A Fast and Easy Guide to
Organizing Paperwork

Organizing paperwork is basic organizing at its best… Declutter, categorize, and create a place for everything... That's it in three easy steps!

Organizing Paperwork.First, declutter paperwork. Just go through everything and second categorize. Sort it into piles, tossing things you do not need along the way. Once you get through sorting everything, create a place for everything. Create a file system, and go through the piles once again as you file everything away.

Sound too easy? Even if you’re faced with piles or worse yet, mounds of paperwork, it’s easy. What makes organizing paperwork hard is...

  1. Becoming overwhelmed
  2. Not having an organizing paperwork plan, creates the overwhelmed feeling
  3. Procrastination, not filing, tossing, or acting on paperwork and allowing it to pile up
  4. Fear of dealing with something so the paperwork piles up
  5. Not having a good system of organization in the first place

Yes, mounds and piles of paperwork can be avoided in the first place if we avoid procrastination, don’t fear big projects, or have a good system of organization in place already. But that doesn’t help us when we need to clear out begin organizing paperwork now.

Let’s make it easy and break this monumental project of organizing paperwork down into simple tasks.

A couple of quick tips before we start…

  • Be sure to buy a shredder. To protect your identity, shred all personal info.
  • See the section below on Paperwork for a list of things to keep and how long and what you can toss.

Now onto the three easy steps to organizing your paperwork nightmares.

Step One - Declutter that Paperwork

To Toss or Act On. When deciding whether to toss a piece of paper or act on it, ask yourself the following questions if you decide to keep it. What’s the action? What needs to be done? Can I delegate it? Does it need my attention right now? Can I put it on my calendar for later? Or, do I simply need to file it? These questions will help you further determine if you need to toss or keep the paper and how to handle it from there.

Some of the hardest things to get rid of are magazines and newspapers. These aren’t high priority, but there’s a tendency to hang onto these for future reading and or reference. More often than not, the stack of magazines and newspapers grows. Make it a rule that if you have at most, six months worth of reading material just sitting there collecting dust toss or recycle it. It’s not worth your time or the mental clutter to keep it and go through it.

As you move through the declutter process of organizing paperwork, you will want to sort the keepers into separate piles based on subject matter and that brings us to…

Step Two - Categorize

Second, you’ll categorize everything by doing just that. Putting everything that stays into piles based on subject.

Step Three - Create a Place for Everything

Now that you’ve gone through the paperwork and decided what stays, you’ll need to create a system of organization for these papers and items so they don’t end up cluttered again.

To create a filing system, you’re going to need a place to store files like a filing cabinet or file storage box, hanging files, manila folders, and labels.

Work with the categories of your business and then break these down further into sub-categories. For instance, if you have employees, you’ll create a category for employees and then break these down into further sub-categories or files for each employee, time cards, payroll, etc. Or, you could create a category for Finances and break this down further into the sub-categories of Payroll, Taxes, Bills, Invoices, etc.

For a hanging file you’ll first label the hanging file with the category, then create and label manila folders for the sub-categories. These will then be placed inside the hanging files.

Here are some good options for storing files:

File Storage Boxes. I use these to archive files and store them stacked on shelving in my garage.

Filing Cabinet(s). I keep a small two drawer oak filing cabinet for hanging files. I store current info in these. When the year is over I pack everything that I will not need immediate access to in the file storage boxes mentioned above.

That's pretty much it to organizing paperwork. Be sure to read on for important information on paperwork that will help you determine what you need to keep and how long.

Paperwork... What to keep and how long to keep it!

Here's a quick and easy reference of what you need to keep and how long and what you can toss and when.

Weekly or Monthly toss out…

ATM receipts, bank deposits, credit card and sales receipts only after you’re happy with the item(s) and don’t need the receipt for warranty purposes. Toss these weekly or monthly depending on how often you reconcile purchases.

Monthly

Monthly you can toss all bill statements such as your mortgage (just make sure the year end statement includes interest paid for taxes and property tax info.) The telephone, power, and utilities bills can be tossed after paying them unless you have a home office and use these for business related expenses.

Quarterly

Quarterly or whenever you receive them, you can toss out investment statements and replace with the new ones. Just be sure to reconcile these at year end.

Keep the following for seven years

The year end statements for credit cards, phone, and utility bills (if you have a home office and use as a deduction for your business, or if you own more than one home.) Tax related info such as your canceled checks for the yearly mortgage interest and property taxes (you can also find this info on the year end statement from your mortgage company), any business expenses that are deductible, medical costs paid out of pocket, and receipts for paid child care costs.

Keep indefinitely…just in case…

Yearly tax returns

Wills and beneficiary designations

Insurance policies (toss old ones and replace when you receive new ones annually)

Car titles

Receipts for major purchases if the item’s replacement cost is more than the deductible on your home owner’s policy.

Home improvement records. For instance, the bathroom remodel, painting the house, the pool installation, etc.

Detailed Inventory of your home room by room. Check out www.knowyourstuff.org for easy and free downloadable software that helps you take inventory of your home room by room. This is invaluable if you should ever need to file a claim on your home owner's policy. Be sure to include confirmation of purchase price for high value items for insurance purposes in the inventory.

Whew! You’ve just finished the most dreaded home office organization project! Organizing paperwork will never be a nightmare again now that you have a good system of organization in place. Congratulations!

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