For my entire life, I have had a sentimental streak that has caused me to hang onto items, pictures, gifts, cards and old letters for years. The other problem I have struggled with for years has been the overwhelming desire to be organized with no real method for accomplishing it. Combine that with my inability to throw things away, and there’s a recipe for disaster.
What do I keep? What do I throw away? What if I need it later? What if some governmental agency decides I need to have kept that one piece of paper and I didn’t and now I can’t function as a respectable member of society? (That’s the thought late at night after too much caffeine).
When my dad died, my brothers and sisters and I spent months of on again off again sorting, traveling to my hometown for a weekend to sort through paperwork and try to make sense of the tons of documents and receipts and slips of paper, folders, notebooks and other things piled in boxes throughout the house. It was A NIGHTMARE.
Plus? That nightmare is a bit of a legacy with many in my family. From photos to utility bills, many of us file things by stacking them, and then shifting the stacks into boxes, then sliding the boxes against a wall in a bedroom or home office, and then occasionally sorting through on a rainy day, stuck looking through old letters and photographs instead of doing our taxes.
EVERY . SINGLE . YEAR .
Now, please be assured I am not here to say I have discovered the answer. I know it runs deeper than that, and that any system works if you work your system – disorganization isn’t the fault of a poor filing cabinet, but more the fault of the one who owns it and hasn’t enough discipline to use it properly.
What I will tell you is that I have discovered something liberating for myself and if you aren’t aware of this and I can help you, then my day’s work is done. That something is this: YOU CAN THROW A LOT OF THOSE OLD DOCUMENTS IN THE SHREDDER. I think 90% of the paper that comes into your house can be discarded – if not immediately, then after that year’s taxes have been filed.
Today, I spent hours going through boxes and bins and totes and folders, sorting papers and casting reams of paperwork into a box to take to my office and put in the large industrial shredder bin we have there. Utility bills prior to 2014, old insurance bills, old medical bills, old receipts, old bank statements…hour by hour, I could feel the burden of maintining this most boring informational archive lifting from me. The sheer volume of paperwork is exhausting.
For a complete guide to what to keep and where to keep it, including what to have in an emergency file to grab in case of a fire or other household disaster, I consulted this website:
After organizing as much as possible, I set up a mail sorting station in the kitchen, which is where most of our paperwork starts its assault on our home.
I got a 3-tiered plexiglass file sorter from The Container Store (online) and started active files to sort papers into. They included the following:
- Vehicle Paperwork
- Tax Related Documents
- Documents from my husband’s painting business
- My health documents (lots of doctor bills, blood test results, treatment updates, etc coming to the mailbox all the time)
- Our daughter’s school and activity stuff
- Coupons, lists, recipes and meal planning
- Letters/Cards/Pictures/Sentimental Things
- Things to Review/Sign/Approve
- Bills to Pay
- Completed Items/ To Be Filed
- Receipts to Itemize and File
Everything that comes into the house is now opened immediately and sorted. Once a week (or more often if possible), I pick up the file sorter and take it down the hall to my office and sort things out. We don’t have a file cabinet yet (I know. I know) so I set up files in a big tote on the desk for now. Bills are paid as we have funds, and the bill stubs are marked with the date and amount and check number, or online confirmation number. Everything is sorted and filed away for the week. Then the sorter goes back into the kitchen. If the week is busy, I will at least take the receipt file and the bill file and take care of those, as they create the most havoc when neglected.
Some people have binders for certain info, and I love that idea, but for now, I can just see it as one more project I’ll half-ass my way into starting and never finishing. If I had a nice shelving unit near my desk, I could almost see it, especially for my health stuff and records of cancer treatment. For the time being, though? Just clearing the counters and desk and bookcases and file boxes of all this paper is a life-changing thing.
If you’re anything like me, disorganization causes stress and stress leads to anxiety, and then you are paralyzed by stress and anxiety and can’t take action to fix the disorganization problem leading to the stress and anxiety, which is a vicious and escalating cycle. The old adage is true: “How do you eat an elephant? ONE BITE AT A TIME.” [Please note, I am not advocating the consumption of elephants. This is just a saying.] You can do anything if you break it down into small steps and make a little time on a regular basis to do them.
There’s just not much for me that is a better feeling than a clean and organized desk and kitchen – and not just things stuffed into a box in another room, but the knowledge that things are really and truly organized. What’s your system? What works for you and your family?