Sorting and filing paperwork has to be one of the most dreaded tasks known to mankind, not to mention preparing for tax season.
Whether you have ADHD or you’re affected by chronic disorganization, it’s already difficult to get organized and stay organized. When paper clutter comes into the picture, you’d rather hide and pretend the pile isn’t even there.
But unfortunately, you can’t hide from our paper clutter forever. And when you add finances to the mix, the stress adds up and you’re overwhelmed.
In today’s blog, we’re going over how paper clutter affects you, how to prevent paper clutter, and two ways to organize and file it so you’re prepared for anything (especially tax season).
How Paper Clutter Affects You and Your Space
Paper clutter isn’t like other clutter. It’s socially acceptable to have lots of paper because it’s natural for you to have documents, bills, and junk mail in the house.
However, paper clutter has a way of sneaking up on you, and all of sudden, your drawers are stuffed and there is paper in every room.
Here a few ways paper clutter can affect you and your home
- Taking up more space than necessary — Paper takes up a lot of real estate in your home. It’s easy to get out of hand because it’s so easy to hide. For many clients, paper clutter builds up over time, so you don’t really notice how much space it takes until you organize it.
- Paper clutter causes stress — Seeing clutter alone can make you feel stressed and tired. With paper clutter, it can be more overwhelming because each paper has to be analyzed before being tossed out. But if you don’t take care of it, the clutter continues to grow.
- Unnecessary penalties & fees — With the amount of paper that comes in, important documents get lost and pushed aside. As a result, it’s easy to forget about payments and bills, leading to hefty penalties or higher interest rates on payments. This not only affects your wallet, but also your credit score.
But like any clutter, paper clutter can be organized, filed away, and prevented.
How to Get Rid of Paper Clutter
Whether you’re overwhelmed by paper clutter or trying to figure out how to organize years of paperwork, the first step to getting started is the same — declutter.
As a professional organizer, this step is important for any organization process, and it’s not different with paper clutter.
Before you dive into decluttering, keep this in mind: You don’t have to keep every single piece of paper.
Now, for actionable tips to help you reduce your paper clutter.
- Opt for e-documents
Prevention is key. Instead of having bills sent via mail, opt for e-bills. They’ll go straight into your email inbox, and you won’t have to worry about paper cluttering your home. Also, it’s easy to search a bill via the email search bar if you need to pull it up again in the future.
- Identify what to keep and what to toss from the beginning
According to ADHD coach and therapist, Beth Main, people with ADHD have an easier time making decisions when they are presented with “yes or no” questions.
So, to simplify your life, once your hand is on a piece of paper, ask yourself one simple question, “Is this trash?”
If yes, toss it in a trash pile. If not, keep it and sort later.
This is even more effective when you take action the first time you handle the paper.
What to Do With the Paper You Keep
Can you take care of it now? If so, great! Complete what you need to do with the paper and toss it after. If you need to keep it, write down how long you need to keep it for and file it away.
If you can’t take care of it now, add it to your to-do list to take care of later. Once you’ve completed the action, double check if it’s something you need to keep for your records or toss.
What to Do With Paper You Consider Trash
Now that you have a pile of paper to toss, the next thing is to identify what needs to be shredded or recycled.
For any paper with confidential information, you have two options. You can shred the entire document or shred only the confidential section and recycle the rest of the paper.
If you don’t have a shredder at home, you can always look for a shredding service near you.
For any other papers, you can place them into the recycling bin.
If you’re worried about how long to keep papers, like tax returns, refer to the IRS website for accurate and up to date information.
For monthly bills, it’s okay to recycle a month after payment. You can always get a copy online from the vendor’s website or the bank you used to pay via credit card or check.
Two Ways to File and Organize Papers at Home
Now that you’ve gotten rid of paper clutter, it’s time to create a proper place to store all your papers and easily access it when needed.
Method 1: Get organized with a filing cabinet
The most common way of organizing papers is using hanging folders and filing cabinets. And for good reason — it works. It’s a great way to keep everything in one place with lots of space available.
A filing cabinet makes it easy to store papers with lots of space available to keep them from getting damaged or wrinkled. On top of that, you can secure your filing cabinet with a lock.
Within the filing cabinet, you can add labeled hanging files to categorize all your papers.
SHiFT™ Tip: Keep file names simple.
For example, you don’t need to name a file ‘Comcast’ because it’s the name of the company.
Instead, you can name it “TV” or whatever is easier to recognize so you don’t have to try hard remembering label later on.
And if you ever change companies, you won’t have the hassle of changing the file name in the future.
Method 2: Organize your files using binders
Binders are a great and affordable option to organize your papers. They’re customizable with binder color, size, and tab options to suit your style. Also, binders are easy to move around and take up little space compared to a bulky filing cabinet.
Because binders are so small and easy to make, you can organize for different categories in your home.
Here are a few examples to get you started:
- Household items/manuals
- Family papers
- Taxes for each year — Click here to access a list of documents and forms needed to file your taxes.
- Important documents
- Cooking Recipes
- Estate Planning
Along with the categorized binders, you can create specific tabs within each binder so you can easily flip to the documents you need.
A few example tabs for important documents can include:
- Birth certificates
- Social security cards
- Marriage license
- Copies of your ID or Driver’s License
- Legal documents
Because this system is cost-effective and so easy to create, using a binder to organize your files is great for beginners — whether you are affected by ADHD or chronic disorganization. It’s my favorite method because it works well, looks great, and is easy to transport.
Cut the Paper Clutter and Get Your Space Back
The bottom line is there is no “right or wrong” way to organize your paperwork, but it’s important to know and follow your style and recognize the space you have available.
We understand that it’s not easy to do it alone. Going through old documents can be tough, emotional, and tiring for the mind and body.
If you’re having a hard time getting started, we can help. With years of organizing experience and a deep understanding of those affected by ADHD and chronic disorganization, Livable Spaces can help you declutter, file, and organize your papers.
By the end of the process, you’ll have a paper organization system that works best for you.