Do you have piles of paperwork all over the place? Confused as to what to do with it and where to start?

Do you simply want it to disappear and for you to never have to think about sorting it out ever again?

Woo hoo! This is great news! It’s the first steps towards dedicating yourself to getting things more organized!

piles of paper

The good news is that this CAN be rectified!

The bad news is that the ‘initial cleanup’ will take time, persistence and dedication.

But hang on – is that really bad news?  Or does it just mean that you need to commit to doing this, (yes, it does take time) but then, once and for all, you’ll never be bothered by paper-piles AGAIN!

Remember a few weeks ago, when we talked about how to get organized at home, I introduced you to my CRAVE formula?

To jog your memory, CRAVE =

  • Categorize
  • Rubbish, Recycle, Regift, Resell
  • Assign
  • Vessels
  • Evaulate

Well guess what?  CRAVE  works just as well with papers as it does with stuff at home!!  Yippee!

So here we go, without any further ado:

How to organize your paperwork

Here’s what you’ll need to start this process:

  • Manila folders or hanging folders
  • Thick markers to label the folders (or colorful labels, or a label maker – whatever suits your personality!)
  • A filing cabinet, or ring binders, or concertina files
  • A bag ready to contain recycled paper
  • A bag ready to contain confidential papers to be shredded
  • A shredder, or some other facility whereby confidential papers can be destroyed

C – Categorize

For this step, you will need to touch every single piece of paper at least once. Grab a pile of paper and start categorizing everything. Choose categories that work for you. I will use my categories as examples here, but again, choose what suits you. In my example – put all electricity bills together, all gas bills together, all phone bills together, all car insurance papers together, all doctors/medical papers together. Etc, etc, you get the picture. This is the step that will take some time, and yes, by the end of this step, I expect that you’ll probably have little piles of paper dispersed over an entire room!

Once that’s done:

R – Rubbish,Recycle, Regift, Resell

Now – for every single pile – go through each piece and decide whether it’s something you want to keep, or something you want to get rid of.

  1. If you want to keep it – leave it in its categorized pile.
  2. If you want to get rid of it – make a decision.
  • Does it get recycled? If so – put it in the recycle bag.
  • Does it get regifted? That seems like it doesn’t make as much sense paperwise, as it did at home, but think of it this way – should it be given to someone else? Maybe it’s paperwork relating to a car now owned by your brother. Maybe it’s pamphlets for the Paris Hyatt, and your mum is taking a trip to Paris soon.
  • Does it get resold? For example, is it an instruction manual that goes with a fridge that you’re selling? If so – put it with the fridge.
  • Is it rubbish – is it, quite simply, something that you no longer need, that can be thrown into the trash? Remember, when we got organized at home, we focused on each room, and our vision for the room? This is a very similar situation. Do you need to keep every takeout pamphlet you’ve ever picked up? – Does that fit the vision of your future? Do you need to keep the pamphlet for the Paris Hyatt when neither you nor anyone you know have the immediate intention of traveling to France? Are you really going to read that magazine from August 2005? If it’s recyclable paper, then put it into your ‘Recycle’ bag.  If it contains confidential information, then put it into your ‘to be shredded’ bag.

A – Assign

Now we come to assigning a home for everything. Where is all this remaining paper going to be located? I’m talking location, not containerization, at this point. Do you have a study and would it make sense to keep it there? Is it going to be stored under your desk? Is it going to be stored under the stairs? Remember, storage locations need to be convenient. There’s no point deciding that all papers will be stored in a location that’s far away from where you regularly open your mail. If it is far away, then guess what? You’ll never use it because it’s too much effort to take the steps to the location, so you’ll end up with more piles of paper! Exactly what we don’t want. Think convenience when deciding on your location!!

V – Vessels

Now we start talking about the ‘containers’ in which the paperwork is to be kept. Work out what you want, and how much you need (or how big it needs to be) to contain the papers that you have left over, now that you’ve gone through the C, R and A steps of CRAVE.

My personal filing system is 4 concertina files that contain manila folders in alphabetical order.

  • Concertina folder 1 is labeled ‘A to C’,
  • Concertina folder 2 is labeled ‘D to H’,
  • Concertina folder 3 is labeled ‘I to T’.
  • Concertina folder 4 is labeled ‘U to Z’

Some specific details:

  • In the folder ‘A to C’ – I have various manila folders, labeled as follows, for example: ‘AGC Finance’, ‘Adelaide Bank’, ‘Body Corporate’, ‘Commonwealth Bank’, ‘Car’ etc
  • In the folder ‘D to H‘ – I have various manila folders, labeled as follows, for example: ‘Doctor’, ‘Dentist’, ‘Electricity’, ‘Furniture’, ‘Home documents’
  • In the folder ‘I to T’ – I have various manila folders, labeled as follows, for example: ‘Passport’, ‘Rates’, ‘Superannuation’, ‘Tax’
  • In the folder ‘U to Z’ – I have various manila folders, labeled as follows, for example: ‘University’, ‘Will’, ‘Water bills’, ‘Wedding’.

Now these categories might resonate with you, or they might not. I know some people who simply file by month. All papers from Jan 2013 in one folder, all papers from Feb 2013 in another folder. Etc etc. To me, personally, this doesn’t make sense, because if I’m trying to find an electricity bill, I may not remember what month I received it, therefore where do I start looking for it? With my categories, though, all I need to do is go to the ‘Electricity’ folder and I’ll find it straight away. Each to their own, though. The idea is to do it in a way that suits you and in a way that you will easily know where to look for things and also in a way that’s sustainable !!

E – Evaluate

This is the constant evaluation of how well (or otherwise) the system is working for you. Whilst this post purely focuses on the initial ‘clear out’ of these various piles of paper, it does not address the ‘how to maintain a system going forward’. I am going to save that for next time!!

So take action! Get your piles of paperwork sorted out and allocated into homes then you’ll be ready for the next post on how to maintain the system, going forward, so that you never have to go through a rigmarole like this ever again!

I’d love to hear, in the comments below, how you go with this task! Remember, if you have any questions, feel free to post them here too!

Until next time