Jan 082013
 
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Paperwork Organization: Bills, Financials, Mail & More

Organization How-To: Get That Paperwork Under Control

If you’re like the typical household you are likely buried under paper.  Old bills, tax returns, check stubs, receipts, bank statements, notices, magazines, cards – the list goes on and on.  It can be hard to decide what’s needed to keep, how long to keep it, how to store it, and how to keep it from overflowing again.

January is a great month to get your paperwork organized.  Not only because it’s the start to a new year and that’s always a great time to make new changes, but also because the tax man cometh!  You’ll need certain documents in order to file your taxes and after this organization you’ll be able to lay your hands on what you need at the moment you need it.

Storage Supplies

You’ll want to decide which storage methods are best for you but I suggest picking up:

Once you have your supplies the next thing you’ll want to do is dig out all of your papers (ALL your papers – look in drawers, boxes, your desk, purse, everywhere) and start to sort them.  First just sort into two piles: keep and toss (anything with personal information on it should be shredded).  When it comes to bills and other financial documents, here are some general guidelines of what you need and for how long.

Financial Record Keeping

  • Paychecks or pay stubs – one year (until you file taxes)
  • Bills – six months (if you don’t need them for taxes, one year if you do need them for tax purposes)
  • Credit card and bank statements – one year
  • Tax returns and supporting documents (like W-2s, receipts, etc.) – 7 years

Now that you’ve pared down to just the must (or want) to keeps you can start to further sort and file.  I’m all for doing the easier tasks first; you’ll usually feel more accomplished and encouraged to keep working through the task.  So collect all the magazines that you want to keep and store them in magazine holders.  If you only need a single recipe or article from a magazine, consider tearing out what you need and later adding it to one of the pockets in the accordion file.  Next go through and pull out any envelopes or loose addresses that you’ve kept in order to add to your address book and transfer that information now.

Label And Sort

Next label your file storage box.  You should have folders for bills, tax returns and supporting documents, personal documents (birth certificates, marriage license, rental agreement/mortgage documents, miscellaneous, and whatever else makes sense for you.  Drop the appropriate papers into the corresponding folders.  You’re almost done!

Lastly get your current piles organized in the accordion folder.  One slot should be for miscellaneous (things like those torn-out recipes you want to try or articles you want to read), menus (if you get a lot of take-out), school stuff, and then one slot for each month (you can also try January/July, February/August as your labels if you’re only planning to keep bills for six months) plus anything else that makes sense for your family.

Tips For Staying Organized

Now that you’re organized you want to stay that way!  Here are some suggestions for keeping paper clutter under control:

  • Open the mail over the trash; immediately toss junk mail, flyers, and other un-needed items.
  • Create a “mail center” for incoming and outgoing mail.  Keep stamps, pens, a checkbook, envelopes, and a basket for mail.  It will make it easier to take care of tasks immediately.
  • If possible, pay bills as they come in.  Write a check and stamp the envelope or pay online if you can – it can save you both time and money.  If you can’t, add them to the slot in the accordion folder that matches the month they’re due, then mark a day five days before the due date on your calendar (wall calendar, phone calendar, email calendar – whatever you use and check most frequently).
  • File away bills, statements, and other “keep” or “keep for now” documents into your accordion file.
  • Consider signing up for electronic statements and billing.  You’ll reduce the amount of incoming mail and you’ll be able to print only the bills and statements that you need.  Plus you should be able to download copies to your hard drive (I recommend also adding them to an external storage drive) which are much easier to store.

Need more inspiration?  Check out all of my Organization 2013 posts.

Do you have any suggestions on getting – and staying! – paperwork organized?

*Note – I am not a tax professional or accountant.  These are just suggested guidelines.

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About Liza

Liza is a mom and wife living in Louisville whose family includes a toddler, high school junior, and college junior. When she's not doing the Pocoyo dance with her toddler she is either trying out new recipes and craft projects discovered on Pinterest, planning new adventures for her family, shopping on Amazon, or dreaming about Disney.

  28 Responses to “Organization 2013: Paperwork – What To Keep, What To Toss, How To Store”

  1. My husband keeps telling me to be more organized and I think I am pretty organzied I know where everything is!!

  2. Hey! How did you get a photo of my desk? LOL I need to organize so bad but I never make the time. Would you know that I have a really nice paper shredder that I never even use? I need to make use of it when I open the mail! I must have 100 pieces of junk mail in a huge pile on my desk.

    • Hehe! Your desk must look like what my desk looked like before I organized! And I would believe it about your shredder – because ours was unopened in a box for almost two years. Whoops!

  3. This is totally one of my weak areas. I keep too much and have many piles. We have a hard time keeping it organized once we sort. Good tips!

  4. we love our filing cabinet and utlizing the computer is a great way organize!

  5. Most catalogs that come in the mail have 800 numbers that you can call to get off the mailing list. If it doesn’t come in to your house you won’t have to deal with it.

  6. So helpful! OMG…This is totally my vice. I always keep too much and then am sitting in utter chaos. Thanks for sharing!

  7. This are some great tips. I try to keep things filed throughout the year and then do a yearly dump where I put the bills for the year in a box. Sometimes I fall a little behind in filing but if I keep it up, I’m not too buried.

  8. I like your tips, they have pushed me to get organized, AGAIN. My tip, is whatever you do, keep it up! If you start to slide, you will have to start all overl

  9. This is something that I struggle with on a daily basis. However, I am lucky that my husband is a very organized person and he takes care of keeping our files in order.

    Of course, if you walk around the house, you will see little piles of my papers in different locations – next to my side of the bed, in our guest room where I work, and (unfortunately) on the steps :)

    Thanks for giving me some ideas!

  10. I open my mail right by my shredder and poof! much is gone.

  11. This is so my house! My husband is bad about putting things away to read later so that when you open a cabinet you are met with a waterfall of papers. These tips are great!

  12. Thank you for this post! I am drowning in paperwork. I hadn’t thought of using accordion files. They don’t take up much space, genius!!

  13. Stop subscribing to most magazines. You can read most online.

  14. Great post! those tips are definitely going to come in handy. :)

  15. Thanks so much for these ideas. I definitely need help with organization. I am working on a home office as we speak so I will definitely try to utilize this post!

    Dawn

    • We have a home office but it is on our list of things to update this year. I’ll actually be posting quite a bit this year on room makeovers, storage solutions, etc. so keep checking back – you may (I hope!) find more things to inspire you!

  16. I have organized stacks of paper. Does that count? Hahaha. I need a filing cabinet and all my problems would be solved…

  17. This is def going on my “to do” list. I suck at keeping things like this organized but it starts this year! At least I have too many documents instead of not enough :)

  18. Paperwork is one area I REALLY need to organize this year. We are pretty good at keeping bills organized…it’s just other things: receipts, blog contracts, owner’s manuals, etc etc that need help here!!

  19. I just want to know how you managed to get a picture of my desk.

  20. I always intend to sort mail as soon as it comes in, but never seem to stick with it.

    I do love my “bill basket” that has bills due, stamps, and my bill planner in it.

  21. Organization is so hard and starting to work on taxes doesn’t help. Booo

  22. Great tips. I’m scanning many of my documents too to cut down on clutter and working with credit card companies, banks, etc. to send me electronic statements instead.

  23. Great tips here! Somehow or other, it’s become my responsibility to take care of all the paper in our house!

    I tend to sort my mail over the shredder as well. I also get most of my statements by email and pay most bills online. I still get my water and gas statements by snail mail because they frequently come with coupons for local venues (zoo, etc), but I shred them as soon as I’m done looking at them, because the bills are automatically deducted from our checking account.

    Another thing I do is charge as many monthly bills to my credit card as I can via automatic payments (some things, like most utilities, won’t let you set up automatic payments from a credit card), so at the end of the month I only have one bill to pay instead of 4 or 5, and I earn cash back on my card this way, too. (Don’t do this if you carry a balance on your credit card, though).

    I’ve also effectively removed myself from mailing lists for most catalogs, like Sarah said. I subscribe to only one magazine (and I probably won’t renew it) because I rarely had time to read the ones I previously subscribed to. I have been known to scan articles from magazines into my computer so I can save just the articles I want and throw out the magazine.

    I only get the Sunday newspaper because the paper rarely gets read, but I do want the Sunday coupons (and by paying for a Sunday only subscription, I automatically have electronic access to the daily paper, so I can still read it if I want to, and it’s easier to read online anyway). I usually bring the paper in, find the coupons, then scan the article titles to see if there’s anything I want to read; read it, then put it in a bag in the garage for recycling. The paper is in my house for approximately 20 minutes!

    I use an accordion file and also a 3-ring binder for saving recipes. (The binder is an on-going artsy-craftsy project where I glue recipes to a piece of cardstock, put the cardstock in a protective sleeve, and then I can pull just the sleeve I want from the folder and don’t have to worry about the recipe getting wet, etc). Take-out restaurant menus are stored in the last slot of the accordion file. I have another folder and binder for coupons.

    I stopped carrying a purse about two years ago, for several reasons. I just carry a wallet in my pocket like a man now. One of the pluses is that I don’t wind up with a purse full of receipts and other papers. When I pay for something, I either throw away the receipt right away (or ask the cashier to throw it away so I never even have to touch it) or I put it in my wallet. I don’t like having a bunch of receipts in my wallet, so this forces me to organize better.

    I balance my checkbook about once a week. This is maybe not the best practice for some, but it works for me. We keep enough money in checking that there’s no chance of being overdrawn. Then I access my checking account online and use the online statement to balance my checkbook. (The online statement shows almost everything that’s been deducted, with the exception of things I used my checking account credit card to pay for that day. I tend to use the card as a debit card more often than as a credit card, and those charges appear as soon as I make the transaction, so it’s very very rare that I forget to enter something in my checkbook). I also pay any bills online at this time, too. This saves time and keeps me from having to save receipts.

    One more thing I recently realized about myself is that I put off going into the office and taking care of paying bills, mail, etc. because I don’t like my office! It’s not very big and it’s painted a dark maroonish color, which makes it seem even smaller. I’ll soon be on a mission to choose a lighter color and repaint it.

    I learned a few years ago that paper can get out of control in a hurry! It’s taken me a while to get it how I want it (and still, I seem to frequently find stray papers lying around), but I’m much better than I used to be about throwing away unnecessary stuff AND doing my best to keep paper from coming in to the house in the first place, which in my opinion is one of the most important steps to getting it under control. Now, just to get my email under control…

    Phew! Wow, I didn’t plan to write a second article! I just happened upon your blog and saw the link for Organization 2013, so I checked it out. It probably hit a nerve with me, because I’ve been spending the last week helping my mom pack to move, and she is NOT organized, lol. Almost every drawer I opened was stuffed with papers. I think that affects us more than we consciously realize, and I’m hoping that with the move, she’ll go through all that stuff and start anew, and be motivated to keep it under control. Hey, I can hope, right?

    Thanks for the great tips, and for letting me somewhat vent on your blog!

  24. [...] How to Organize Paperwork (by Views from the ‘Ville) [...]

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