Friday, March 16, 2012

How I Keep Files and Don't Drown in Paper

1. I established an inbox and outbox. The inbox is on the desk.  The outbox is next to the front door so we can check it on the way out (we forget sometimes!). 

2. Once a week (currently Thursdays), I go through the inbox.  I know the popular maxim to only handle pieces of paper once, but I find that there are some that just need time to figure out what to do.  So I may look at it, ponder, and put it back in the inbox. 

3. Because I'm doing it weekly, my inbox only takes an hour or two to get through.  There are usually a few bills to pay and file. Three checkbooks to balance once a month.  There are appointments and phone calls to make.

4.  However, in February, I clean out last year's files, so that takes a few hours longer.

a.  I remove all of last year's bills from our 2-drawer filing cabinet (but leave any documents in the file that pertain to more than a calendar year).

b.  I put it all in envelopes, labeling them with the year and the number of envelopes.  I've found that the times we've needed a paper from an old year, it was not too hard to find the stack from the file.  Therefore, I don't separate and label each individual file.  Most of the time, information we need is on our tax papers.

c.  Then I stick the envelopes in filing boxes in a closet.  I keep 7 years, which is the minimum the IRS wants for an audit.  I shred older years.  Today I shredded 2003, and found my summer paystubs that solved the mystery of what year it was that I worked at the Amish museum.

d. Two files are permanent:  our major home renovation with plans, receipts, permits; the list and paperwork of our former tenants.

e.  Then I say to myself, "self, what treat would please you, as a reward for all this hard, adult work?"

5.  In March (it happened this week), I organize all our receipts and deductions that were accumulating in the file over the previous year for tax purposes - another hour or so of work.  Then my husband takes it from there.

What I did in my inbox this week:
A. entered children's dentist appointments in online calendar - recycled card
B. opened mail - recycled envelopes and junk mail, set bills in inbox
C. entered automatic payments for phone and electric in checkbook register - deleted notification emails
D. renewed car registration online, filed paperwork
E. made half-hearted inquiries into preschools for Ben
F. wrote a check for a charitable donation - mailed it
G. filed statement for retirement account

How do you handle the flow of paper/mail/filing in your house?


Rebecca said...

Oh, (smites brow) I stand over the trash can and pitch like a maniac - no paper recycling in the hinterlands. Anything official goes in the hubs' bill drawer at which point it ceases being my pretty little head's problem.

The best thing I ever did join an online group that stops junk mail. Amazing! We NEVER get mail solicitations and very few catalogs.

A new problem, though, is all the accumulated e-mails. I clear ruthlessly on my desk day.

Antonia said...

I am so impressed with your system, it puts me to shame! I might have to borrow some of your good ideas x

Sew Blessed Maw said...

What a fantastic filing system.. I am not very organized at all.[shame on me!!].
when our mail comes in.. I go through it immediately..trash mail goes to the trash, as I pick it up. Bills goes into a desk drawer [and once a month, I get this drawer out,write out all checks, and mail them, thus the drawer is clear for the following month of bills].
My larger file cabinet that holds all tax papers, recipts that must be kept etc.. Oh..I toss them in there. and every few years ,go through it and TRY to organize it.[it is a terrible job, and I hate it. Must try your ideas..great!!]
thanks for sharing.

Polly said...

I love, LOVE details like this.

My maxim is to touch it once, sort of. All envelopes and junk are recycled. Bills go into the bill area of our buffet, where they are never seen again (by me. my husband pays bills.). I am trying to track spending, so I have a little stack of receipts and update the little spending notebook--ideally daily, but Annie ripped a page out of it, so now I'm a little behind.

We have a huge file cabinet downstairs and file everything there--paid bills, insurance policies, all the manuals that go with everything in the house, etc etc. I *should* purge this once a year. I *haven't* purged it in, oh, 4-5 years, I bet. (I think my husband did purge old bill invoices not long ago.) out of sight, out of mind, I'm afraid. I'll get better at this when my children are older. I think.

I keep magazines or catalogs either on the nightstand or a bin on the end table in the living room. Newspapers get to hang out for one or two days (we only get one weekly paper). Then recycled, no matter if it has been perused. A catalog can hang out for a week or so, but only if it is pretty (Boden). the rest get recycled quickly, after I flip through them on the hoof after getting the mail. Magazines can stay around for a month or two, but I usually get rid of them after a few weeks.

I used to pay the bills and would do it every Monday with stamps, a checkbook and a pen. Very old school. My husband graciously took this task over a couple of years ago, and he does most things online. I'm not sure if he has a 'system' like I did, but I know he pays them all on time, so whatever he does works just fine!!!

My motto seems to be 'when in doubt, throw it out.' I think it helps that we do not itemize our taxes--we don't have to juggle as many receipts.

Whew. Paperwork!

Deanna Beth said...

Rebecca needs to share more about the online group.

Polly said...

Okay, I'm coming back to this after ruminating on it for a while.

I realized that you do something so wise and intelligent that I do NOT do. You use the hour to go through paperwork and do the things like..make appointments....make phone stuff. I don't do that; I tend to do it on an as-needed basis, which is not really all that efficient. This will become especially salient as we start to call contractors and organize the summer-household stuff (piano tuning, maybe some odd jobs, etc that we can't do ourselves). I like this blocked-time approach. I think it is so efficient.

Also, with my system the 'to be filed in the basement filing cabinet' paperwork tends to pile up. Now, when the basement is done my desk will be downstairs and we will be able to be more efficient--but for now, it's a real pain in the neck to realize I've been floating through life without filing and suddenly have a month's worth of things to file. Gah!

Hmmm. I am going to think of how to switch to a better system, like yours!

Here's one for you--what's your menu planning system like? I do it usually the day after farmer's market....which switches I am doing it weekly, we use a lot of fresh veggies, etc, and I like to have a lot of variety in our diets...but I'm always interested in how other people tackle the task of feeding their families.


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