by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: It's easier to spend a few minutes doing something often than to wait to do the work when things have piled up.
Your efforts decluttering paperwork and setting up a filing system won’t be successful without routines to maintain order. While a routine may sound boring or demanding, once established it creates an almost effortless way to keep paper under control.
You’ve likely spent a few (or several) hours decluttering paper and getting to the point where you aren’t looking at piles of paper throughout your home. You don’t want to mess up your efforts by not setting up a routine for sorting and filing new papers.
Establish a Schedule
When you establish a time and a day to review your inbox, file papers, or handle any other paper-related tasks, it can become easier to do – once you’ve made the decision to keep your papers under control.
The key here is to eliminate options. “As an organized person, I sort through incoming papers and handle any related tasks, weekday evenings at 8 p.m.” When you decide what you’re willing to do (daily, Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday, or weekly; morning or at night), you eliminate wasting energy as you debate, “Should I do this today or could I do this tomorrow?”
You may think that you don’t need a schedule and that you’ll fit in the tasks when you see they need to be done. Chances are, this is how the paper at home got out of hand.
If you want to sneak in a non-routine routine, tie-in sorting, filing, and decluttering papers with other tasks or events. For example, clear through your file box or cabinet on Groundhog Day or sort through the mail while cooking dinner.
If you think you’ll forget, set an alarm or a calendar reminder on your smartphone.
Sort Incoming Papers
How often will you go through your inbox? There’s no perfect answer here, it depends on your life (is it just you or you and your family?), how much paper comes into your home, and how quickly you need to respond to requests (for payment or a particular action).
You can’t go wrong with sorting your inbox daily. It could take you five minutes or fifteen, depending on the day. If you think “do this daily” and you occasionally miss a day, things still won’t get out of control, just sort through the papers the next day.
Plan How to Act on Papers
When sorting your inbox, you want to do something with each paper. Avoid the temptation of using your inbox for storage! Although I use the word “file,” you can interpret this as putting something in a file folder or setting it in a bin or box until you are ready to act on it.
As you develop the habit of sorting through all incoming paper each day (or week), you’ll decide what to do with these papers. You can plan what you’ll do with the papers in advance or as you handle different papers.
Once you make a decision, you’ll know what to do in the future (for example, “put all store receipts in this shoebox until I can check them against my credit card statement”).
Declutter Your Files
When you file a bill, can you toss the filed copy of the previous bill? When you get a copy of your new car insurance plan, as you file it, you can remove the expired copy from the previous year.
You can use gathering your paperwork for your taxes as a prompt to sort through all the files in your box or cabinet. Or, you can set a random day to do this such as New Year’s Day or Groundhog’s Day.
When you get rid of a product, like the toaster oven that no longer works, clear out any paperwork you had for that item. Or, sort through this file as part of your yearly decluttering.
To keep your paper clutter under control, you need a plan for handling incoming papers (mail, receipts, greeting cards, etc.) as well as plan for clearing through your files on a yearly basis.
Although this may sound like a lot of work, keeping things in control means that you’ll never struggle to try and fit a document into an overstuffed file or file drawer. And, because you’ll be filing things on a regular basis, you’ll stay familiar with your files and have an easier time finding a document when you go looking for it.
And, best of all, the stress you’ve felt being surrounded by disorganized paper clutter will be a thing of the past.
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The Organized Squirrel, Susan, shows you how acorns (small habits) can grow into oak trees (a better life).