q: “what is the best way to organize papers and bills?” —boston mom
p: “we need strategies to organize and process paper of all kinds. bills, charity applications, insurance documents, financial documents…” —margo
Reading: Organizing mail and paperwork
p: “every week, a stack of papers and other items about six inches high accumulates on my kitchen table. I am a busy mom of four with two dogs, I am in grad school and teach an after school program one day a week. i have two sons (9 and 13) with adhd and was recently diagnosed. I do a lot of things right, like sorting mail in the recycle bin, paying bills right away, and editing and giving things away. I keep a bullet journal, which is an amazing tool for keeping my and my family’s schedules organized. so on this pile… if I don’t put it away for the weekend, it moves to the living room floor and from there, if I don’t put it away, it usually ends up in a bag that gets pushed around somewhere when the visitor comes. we are six people living in a 1,600 square foot house organized, but full. I have tried classifiers, sheets, boxes, baskets; none of this has worked to tame the stack. it’s terrible to need to find something and not know where it is. There has to be a better way.” —bklynebeth
p: “I need good systems to deal with (1) paperwork, (2) to-do lists, and (3) a daily and weekly schedule for myself and my children.” —sdtwinmom
hi boston mom, margo, bklynebeth and sdtwinmom:
ah, the dreaded paperwork. it just won’t stop piling up, right? It looks like you need a life jacket so you don’t drown. hold on! I’m here to rescue you.
The key to keeping up with paperwork is creating easy and efficient systems that work for brains with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). how do you know what works? Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Am I a filer or a stacker?
- Revealer or proofreader?
- Do I need to see things to remember they exist?
- do I like color coded things?
- where do I have enough space to store files and documents?
- do others need access to these documents?
[get this free download: 22 strategies to eliminate clutter]
As you ask these questions, systems will form naturally. and the best method is one that you can comfortably set up, maintain, and access. Here are some strategies to get everyone started:
1. think past/present/future when organizing and filing papers.
- past represents documents that you should keep but do not need to access regularly. think taxes, insurance policies, old health insurance documents. these can be stored in filing cabinets, boxes or even folders, and stored.
- this is what you need and use right now. current bills, medical information, and travel plans would all fall into this category. these items must be in your “primary real estate.” desktop files on your home office desk, baskets on your kitchen counter, or even a rolling cart that you can move from room to room.
- the future consists of documents that you will eventually access but not at this time (future travel plans, home renovation plans, etc.). keep them where they are easily accessible. I like to create folders with clear plastic sleeves to store my future materials.
2. use your airspace.
It’s literally my favorite way to organize papers. Hang magazine racks or wire filing cabinets on the wall to organize mail and other documents efficiently. Using your airspace helps keep important documents visible and top of mind. Label hanging files to make organization quick and easy. or use your wall space to create a message center. use magnetic boards, cork boards, dry erase boards, to hold papers you need to access quickly, keep to-do lists in sight and family schedules easily accessible.
[Is your clutter and disorganization out of control? try this!]
3. when in doubt, throw it away.
I’m a bit insensitive when it comes to this. but before any paper comes into my house, it is sorted into the recycling bin or shredder. most paper is not personal, so don’t treat it as such. make drastic cuts and get rid of what you don’t need before it takes up space in your home.
4. eliminate the use of paper as much as possible.
pay your bills online, scan receipts and sign up for a mobile app program that will store all your medical records. create folders on your computer the same way you would your filing cabinet. however, you may think that reducing the amount of paper that arrives will eliminate stress and overwhelm you.
5. one in, one out.
This rule applies to everything we own (yes, even paper), especially if we live in tight spaces. blylynebeth, you mentioned a detailed pile of stuff going from your kitchen to your living room to a paper bag. A wise woman once said that clutter is delayed decision making. I like to go a step further and ask if you have room for everything you want to keep. and if so, does everything have a specific home so you know where everything goes? once we designate homes for all of our stuff, maintaining our organizational systems follows naturally.
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* bostonmom, also asked about ideas for creating homework systems for her fifth grader. check out the column I wrote on this exact topic here. and if you want more information, visit my website at orderoochaos.com.
order out of chaos, organization guru leslie josel will answer additude readers’ questions on everything from messy paperwork to disaster zone bedrooms and mastering to-do lists to being on time always.
submit your questions here!