How I Conquer Paper Clutter – Part One

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How I Conquer Paper Clutter

I love to find ways to save time on those mind-numbing, frustrating, everyday tasks that take up so much of our lives.  Dealing with paper clutter DEFINITELY falls into that category!

Today, I’m going to share the way I keep my important papers organized from year to year.  It’s really nothing fancy, but I thought I would share in case someone is looking for a new way to get organized in 2018!

Now, I am normally a “touch it once” kind of person when it comes to organizing.  If I’m going to pick up an item (in this case, a piece of paper clutter), I try to put it in its landing place while I have it in my hand, rather than keep moving it from place to place.  I am not perfect at this system (which would be obvious to those of you who have stopped by my house unexpectedly), but it is generally the rule I live by.  When it comes to paper clutter, some people might say that the “one touch” starts the moment you get the mail from the mailbox; sort it right then.  I’ve learned to be a little more realistic with myself.  If there are ads and glaring junk mail (that don’t need to be shredded), I put that in the recycling bin on my way back into the house.  Anything that needs to be opened, looked at, and dealt with, I put in one location in my house until I am ready to open and sort.  THAT’s when I “touch it once.”  So, yes…if you came to my house right now, you would see a pile of envelopes on my desk (I am still looking for the right spot for my mail organizer), but all of my papers (mail, school papers, etc) are literally in that one spot until I can deal with them.

So, when I am ready to deal with my paper clutter, I have one landing spot for all of my important paperwork for the year.  {When I say “important,” I mean anything that I would need if I was applying for a mortgage or paying my taxes.  Bank statements, pay stubs, medical expenses, charitable donation receipts, etc.}

Dealing with paper clutter - accordion file That landing spot is a handy-dandy accordion file folder.  See??  I told you it wasn’t fancy.

I label it with the year and then set up my tabs on the inside.  Easy.  You can see from my 2017 tabs that our last year was pretty simple in the paperwork department since we had gotten out of debt and didn’t own a house.  Here are some of the things I’ve used the tabs for in the past.

Dealing with paper clutter

  • Pay Stubs and Work Documents – Along with our monthly stubs, I also put other important work-related documents that I might not need to refer to regularly (I have another spot for those types of documents) but that we would probably want to reference later in the year.  For example, this is where we kept Mr. Blue Eyes’ relocation program description and the salary schedules for my school district.
  • Bank Statements – Yes, I know you can get these electronically, or have your bank print them off.  But when you’re in the chaos of buying a house (often at the same time you’re trying to sell the house where you’re currently living), it is so much easier to just take the accordion file down to the lender and have everything at your fingertips rather than track them all down online or at the bank.  So I save my bank statements.  You can opt to create a tab for each account, but I just put them all under one tab.
  • Insurance EOBs and Medical Bills – This could be one tab or two, depending on how medically-involved your year is. Even though you see tabs for insurance and medical bills in my folder, I ended up setting up a separate binder since we had SO many medical bills this past year and I’ve kind of fallen in love with that system.  {Check out that post here.}
  • Tithing and Charitable Donations – I don’t print off my tithing receipts since I can access them pretty quickly online, but I like to have a spot for it in case I DO pay with check one month.  This tab is also where I keep my Goodwill receipts, which are stapled to the lists I made of what I donated.
  • Volunteer Work – A great spot for receipts and reimbursements from volunteer work, or if you keep a list of your travel mileage.
  • Car Info – I keep anything related to my car in this one spot (service records, loan info, insurance claim info, etc.).
  • Home Improvements – I speak from experience – – keep ALL home improvement receipts, even if you don’t think you’ll get a tax credit for them.  There are so many reasons why…just do it!
  • Daycare Receipts – My daycare was awesome and printed off a receipt every time I brought in a check, so I kept them in my accordion folder.  If she hadn’t given me a receipt, I would have just kept the carbon copy from my checkbook under that tab.
  • Other Work-Related Expenses – As a teacher, I was able to take a credit for out-of-pocket expenses, so I kept all of my receipts.  It was pretty straight forward.  For other work-related expenses, though, there’s always a big list of what’s deductible and what’s not (which I don’t keep in my head), so I just save all work-related receipts.

Really, the possibilities are endless.  Basically, if you think you’ll need the information for taxes, make a tab for it and tuck it away.

Once the year is over, I keep the folder handy until tax time.  I put all of my tax-related documents (W-2 forms, etc.) in the very front of the file folder as they all roll in through the month of January.  This is helpful because, when it’s time to do my taxes, I have everything in one spot and I’m not trying to track anything down.  After filing our taxes, I make a copy for myself and put it in the front of the folder with all of the other tax-related documents.  Then it’s time to put another year to bed!  I tuck the file folder away in a cupboard with other previous years and hold on to them until all those financial experts say I can shred them.

So that’s it!  The first method that I use to keep my paper clutter under control.  I have another system for the paperwork that I use regularly, so that will be coming in another post.

How do YOU keep your important paperwork organized?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!