So many times I hear “I’ve started to get organized but I didn’t finish”.  “It just makes   things worse because there isn’t enough time to get it all done, so why bother”? 

Getting through the entire process can be long and tedious.  Getting started is part of the problem.  Buyt once you get started, how do you make sure that you finish?  When it comes to organizing piles of paperwork, the sorting system is general.  You start your categories such as:  car, house, bills, warranty and medical, just to name a few.  It is easy to remove paperwork from the boxes and sort through everything.  What can happen though is that the system easily falls apart because as the sorting becomes more detailed, it becomes more tedious.  And now you have multiple piles of paperwork instead of one box.  The box is looking pretty good right now! 

Taking all of the paperwork and putting it into a system that works is the stressful part – and how big of a space do you need to sort through everything can be deceiving.  In order to manage it all you may need quite a large space.  Last week we had this issue.  We ended up laying out every out on top of a bed.  This quickly became back-breaking work.  Bending over to pick up paperwork and sort through it quickly became discouraging.  So we needed a solution! 

The solution to too sorting through boxes of paperwork is to….. Purchase several vertical file systems – the wire kind that hold file folders work very well.  These are what I use on my desk to keep my most vital paperwork handy.  They take up very little space on your flat surface and will allow you to hold up to 8 files in a very limited space.  Simply drop the paperwork into the files.  An easy way to identify what type of paperwork is in each file is to simply take a colored sticky note and place it on the side of each file folder.  Using a black marker, boldly write the name of the file on the sticky note.  To make it even easier, rotate the sticky notes – alternating the sticky notes on the left and right, some lower on the file folder and some higher on the file folder.  The key is to be able to look at all eight folders and be able to easily see the file name.  To make it even easier, you can alphabetize your stick notes, i.e. auto, bills, house, medical, warranty.

Your first sort should be extremely generic – unless you already have noticed that you have a ton of paperwork that is very specific, i.e. to a certain medical facility.  If a file folder fills quickly, simply start a new file and set the first file to the side. 

If your goal is to organize piles and piles of paperwork, work through it a box at a time.  I don’t recommend that it all be pulled out at one time.  This can make the process seem overwhelming and keep you from making progress.  Also, paperwork isn’t something that you can just toss aside once the process has been started.  You’ll need to have a space that you can keep everything until the process is done and this may take a while.  Remember…you’ll want to sleep on your bed, eat on your table and walk on your floor again real soon!  Having the vertical file folders to hold the already sorted paperwork will allow you to easily remove the paperwork from the mainstream of your household (i.e. a guest room) and then pull it out again tomorrow to complete the process. 

Just in case you are wondering, why wouldn’t I just identify the file by writing on the tab, absolutely, you can do this but remember, you may have too much paperwork to fit into a regular size file. 

As with everything in organizing, you can adjust your identification process to whatever fits your needs and mostly, your personality!

 Linda Clevenger, Personal and Professional Organizer                                                                                                                                            Specializing in Systems, Processes and Paper Clutter