Hello MO Followers! We are getting so close to the end of the paper organization and sorting method. As I’ve mentioned before, I have been in many homes where paper is taking over. I created this series to help you get a handle on your paper, and I hope it is helping! If you missed any of the previous posts, please check them out before continuing.
How to Create a Filing System that Really Works
My Paper Organizing Strategy: The Backwards Method
Paper Sorting Strategy #1:Disposing of Paper
Paper Sorting Strategy #2: Action Items
How to Create a Tabletop File
We are finally at a place where we can start to address those piles and get your space and your life back! But first, you need to be prepared.
Recommended Paper Organization Supplies
- Shoe Box Size Plastic Bins with Lids (5 to 6 qt). These are great for gathering all the little things that you find within the piles. They are inexpensive and can be found in most stores.
- Plastic Bins with Lids (12 to 15 qt). These are great for your smaller categories of paperwork.
- Post-it notes (3 X 3) or paper cut into roughly that size. You will use these to label bins.
- Tape, such as clear packing or Scotch tape. These will help to reinforce your labels.
- Fine point Sharpie in a dark color such as black. Retractable ones are the bomb!
- Garbage bags (does not matter what size but try to get different colors say white and black or black and clear). One will be for trash and the other will be for recycling.
- Banker Boxes. Use these for paperwork that needs to be shredded.
- A timer, either on your phone or a portable one. This will help you stay on task.
Start by gathering all of your supplies and putting them into a plastic bin (with lid) large enough to fit everything. Label that bin “supplies” using your sharpie and Post-it, or labels you have made. Reinforce with tape.
In this process, you must touch each piece of paper and make a decision. This can be exhausting and slow down the process, so I recommend sorting into categories first and then making the more detailed decisions afterwards. Set your timer, grab a pile and get started.
Here are some examples of what you might find as you organize your paper pile
- School papers from years ago – put in recycle
- A hanging file that is ripped – put in trash
- A photo – put in a small shoe box, label photos
- Old Tax returns – put in a larger bin, label taxes (Go back and sort by year later, but for now all together is fine).
- Credit card statements that are several years old and you know you no longer need, put in banker box and label “shred”.
When you are finished with your paper organization session, put all the supplies back into their bin, pop a lid on everything that you have already done and put away in a corner until next session. Because they have lids, they are stackable.
Try to work at least 20 to 30 minutes to start with, and schedule many sessions in a week as possible. If you worked 30 minutes a day for 7 days that is only 3 and a half hours out of your weekly schedule, but it can make a huge impact, especially if you tackle one room at a time.
You probably have questions! I have answers.
Q: Why do you recommend plastic bins with lids for paper organization?
A: Uniform containers with lids are easy to stack, store in a corner, and move around your home without the contents spilling out. Being visually alike means that identifying contents based on the label is easier to read and therefore to find. Plastic bins are easily relabeled and reusable until the project is complete. If you are organizing your entire home, these bins can easily be reused for the next project because the organizing method is the same.
Q: Why can’t I use banker boxes for my paper storage?
A: You can use cardboard boxes! However, I find boxes with writing on the outside to be harder to find and read the label. They are also visually distracting, which can lead to mental fatigue. In addition, cardboard does break down eventually and stacking is harder, especially if the lids fold over. If you need to move the contents to a place like a garage or basement while you are working through a project, the contents are not as protected as they are in a bin. Changing labels is harder as well.
Q. Why is it important to use two different colors of garbage bags?
A: You WILL get confused if you are using the same bag for trash, recycling and shredding. If you don’t, your brain is working too hard and in the wrong way. You want the system to be so easy that it literally is a “no brainer” and use your brain power for the paper sorting.
Q: Why do you recommend banker boxes for shredding?
A: Using a box instead of a bag for shredding makes it easier to keep important documents that need to be shredded separate in your brain from your recycling. You are much less likely to mix them up. Additionally, if you take your shredding to a shredding service or a community recycling event, you simply leave the box with its contents. If you are paying for shredding services by the pound, a bankers box will help you budget that cost because they will hold about the same amount of content each time.
Q: Why should I use a timer?
A: You don’t have to but if you are dreading the work, work well on a deadline or have a limited attention span a timer is going to be your best friend.
Q: Throwing tax stuff into a big pile to sort later seems like a waste of time. Can’t I sort and shred as I go?
A: You can but the project will take you much longer. Remember, this is for people with a lot of paperwork. If you don’t have much, skip this post. I will address how to deal with smaller sorting jobs in a future post.