Organize Those Paper Piles

By Helen Kornblum
Queries from The Curious

Q: I need help organizing all the stacks of paper in my house.  Despite my efforts to categorize it all, I can’t seem to narrow them down.  I’m spending too much time looking for tax-related stuff, the refrigerator is practically papered over with school reminders and the piles on the kitchen counters are an embarrassment. How do professional organizers save the paper-challenged family?

Professional organizers have a well-established routine for paper-challenged families. We swoop in with a backpack full of strategies to process the maelstrom. We begin with mind over matter.What’s your mindset when it comes to paper? It’s time to put yourself back in control of everything that comes into your home. Just because the envelope or the magazine has your name and address on it, doesn’t mean it has any right to stay with you permanently. Square those shoulders and exert your authority. You’re about to become the purge master!

  • To purge, take two paper bags and label one “Recycling” and the other “Shredding.” Toss every outdated paper that you don’t need into one of these two bags. If you have a big backlog, this phase may take a while, but it will also feel liberating. Use these bags when you bring in the mail. You may need to review some guidelines from the Internet about document retention to overcome your fears about tossing old invoices or statements that have long been paid. Take the shredding bags to The Arc on 83rd Street, opposite the Santa Fe campus, on Wednesdays, when they provide their free service to the community.
  • Categorizing papers leads to visions of filing systems. Most of us need three kinds of filing areas. Archival files usually contain old files that you must keep but aren’t likely to need very often, such as old tax returns and legal documents. We devote the most space to reference files, which we dip into often during the month. These files include records for family health, finances, school, recreation, and important papers such as birth certificates, passports and wills. The third filing area consists of active files, which we use frequently for the ongoing activities of our lives. Active files sometimes sit in a graduated rack near the desk, or at the front of the first filing drawer in the desk. Active files should be easy to reach and have meaningful labels. “Upcoming events” might be used to stash various invitations or theater tickets after you have noted the dates on your calendar; “Pending” holds papers related to an ongoing project. “Shopping” is great for pages torn from a catalog for items you think you might buy.
  • Some papers, such as memos or class lists from the kids’ school or your church, may be better off in a binder for easy reference. A binder for business cards, divided into various specialties (maintenance, medical and professional) might be useful.
  • Move maps, maintenance manuals and instruction booklets into magazine holders in a bookcase or cabinet. Your computer booklets will be accessible in a magazine holder, too.

More paper magic awaits you in the next issue, but you must promise to keep purging until then! -Helen


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