Nicki Mayfield’s Guide to Organizing Series: Paper Organization

I’m back!!

Nicki Mayfield, here. Sorry to be MIA lately! I’ve been busy a little busy relocating to China (as you may know if you read the beginning of my story in Perfectly Arranged), and am knee-deep in a new organizing project for Ms. O’Connor: paper organizing!

I won’t tell you what exactly I’m having to do (that would spoil the fun of my continuing story in Perfectly Placed), but trust me when I tell you it’s A LOT of paper.

To be honest, organizing paper is my least favorite type of organizing to do, but it’s the one I end up doing most often as many people struggle to keep all their records, files, and important papers in order. Can you relate?

Since I’m working on this project, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share a few tips and some of my favorite products to help you organize your paper piles. I mean, what kind of organizer would I be if I didn’t share my knowledge and expertise? Not a very good one 🙂

Paper Organizing Tips

I’m a firm believer that organizing isn’t one-size-fits-all, so I would be doing you a big disservice if I tried to pigeonhole you into a certain organizing system for your paperwork. That’s not how I roll.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t offer you a few suggestions to minimize your pain and encourage you to get started on the piles that might be overwhelming you.

With that in mind, here are my top 5 favorite tips for paper organizing:

Go as paperless as possible. If you want to reduce the number of paper piles you have in your office, on your desk or on your kitchen counters (c’mon, you know you have them there!), then you need to embrace the paperless mindset. Pay your bills online or request to go paperless with the companies you’re doing business with (almost everyone allows payments online these days), then find a digital system that works for you. And yes, digital copies are safe and admissible to the IRS.

File don’t pile. If you do have papers on hand, rather than pile them on a flat surface, create a filing system (using a file cabinet or file box, for example) to store them. Not only will a filing system help you retrieve any important papers you may need, it will make paper piles obsolete in your home if you use it!

Know what papers you actually need to be keeping. Despite what you may think, you don’t need to keep every piece of paper that floats through your house. Yes, there are essential papers you must hold onto for tax or business purposes, but most paperwork has a finite lifespan and can be let go (trash, recycled, or shred) after a certain period of time. Do your research and determine what exactly you need to have on hand and for how long. Then be willing to let go!

Stop the piles before they start. Rather than give life to your paper piles, stop them before they get out of hand. How? The best way is to check your mail near the trash can, shredder, or recycling bin. The majority of our mail is junk and nothing we really need to be holding onto. When you bring in the mail, make a habit of sorting through it right away and in the area near a trash can, shredder, or recycling bin. In doing so, you’ll only be keeping what you absolutely need and not letting the piles become unmanageable and overwhelming.

Create a schedule for dealing with your paperwork. Don’t wait until your pile is almost to the ceiling to deal with it. Instead, make time in your life and schedule a few minutes each day to sort and file your papers. You’d be surprised how much you can get through in just 10 minutes a day! It may seem like more time than you have or want to give, but would you rather spend 10 minutes every day to keep your piles under control or 2-3 hours on a weekend to do it? Yeah, 10 minutes sounds like a cakewalk to me, too!

Now that you have some tips to motivate you to corral the clutter, let me share with you my favorite products that can tame the paper monster in your life for good!

Paper Organizing Products

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite go-to items when I’m helping clients tackle their paper piles:

Shredder – A shredder is the safest way to dispose of papers.

File Box – A small container, either one you hang on your wall or one you store on your desk (pictured below), that you keep in a prominent location to drop your mail, school papers, etc until you’re ready to deal with them at your schedule time.

File Cabinet – A file cabinet is the final resting place for your papers once you’ve determined what you actually need to keep. It doesn’t need to be big – if you’re truly going paperless then there’s no need for a large cabinet! To make it easier to find papers inside there, I highly recommend you using hanging file folders to keep things in order.

List of Paper Retention Guidelines – Not sure what to keep? Search online for record retention guidelines or ask your accountant or tax person for a list, then keep it handy so you can reference it when you’re making decisions about your paperwork!

5. Small pouch. Most of our paperwork is receipts that we collect while we’re out shopping. An easy way to deal with those tiny slips of paper is to have a small pouch that you can keep in your car, backpack, or purse to collect them while you’re out and about.

Scanner. A small scanner can be a mighty tool in your paper organizing toolbox. Whether you use your phone or a desktop version, it can help you transform your physical papers into digital .

Sign up with dmachoice.org. DMAchoice is an online service that allows you to notify companies to stop sending you mail. For only $2 or $3 you can limit unnecessary papers in your mailbox for up to 10 years.

Find a document storage system that works for you. Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive. There are plenty of options to choose from. Do you research and find the best system for you, then use it! When you do, you’ll find quickly discover that paper piles are a thing of the past.

So there you have it my friends – my best ideas for dealing with your paperwork. I hope it’s been helpful. I’d love to share more, but this project I’m working on is a BIG one and needs my undivided attention, as you can read below:

Julia nods and moves into the room. “Oh. My. Goodness.” She halts at the entry and takes in the disorganized room.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of paper in here for us to deal with.” I lean over the doorframe. “Everything needs to be sorted, organized, and digitized by May first. You can’t tell, but I even did a little bit of work in here the other day.”

Julia gasps. “Do you seriously think we can get all that done and locate the necessary documents for the foundation by the deadline?”

“If it takes us working in here every day until May, I’m willing to do it. Too much is riding on this.”

“I’m not sure how …” She loosens the rainbow-colored scarf fashionably coiled around her neck. “But between your skills, my Mandarin, and God’s help, we’ll get it done.”

Perfectly Placed, releasing July 5, 2022

If you need any more of my fabulous organizing tips, then be sure to check out my other 2 posts: Packing for a Trip and Shoe Organization. Then be sure to grab your copy of Perfectly Placed so you can see what happens with my project!

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