ways you mentioned, my favorite of which is to organize them by year. I slip bills and such into sheet protectors, along with receipts, etc. Doing it this way has truly been an epiphany for me. I’m such a visual person, so this seems to work for me when I can flip through and see everything at a glance. I need to create an “important papers” binder, though. Nice article! Thank you.