How to Organize Your Paperwork

Organize Your Paperwork

It is really important to figure out your own personal style when it comes to organizing and dealing with your paperwork. We are all so very unique and what works for me might not work for you and vice versa. Paperwork can feel overwhelming especially when we need to make a decision about ever single piece of paper. Ugh!! Doing this work can also bring up some memories from the past that can be hard to revisit. Some of those things can really cause us to procrastinate even more which really just make it all the more challenging and stressful in the long run.

Some questions to consider as you do this work:

  • Are you a filer or piler? We all have a different style and need systems that are going to work for our personal style.
  • Do you need to have things in view to know where they are? I have seen so many people who have purchased a filing system (cabinet, accordion file, folders for a drawer, etc) and then they never actually used them.
  • What will work best for you when it comes to remembering what needs to be done?
  • Where is the best space to store and work on my paperwork? Do you need a quiet space, a desk and a system in place to do what your need to do?
  • Do you like things colour coded? What is going to help you to remember?
  • Are you able to make categories that make sense to you? Some suggestions below.

Here are some tips that are sure to help:

1. Bill Payments 

If possible, receive bills and statements online – you will need a system for online organizing – For example…. in your email you could create folders – one for Bills to be Paid and the other for Paid Bills – I also list my bills to be paid in a small notebook with the due dates and pay them on time (online) and then check them off. You can do the same for paper copies using file folders. You will need folders for bills to be paid and folders for paid bills. I used to file my bills separately. After one year, unless you have a business, you can discard (shred or delete) all of the old bills.

2. Get a shredder and learn what you can shred

Shred anything that contains your Signature, Account Numbers, Social Insurance Number, ATM receipts, bank statements, Pay Stubs, Employment Records, Cancelled/Voided Cheques, pre-approved Credit Card Applications, Old Bills, Copies of Birth Certificates or other ID, Expired Passports, Legal documents, Medical Reports, investments and tax forms.
* Remember to take out the plastic windows from envelopes and staples before shredding

3. System for what is coming into your home daily

  • Stop it at the source. Deal with any new papers that come into your home.
  • Flyers and junk mail can be put immediately into recycling.
  • Notice where things are landing (on a kitchen table, countertop, etc.) and create a space for incoming mail and papers.
  • Put the Items that you need to take action on in a specific spot. Schedule a regular (routine) time to deal with the action files. Once a week, bi-weekly or monthly.
  • When you open your mail, you can discard the envelope usually right into the recycling bin – however, a client just told me that she writes herself a note on the envelope so that she can remember something – so remember do what works for you!

4. What are the categories that you need?

Make a list of what has to stay. You could even do a “Mind Map”.  Here are some examples to consider:

  • Original Documents
  • Paid bills (up to one year if you don’t have a business or 7 if you do)
  • Legal documents, such as birth/marriage, divorce/death certificates, homeowner records, Wills and Power of Attorney
  • Passports 
  • Tax returns and tax records that back up your tax claims. If you have a business you need to keep them for seven years
  • Medical Records (e.g. certificates of vaccinations)
  • Receipts and/or valid warranties for significant purchases (until you do not have the items)
  • Greeting Cards- A personal choice about what and how many to keep. I usually keep a few that have a personal message inside or even the older lacier ones my mom gave me. Old cards make fun crafts as well.
  • Letters, photos and journals – another personal choice – it can be a process to go through them. You might need to go through a number of times. Keep the best and discard the rest.

* Please Note: If you are computer savvy, many things can be saved electronically

Make up some rules and/or criteria for what stays and what goes? Let go of any surplus, duplicates or out of date documents, etc.

Always have an “Exit Strategy” to get things out of the house whether its shredded paper, recycling or trash.

Okay, my friends, thats it for now……I am off to gather my tax info which will be due soon enough…..Yikes!!!

Would you like to work with me? I currently have space for 2 or 3 clients and would love to help you to create a space that you will love. Reply to me at kimtremblay@sympatico.ca and I can send you more info and an application form.

Happy Decluttering!

About Kim

Kim Tremblay is a Master Organizer and a Clutter Coach. She has worked with individuals helping them clear the physical and emotional clutter from their lives since 2008. Kim founded and co-facilitated a Clearing Clutter Support Group which has helped hundreds of individuals to make positive changes in their lives. Kim is currently working virtually with clients helping them to clear the emotional and/or physical clutter from their lives.
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9 Responses to How to Organize Your Paperwork

  1. Paperwork can quickly get unruly over time. A billing process is essential to keep all the items together. I love having all the bills in a binder for the month, so I can go through them and move them to the next month when they are paid. It visually reminds me that it has been done for that month. Thanks for sharing your great advice.

    • Kim says:

      I agree Sabrina – it is so important to have a process when it comes to paying bills and paying attention to them. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  2. Great tips!
    I pay everything (or almost everything) online. I like to know on paper what I have paid, when it was paid, and the confirmation number – just in case. I use a little notebook for this purpose and saw you do, too! This helps me look something up if ever I have a question.

  3. Seana Turner says:

    We are sort of straddling the paper and electronic thing. I prefer paper, but I certainly can see the ease of paying bills online. It is definitely easier when we are traveling!

    I like the idea of having a list of all bills and when they are due, and how I want to pay them. This could be a checklist of sorts, at least for the regular bills.

    We keep all our records in Quicken, which I really like because both my husband and I enter everything we do, and then we can see what’s going on if we need to.

    • Kim says:

      Thanks Seana, Sounds like you are pretty organized. I am sure it is transitional for a lot of people to go from paper to online. I know a lot of our clients are not paying bills online.

  4. Julie Bestry says:

    As I blog as Paper Doll, there was no way I wouldn’t LOVE this post. You hit all the highlights, and I also follow all of this guidance, though I think of myself as a hybrid piler and filer. For some reason, I like to wait until I have a nice little pile (always knowing what is in it) before filing, so I can appreciate the successful filing experience. 😉 I also pay everything online, but prefer to receive everything on paper. I guess hybrid is my go-to!

    • Kim says:

      Thanks Julie for your interesting response. I will check out your blog. Yes,I am sure that there are a lot of people who still prefer paper. Computers and tech can be quite challenging.

  5. Paperwork can be so tricky, the sheer amount we receive these days makes it difficult. But stopping it at the source (literally at the door) is one of the best ways forward! This is great advice to help tame the paperwork beast, and the what-to-shred tips are great.

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