The Most Common Clutter

PAPER-the biggest clutter culprit.   

For a world that is so into scanning, shredding, emailing, texting, and doing every other thing electronically, why do so many people still struggle with organizing paper. That still seems to be the most common area people call for organizing help. So if you struggle with mail, paper piles, and files you’re not alone. Not at all. What seems to be most prevalent amongst the callers are these three obstacles… 

1. what to keep? It surprises me how often people really have no idea what’s important and what’s not. So to help you out here are examples of each. Of course if you own a business and work out of your home, that changes things. For now, I’m speaking to the regular household situation. 

Not so important: monthly investment statements, proxy voting for your investments, insurance bills, utility bills, credit card statements, product manuals, pet records, old credit reports, every day receipts

Important: bank statements, charity receipts, insurance policies, buying and selling of stock paperwork, medical records, warranties, property taxes, mortgage information, receipts on large purchases- i.e. a dishwasher, diamond necklace, piano, etc. 

2. what is needed to support a tax return ? Most people think all you need are the few year end statements and W2’s you get in the mail from all your financial institutions. Not so. I want you to think about which paperwork in your filing cabinet supports your return. Your tax consultant may only need those few statements but other paperwork would prove your return if you’d be audited. So ask yourself this simple question- what paper shows my income and my deductible expenses? 

Income: pay stubs, W2’s, 1099’s, sale of stock or other investments, cashing in a bond, sale of a home, etc. 

Deductible Expenses:  there’s a big difference between expenses and deductible expenses. So let’s think about this… what would matter to the IRS? Your heating bill?  No. Your bill from your trip to the dentist? No. Your shopping trip to Nordstrom on your credit card? No. Your property tax bills? Absolutely. Your donations to local charities? Yes. Your mortgage interest and student loan interest? Yes. 

If you’re still not sure, after doing your taxes, you’ll have a better idea. If paper in your filing cabinet doesn’t correlate to what you deducted or showed as income it doesn’t support your tax return. Then you go back to number one above and ask if it’s important or not to keep it. 

3. how to keep up with the inflow and daily maintenance ?

Everyone knows and will agree that they should get through their mail, clear off their desk, shred and file every day but not too many people do it. Are professional organizers expecting too much or asking to much of people?  I’d say no. The filing aspect, I’ll give you but the rest is very doable. There’s no way I’d file each day. I do that once a month. The rest, I do daily and you can too. It’s pretty simple. Here’s how. 

  • open all the mail daily. Psychically slit open the mail. Don’t assume you know what’s inside an envelope. Don’t keep the envelope and advertisements inside. 
  • read through things thoroughly. Sometimes we keep paper by default because we don’t take the thirty seconds to read the letter from top to bottom. Those papers can often be pitched. 
  • pitch or shred everything that isn’t a bill, tax record, or permanent record that I discussed above. Don’t put off shredding. It’s so much easier to shred two to three things daily than a hundred things at the end of the month. 
  • place bills in a “bill spot” and place paper that needs to be filed in a “file spot”. Those spots could be baskets, file folders, trays, etc…any container to organize the paper. Later you’ll pay the bills and later, like myself, you’ll file the paper. 
  • now let’s address the to do’s and items you need to make a decision on. Repeat the process, pick a tray, file, container to hold these action items and label the container. That’s the most important part. 
  • repeat the process with clearing your desk each day or kitchen countertops. If places have a designated, labeled spot, you’ll feel more secure in finding it again later when you need it. Trust your system and use it. It won’t fail you if you’re consistent and regular in using it. 
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