The calendar just rolled over to a new year, so it's time to start fresh with some new files. This goes for you whether you're mostly digital, mostly paper, or somewhere in the middle.
If you keep digital files, I recommend downloading pdf copies of the statements as a backup and keeping them in folders on your computer and backed up on a cloud server (I use dropbox, but there are many good options out there.). Now is the time to create new folders labeled with the new year so you'll be ready when this year's downloads are available.
If you keep paper files, now is the time to label some fresh new folders. If you have a file drawer, one good option is to keep two-year's worth of files available at a time so you can just rotate the files for the new year. One set of files will be labeled "odd" for odd years, and the other "even." When the new year rolls around, bring the new year's set of files to the front of the drawer, emptying them out by discarding anything no longer need to store and placing items for long-term storage (Check the IRS website for a reference list.) in an archive file location such as a less-accessible file drawer or a box in a closet, attic, or basement (Use plastic bins if moisture is a problem.).
Another option for paper files is my expanding file system. Each year, I start fresh with a new 19-pocket expanding file. For the first part of the year, while I'm preparing for taxes, I keep last year's file handy. After April 15th, it goes down to my basement on a shelf with 7 others. I store 7 years' worth of files (that's how long to save tax-related info) plus one expanding file for permanent information (tax returns, home repairs, major medical info, etc.). I like this system because it's easy, compact, and never has to be purged. After 7 years, the files get shredded and I can reuse the expanding file.
How will you make a fresh start with files this year?
Looking for an easy way to reduce the dreaded task of filing? Go paperless!
Whenever possible, whether it's utility bills or bank statements, sign up for the paperless option. Don't worry, your statements and account information will all be available to you online, but you'll no longer have to handle and store the paper files.
You'll still be able to reconcile your bank statements and keep track of payments because the statements will come to your email address. If you really feel the need, you can file these digitally in a special email folder. At least that kind of filing takes just a click and doesn't take up any physical space.
Want to streamline things even further? Sign up for automatic payments of recurring bills. You'll be given at least several days' notice about exactly how much will be deducted from your bank account or charged to your credit card, so you have time to transfer the funds as needed. You'll never be late on a payment again!
Way back in the fall (October 17th, to be exact), I wrote about how to set up a system to deal with all those pesky papers that come home from school.
The basic weekly system is this:
1. Immediately deal with any notifications (add to calendar, write a check, sign a form).
2. Recycle anything not worth saving (worksheets, scribbles, spelling tests, coloring pages).
3. Display this week’s artwork and accomplishments in your temporary display space (fridge, frame, bulletin board, clothesline strung across a window).
4. Stash last week’s displayed work in an art portfolio or other bin.*
*This is the time to weed out anything that, after one week’s display, can be recycled. Try to save only the best items, such as the unusually detailed drawing, the very clever essay, or the spelling/math test that was a true victory.
Now that you’ve been diligently checking the backpack every week and keeping up with all the papers, what do you do with the stash that has accumulated in the portfolio?
That’s what we’ll tackle today!
As soon as school is over for the year (Don’t delay or the time will get away from you!), make some space on a table or floor and dump out that stash.
Side note: It’s up to you whether you want your child involved in this sorting process or whether it will go more smoothly if you do it yourself. Just remember, you are really saving this stuff for you, not for your child. When kids are adults, they almost always say, “Why did you save all this stuff? I don’t even remember that!” It’s the rare adult child who wants any of it. You are saving these memories for you, so keep what is meaningful to you.
Ready...set...start sorting! Make one pile for recycling and one for the (possible) keepers. Try to go through it as quickly as possible. Right now, you are just eliminating the obvious non-keepers.
Shove that pile of non-keepers into the recycling bin immediately! Don’t look back!
Now for the hard part: finding the treasures.
During that first sorting process, you only identified the possible keepers, now you have to cull the collection even more, leaving only the true gems: the few pieces of art that show your child’s progress over the year, the story your child wrote about your family vacation, the test that was such a struggle but ended in triumph, the piece that completely sums up who your child is at this age.
In order to help you figure out exactly how much you can save and how much you’ll have to cut, you need a long-term storage solution.
I suggest either a pre-made school years scrapbook or a keepsake portfolio. The key is that it shouldn’t be too big (not a box, because you don’t want to end up with a dozen of those – one for every grade!). It should have pockets big enough to hold construction paper (even if you have to fold some) but not so big that you can avoid deciding what to keep and just shove everything in it. You also don’t need something with slots for every grade, Pre-K through 12, because after 5th grade the paper trail drops off considerably. Phew!
Click here for an example of a school years scrapbook.
Click here and here for examples of keepsake portfolios.
The scrapbook has the advantage of being something you can keep on a bookshelf and of having space for children to contribute thoughts about the past year (favorite subject, friends, school photos, etc.). Kids also enjoy looking through scrapbooks of their past school years.
The portfolio has the advantage of being able to hold larger (and more) papers and of being easier to fill because you just slip the papers in the large slot and don’t have pages to fill out.
Are you worried because your child is already in second grade and you don’t know what to do with the giant backlog of papers from past years that you have thrown into large bins to avoid sorting? Have no fear! Make a date with yourself (schedule it on your calendar) to go through the stuff, enjoy reminiscing about your child’s early years, populate your new school scrapbook or portfolio, and reclaim the space in those bins!
Catalogs and magazines can be fun to browse through every now and then, but this innocent-seeming form of entertainment can have cluttering consequences for your home and your mind.
Here’s a list of reasons why I recommend reducing or eliminating your consumption of catalogs and magazines:
One of the books I read over the summer was The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and what I enjoyed most about the book were the descriptions of the new inventions created for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, such as the Ferris Wheel.
The invention that most delighted me was this:
“Visitors also encountered the latest and arguably most important organizational invention of the century, the vertical file, created by Melvil Dewey, inventor of the Dewey Decimal System.”
– Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City
Yes, I’m a nerdy organizer and I get excited about vertical files!
They are so ubiquitous now that we take them for granted, but at the time they must have seemed very modern and efficient. It’s hard to imagine an office today without them. How was paperwork stored before?
Need help with your files? Give me a ring! I have a very simple filing system for my household files: just one accordion file per year plus a small desktop vertical file for action items and frequently-accessed information. Whether we use my system or develop your own custom system, I’d love to help you streamline your paperwork.
The kids have been back in school for about a month and a half now and, especially if you have preschool or elementary-school-age children, the papers they bring home are starting to accumulate.
If you want to get a handle on this influx, you’ll have to be systematic and ruthless!
Your set-up should include two things:
Now you're ready to tackle the influx!
Check back here in June for ideas about how to process the portfolios at the end of the year.
If you’ve been good all year about weeding out the unnecessary stuff, this will be a quick, simple, and fun (yes, really) process.
Want to minimize the pile of mail you get? Try the PaperKarma app.
This app helps you control clutter in two ways:
1) It reduces the amount of mail you get.
2) It helps you avoid the temptation to shop by unsubscribing you from catalogs.
With your phone, just snap a photo of the address label of the catalog or mail solicitation that you want to unsubscribe from, and PaperKarma notifies the company and takes you off the mailing list.
It may seem fun to browse through catalogs, but constantly being confronted with the newest products is highly tempting and can create a sense of anxiety and dissatisfaction with the things you currently own. You can always look at that stuff online if you really need to shop for something. Letting the catalogs go will help restore peace.
There's a small fee for using the app (I believe after a certain number of free unsubscribes), but it's well worth it to help you get the influx of papers under control.