What does your desk look like? Is it a catch-all for everything? Is your desk a junk heap?
Continuing our series on living a life of ease as part of our Glamorous Whole Life Makeover, today we are going to focus on creating a simple system for organizing your basic documents–such as utility bills, pay stub, school announcements, receipts, etc.–whether they come to you in paper or electronic format. The system will help eliminate clutter and enable you to access the documents if you need them. I have tried many systems and this is the one that works best for me and, the best part, it is self-purging.
Document Tickler File
Although this system helps organize all of your documents, I want you to just focus on what I call the basic ones for now. These are the documents that come in and end up creating clutter and turning your desk into a junk heap. And, once they are in the “clutter zone,” it takes more time and energy to find what you need. They become a toleration. And, let’s be honest. A cluttered desk is not what usually comes to mind when you think of a glamorous lifestyle. No. Clutter is the antithesis of glamour.
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Basically, you will be creating a variation of a tickler file. Traditionally, tickler files are used as reminders of future events. Many of us already use a tickler system to keep us on track with our homekeeping. This version is a two-year easy to access archive. I use hanging file folders for this system but I’m sure you could use very large binders or an accordion file if you don’t have a lot of hard copy paperwork. For your electronic documents, you will create a folder with subfolders.
What You Need
You get to go to the stationary store! But stay focused. I know office supply stores are filled with all sorts of goodness but you are only going to get folders or huge binders (and pockets) or accordion files. You will need two sets in two different colors–one color for each year. Really. That’s all you will need. No, you don’t need that new organizing notebook with all of those bells and whistles. It will just end up with your other bells and whistles that have become a toleration.
You will need enough folders each year for:
- Each month
- Charitable Donations
- Medical Receipts
- Other Tax-related Deductions
- Bank or Financial Statements
- Auto Insurance
- Other documents you routinely get and need to keep in an easy to find location such as school notices
- Business-related income
- Business-related expenses
Really. That’s it. One organizing expert I read, many, many, years ago, suggested having a file folder for each account. Well, I had so many different accounts between my utilities and credit cards and insurance and banks and investment accounts (and then there was the stuff related to having two small businesses) that I’d never get around to filing and it all would end up in a jumble in a banker’s box next to my desk. I called the box my “to be filed” box. Ha! My accountant brother would just shake his head every time he saw it. Trust me when I tell you that this system is really simple and actually works.
Let The Organizing Begin!
You are going to take one set of folders and designate them “odd year.” Create “odd year” labels for each folder using the above categories. For example, you’ll have labels that say “Odd Year January,” “Odd Year February,” and so on. Then, you’ll take the other set and designate them “even year.” Create your even year labels. Attach the labels to your folders. Then put your odd year file folders into your filing cabinet. Put the even year file folders behind them.
Unless the document has a special designation, such as tax or medical related, all of your documents go into the file folder for the current month. For instance, when I pay my January bills, the bills with the appropriate check stubs stapled to them go into the January file folder. If I charge something, after I’ve recorded the purchase, the receipt goes into the folder so that I have it on hand in case I have to return the item or there is a problem when I do my reconciliation when the bill arrives. To make the monthly folder easier to find, I attach a binder clip to the top of the label.
At the end of the year, move the other set of folders to the front of the other set so that the current even or odd year as at the front.
After you’ve used this for two years, the self-purging will begin. For example, at the beginning of the month, I took the Odd Year January folder out of the cabinet and quickly looked at the documents from two years ago to make sure there wasn’t anything I needed to save for some reason. As expected, only one or two things needed to be moved to a longer term storage and the rest were shredded. My Odd Year January was now ready to use and it only took me 5 minutes, if that, to do. I repeat the process at the beginning of each month. Most of the “special designation” folders will be empty when you made the switch because you used those documents for something like your tax return and they will be filed with your return.
As Your System Matures
Eventually, you will begin to make longer term file folders for things like loans, life insurance, investments, and tax returns. That said, certain documents like birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, copies of your will and advanced directive, and such should be kept in a fireproof lock box.
Do It For Those You Love
Let me take a moment to be a bit morbid. Creating a system like this won’t be just for you. It is also a gift to your family in case something happens to you. Your friend or family member will be able to access important information without having to sift through mountains of paper while grieving. It’s not just elderly people who need to make sure their paperwork is in order. Demonstrate your love for your family by making it easy for them when you are gone or unable to make decisions for yourself.
Is your desk a junk heap? And, how are you doing on eliminating your tolerations?