I used to hold on to so much paper. That is until our last move from Virginia back to New York a few years ago. When I was packing I thought twice about the amount of papers I was about to pack. Did I really need all these statements that I rarely looked at? So I got to work, one file at a time. My paper shredder got quite the workout. It was amazing to see how many papers I was keeping for years that I never looked through. And if I was actually needed to find one, good luck. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
I think many people can relate to the same situation. Piles of paper and if you are like me, keeping them in folders thinking they are organized. Years go by and the piles grow. Before you know you have enough paper in your cabinet the size of a tree.
I developed a system where I don’t have all that clutter of papers in my filing cabinet. The paper that is kept has a purpose. Statements, bills and letters I receive now have a place to go. Either in a letter holder I use for bills that need to be paid or letters that require a response. Other papers are scanned and saved into a folder on my computer or it’s junk and goes in the trash. Anything that is important such as birth certificates, passports, titles, social security cards etc… keep in one place so you are not looking in different areas to find them. For these documents it is best to keep them locked in a fire resistant safe which you can find inexpensive at many stores so they are safe and secure.
Opt for electronic statements. This saves loads of paper and you can save them onto your computer or a flash drive.
Scan copies of bills received in the mail. Bills I receive like my water bill can’t be paid online. Instead of filing the little stub I get from the water company after I pay the bill, I scan it and place it in a file labeled Water Bill on my computer. Scan the page or pages that has any important information. If you ever need to refer to the bill you will have a copy on your computer to refer to or you can always call the company to ask for another copy if necessary.
Save receipts on your computer instead of printing it. After paying a bill online, instead of chosing to print a receipt which creates more paper, click the Save as PDF option on your Print page and save the receipt into a folder on your computer or flash drive. If you ever need to refer to it again, you can easily print it. Most companies will also email you a receipt which you can save in your email as well.
If you are curious how to save a receipt, click the print receipt option you usually get after a payment is made. Instead of clicking the print button, go to Save as PDF, then save it to the appropriate folder. Give it a title, for example Electric Bill Feb. 2013. So in the event you need a copy of that receipt, you can just locate it easily on my computer and not have to go through piles of papers in a folder.
Chose what papers you save. If you need to keep the original, place it in a labeled folder. If an original copy isn’t necessary, scan it into your computer and save it to a folder. If you need to access it, you can easily find it on your computer and or flash drive instead of shuffling through a stack of paper.
If you are hesitant of saving files and paperwork that once was stored in the filing cabinet onto your computer, get a flash drive that you use specifically for these statments.
If you transfer everything to your folders on your computer you still need to weed through these documents periodically to eliminate clutter in your folder. Set up reminders every quarter to delete saved documents that are no longer necessary to save. It is a lot easier to look through these files, especially if you have them labeled properly instead of looking through files, plus you save on paper.
If you are feeling buried in piles of paper, just start. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take a small stack a day and go through it. You’ll be amazed on how many pieces of paper you hold on to that don’t serve much purpose. Taking a little each day, before you know it the pile has disappeared and you not only have a sense of accomplishment but you’ll feel better too.
I like to organize my papers with the 4 D principle. Do, Dump, Delegate or Delete.
Do I need to do something with it? Pay a bill, fill out some paperwork and send back? Make a phone call?
Dump Is it junk? Does it have no purpose for my life? Dump it.
Delegate Does this belong to someone else in the household? Delegate it to them to follow up on.
Delete Is there papers I have been holding onto for years? Do I have statements, receipts saved on my computer for more than one year? Time to delete it.
Go through your mail once each day. Toss the junk you don’t need and file the paperwork right away. This will eliminate baskets of paper and mail where important documents could get lost. Once I eliminate the mail that is junk, I look through the other mail. If it is a bill, I place it in a letter holder I keep unpaid bills in. If it is a statement, I scan and save it on my computer then I shred it once it’s saved.
Use Manuals Online for electronic and appliance manuals. This is a great tip from the Organize Now! book. Manuals can take up valuable space, especially if space is tight. Manuals Online have over 300,000 manuals that you can download and save to your computer as a PDF.
Another area I created a system for was my recipes. I am sure many of you can relate to the piles of recipes you print. And if you are like me, I used to print and put them into a pile. If I didn’t keep it front and center it got lost in the shuffle. To keep track of my recipes I like to use Ziplist, and of course Pinterest. If you don’t have a Ziplist account it is quick and easy to sign up. For example, if you like the recipe for Avocado Pasta, you have the option to Print or Save. If you print it you may be like me and it goes into a pile. If you save it, it will save it to your Ziplist account with all your other recipes from across the web. It will keep them organized for you and even help with creating a grocery list with ingredients from the recipes. It is a great and useful tool to manage your recipes without creating clutter.
For recipes I have printed in the past along with countless recipes torn from magazines and other publications I have a few ideas on how I like to organize them.
Three ring binders. Three ring binders work well for these. Sort them based on course, food type, alphabetically, seasonal, whatever works best for you. The key is when you tear a recipe from a magazine, don’t toss it in a pile but to place it right away in the binder so it is filed away.
Scan printed recipes. I have been scanning my recipes I clip from magazines, older ones I have printed in the past and placing them in folders on my desktop, similar to the way I file my receipts. This is also a great way to preserve cherished hand written family recipes.
Scan recipe using your scanner function on your printer.
Save it to a folder labeled based on course (ie. appetizer, poultry, meat, breakfast, vegetables etc…)
For those cherished recipes you don’t want to toss, after you scan them, photo boxes work great for holding on to the originals.
Keep a table of contents. Whether you have a few or a ton of printed recipes you have collected a good way to keep them organized is to keep a table of contents. This is a great idea if you prefer keeping copies of your recipes in a binder or bin but also good if you save them to files on your computer. Create a spreadsheet based on course, or whatever works best for you. As you add a recipe to your collection, update it on your spreadsheet. Keep it in alphabetical order under each course to easily keep track of your recipes. You can print it and keep it in the front of your binder or bin where you store your recipes. You can also keep it on your computer so when you need to locate one of your recipes you just open the spreadsheet, look under the course and you can see all the recipes you have stored.
The nice thing about keeping a table of contents is you can make extra columns to include additional information, maybe who you got the recipe from, if you tried it before, additional notes… It may seem like a lot of work to begin with, but if you do a little at a time, you will eventually have all your recipes added. Then when you add another recipe from a magazine clipping or a recipe card you receive from a friend, you just update as you add it to the folder or file.
Purge your recipe collection. If you have recipe clippings from magazines, recipe cards, etc.. you don’t use, time to toss it.
Menu plan. Plan your meals for the week before you go grocery shopping. If you have your recipes organized you can easily plan your menu for the week. You can also file your recipes coordinating recipes with one another that maximize your dollar at the grocery store.
Make 2. Some recipes freeze great. If time allows, double the recipe to make one, freeze one. You’ll be happy you have a few extra meals stored in the freezer when needed.
File as you go. If you find a recipe in your favorite cooking magazine don’t just start another pile. Promptly file it using your preferred filing system.
Remember you don’t have to do them all at once. Do a few each day. Before you know it, the pile will be gone.
You can also save your files and recipes on a flash drive so you have a backup of these files. This eliminates extra clutter and binders taking up space.
Most printers are equiped with a scan feature. If you don’t have a scanner, there are portable scanners that are great for scanning files, recipes, etc…
The key to staying organized once you have a system in place and everything is where it should be is to stay on top of it. Set reminders in your calendar every few months to weed through your files whether they are stored on your computer or in a filing cabinet. This makes a great rainy day project too. The easy thing about going through files you save on your computer you can easily hit the move to trash button. Just don’t forget to empty the trash.
Check out Jennifer Ford Berry’s book Organize Now! for more tips on organizing your papers such as finances, bill-paying system, magazines, emails.