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But I’m not convinced the people who write this advice ever get their paperwork into the unholy mess I do!!!
They also live in a strange parallel universe where they can organise neat piles of paperwork all over the floor for the days necessary to sort it out without little hands appearing “to help” 🙁
It my experience if you try this, you’ll just end up shoving it all back in a box in a bigger mess than it was before!
So how can you organise paperwork fast?
Well this is my tried and tested and super fast approach that will help you …
- Tackle the critical paperwork (e.g. the nasty stuff you’ve been avoiding!)
- Store all important documents securely so they can be found without major panic and are protected from disasters of all sorts
- Keep on top of mail going forward
The key difference about this approach to organising your paperwork is that it is not about filing every last bit of paper in perfect order!
It’s all about focusing mentally on the critical and important paperwork.
And the good news is that you can organise it all in 10-60 minute blasts so you can easily fit it into your week … no more excuses!
How To Organise Paperwork Fast
So here goes … I’ve listed all the separate actions with an estimate of time needed for each. First off, get some music on … ‘cos this aint gonna to be fun … then …
- Set up & index key folders
- Create basic command centre
- Collect up all the paperwork scattered around the house
- Rough sort for urgent documents
- Trash stuff as you go
- Action urgent stuff
- Rough sort for important documents
- Securely store important documents on-line
- Archive anything tax related
- Shred recycling
1. Set Up & Index Folders
Before you start, you need to set up folders and put a simple index at the front of each. I prefer ring binders with tabs because it’s easier to keep everything in date order. The index can just be written on a sheet of paper.
I have 4 folders for: Finance; Health & Tax; Utilities; Property indexed as below:
|Finance||Health & Tax||Utilities||Property|
|Bank letters||Health insurance||Electricity||House insurance|
|Current account||Life assurance||Gas||Content insurance|
|Saving account||Pension||Water||Property deeds|
|Credit cards||Tax letters||Land-line||House survey|
|Other savings||Tax returns||Cell / Mobile||Mortgage certificate|
|Shares||Pay slips||Broadband||Mortgage statement|
|Medical Records||Cable TV|
I also have a House folder indexed by room that contains receipts, product warranties, manuals and details of decorating and repair work.
And a Kids folder indexed for childcare, school, health records etc
Start using your folders straight away! Once a week action & file all mail!
2. Collect Everything Up
- Go round the house and collect up all those random piles of paperwork where ever it’s been left, shoved or hidden away!
- Put it all … any old how … in a storage box. I prefer plastic storage tubs as they are more dust, pest and water resistant than cardboard varieties
- Grab another empty box or tub
3. Brainstorm an Urgent List!
- Write down on one sheet of paper all the urgent paperwork e.g. unpaid bills, tax returns, credit cards, renewals, expensive policies you need to change
- This shouldn’t take long but for many of us it’s the trickiest bit!
- I suspect many of us … including me! … let the paperwork in a mess when there’s some underlying financial mess we’re worried about & don’t know how to deal with. If there is you’ve got to tackle it.
- AND you’ve got to be brutally honest about all the un-tackled paperwork stuff that is really costing you money or that will create trouble down the line
4. Rough Sort for Urgent Documents
60 minutes max
- Try to find all the urgent paperwork on your list
- Don’t worry about sorting anything else as you go, just focus on the urgent stuff
- Tick everything off as you find it and put it all in a loose file
- Set yourself a maximum time to find everything and stick to it
- Put anything that isn’t urgent in the empty box so you don’t go through it twice
5. Trash Stuff As You Go
- Have a recycling bag to hand and as you find the urgent paperwork put anything obviously trash e.g. old catalogues, marketing, fliers in it as you go
- But don’t let that distract you from the urgent documents
6. Action Urgent Stuff
- Many of us get our paperwork in a mess because we are trying to avoid urgent stuff
- So it’s critical now to stop and action all the urgent paperwork
- It might involve awkward home truths and unpleasant conversations but do it, you’ll sleep much better for it and find it easier to stay organized once it’s done!!!
- Don’t do any more sorting until you’ve done the urgent stuff!
7. Rough Sort for Important Paperwork
30 minute blasts
Now you’ve actioned your urgent stuff, you can move onto the important paperwork that must be stored safely and easily accessible when you need it.
- Make a list of important paperwork e.g.
- Birth & marriage certificates
- Property deeds
- Mortgage documents
- Pay slips
- Employment contracts
- Receipts & warranties for major items
- Will & power of attorney
- Tax returns for last 7 years
- Grab a small pile of paperwork – 5 or 6 handfuls worth
- Rough sort through looking for:
- important documents from your list
- bills, statements, letters & receipts since start of previous tax year – this should never be more than 22 months
- File these in your indexed files
- Tick off items on your list as soon as found & filed
- Put in recycling bag anything obviously trash e.g. catalogues, fliers, old coupons
- Keep repeating in 30 minute blasts until you have:
- Everything on your list
- 22 months worth of bills, statements, letters & receipts
- Even if you only manage 30 minutes a week, keep at it – it will become quicker
8. Store Important Paperwork Online
30 minute set-up & 15 minute blasts
It is essential to keep electronic back-ups of important documents in case of fire, flood etc.
Secure online storage of important paperwork with will also mean you can access it at work or on holiday without the risk of carrying originals with you.
Important documents that need electronic back-up include:
- Birth & marriage certificates
- Deeds & mortgage statements
- All insurance documents
- Employment contracts
- Health records
- Basic tax records
9. Create Archives
5 minutes or as long as you like 😉
You should now have:
- A file of urgent documents you have actioned
- Indexed folders containing all your recent mail, important documents & paperwork for the last 22 months
- Secure back-up and online storage of important documents
- A remaining tub of other unsorted documents
It would be lovely to be able to bin that last tub of unsorted stuff!
But, unfortunately tax records do need to be kept for 7 years.
Officially, this is just the tax records but if your tax returns include any non-standard payroll taxes it is essential to keep any supporting documents that support your return.
In an ideal world your archive would be neatly filed by year, date & document type. Back on planet earth that isn’t going to happen!!!
So just leave all the remaining paperwork in the tub, label it & put it somewhere safe. Yes, it’s a mess. A big mess.
But you know that everything that might possibly be needed for a tax investigation is in that tub and can be found if you need it.
Even though it’s a mess, you can still sleep happy because you know you’ve actioned the critical paperwork and the important paperwork is filed.
10. Shred Recycling
With identity theft so prevalent, it’s wise to shred your recycling.
Even marketing mailers can include personal details about you that could be used so shred the lot.
If you haven’t got a shredder just rough cross cut with scissors but you can get shredders now that don’t take up much space for as little as $30.
And that’s it your done! Your paperwork is organized and your sanity saved 🙂
I do hope this helps … if you are looking for tips for getting organised do check out our other declutter and organisation posts …
Luci is the founder of Mums Make Lists. She has written about all aspects of organising family life for ten years. Her main areas of expertise are family finance and budgeting, simplifying housekeeping and family admin and kids’ party planning. Read more.