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A Busy Mom’s Guide to Organizing Paperwork

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The #1 messiest, most disorganized spot in my house is caused by an overwhelming abundance of paper.  Bills, schoolwork, junk mail, insurance documents, and more come into my home every day and what starts out as a small pile quickly multiplies into a giant mess!  But as much as I hate the mess on my kitchen counter, I hate organizing even more.  That’s why I needed a simple  – yet effective – solution.

All of the mail and kids’ schoolwork makes its way into the kitchen, but our filing cabinet is upstairs.  I have the best of intentions to sort through everything each day and take it upstairs to file and as simple as it sounds….well, it just doesn’t happen.  Instead, by the end of the week I end up with this monstrosity.  And if I don’t get around to organizing it on the weekend, well…I’m too embarrassed to show you how that ends up looking!

TIDBITS-&-TWINE---The-Paper-Beast-BEFORE

 

Here’s what I really needed in a paperwork system:

1. Simple

I really can’t stress this enough.  Since I hate organizing, if a system is too complicated or time-consuming then the reality is that I just won’t follow it!  I needed something that was A) easy to put into effect and B) would take 5 minutes or less each day.

2. Convenient

Over time, I’ve learned that in order for an organizational system to be effective for me, it has to work around the way we live.  I’m too set in my ways to change how I do things so I need a system that works for me.  In this case, since all of the paperwork lands in the kitchen, my system needed to be in the kitchen.

 

Here’s how I finally tamed the paperwork beast!

TIDBITS-&-TWINE---How-to-Organize-Paperwork

 

1. Don’t Bring It In

I know this sounds silly, but it’s true!  If it doesn’t come into the house, it can’t contribute to the mess!  My easy solution to reducing the amount of paperwork that made its way into my house was to simply add two garbage cans just outside of the door to the garage – one for garbage and one for recycling.

I usually grab the mail after picking up the kids and so walk through the garage into the house.  On the way up the driveway, I now look through the mail, sort out the junk and toss it into the recycling before I even walk through the door. {BONUS} Since there is now a garbage can conveniently located in the garage, the kids can collect their garbage from the car and toss it out on their way into the house!

 

2. For Review

After recycling all junk mail and envelopes, I sort out items that I think my husband needs to see and they get clipped together so he can look through the stack each evening to either recycle or drop in his box {see below for information about the boxes}.  Currently, there is a second clip dedicated for Tax documents since it’s that time of year.  :)

TIDBITS-&-TWINE---Hubby's-Review-Pile

 

3. Action Items

Things like bills or reminder notices are Action Items that need to be taken care of.  Thankfully, there aren’t usually too many of these so I keep them in a mail sorter where they are out in the open to help remind me that I need to follow up.  Outgoing mail is also an Action Item so it too is stored here.  For convenience, I also store a checkbook and some stamps since usually our only outgoing mail is bills.

TIDBITS-&-TWINE---Action-Item-Mail-Sorter

 

4. Storage

After I’ve sorted through all of the junk mail, the action items and my hubby’s stuff, I’m left with only paperwork that needs to be stored, either short-term or long-term.

Short-Term Storage

Temporary items tend to be things like invitations, school reminders, sport schedules, etc. and I keep these things in a small folder.  I chose to use a pocket folder so that I can store it standing upright without worrying that things will fall out.  It’s important to note, though, that anything in the temporary folder has an expiration associated with it because it is not meant for long-term storage.

TIDBITS-&-TWINE---Short-Term-Storage-Solution

 

All other paperwork gets quickly and easily sorted for long-term filing:

Long-Term Storage {by Family Member}

In our office, we have a filing cabinet where we store important documents.  I also have special containers for the kids where I keep important or memorable schoolwork.  My problem has always been how to keep everything organized in the kitchen until it makes its way upstairs to be properly filed!

My solution was to dedicate a magazine box to each family member.  Each day I look through the mail and schoolwork and simply sort it into the appropriate person’s box.  Things like magazines and coupons go into my box, along with any paperwork I ran out of time to sort in the moment.  Insurance documents, receipts, medical papers, etc. go into Hubby’s since he’s in charge of the filing cabinet.  And after I look through the kids’ daily schoolwork and decide what to recycle and what to keep, the keep items go into each child’s box for filing.

I specifically chose to use magazine boxes instead of hanging file folders because much of the kids schoolwork is oddly shaped or longer than an 8 1/2 x 11 folder and the magazine box accommodates these bigger sizes.  Also, having a box means that I can simply carry it upstairs once a week and file everything and return the empty box to the kitchen.

TIDBITS-&-TWINE---LongTerm-Storage-Solution

 

What I love about this system is that I can quickly sort through everything while I’m in the kitchen helping with homework and preparing dinner.  Then on the weekends or evenings when I have more time, I can properly file everything away for future reference.

TIDBITS-&-TWINE---Family-Paperwork-System

 

{P.S.  – Do you see the blue zippered file in the photo above?  That’s a business card holder and I use it specifically to hold the cards of businesses I’ve used and love.  So if I ever need a plumber, or a chimney sweep, an electrician, or any other service provider, I can simply look in my file for their info.  It also comes in super handy when a neighbor or friend asks for a referral!}

 

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