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Plow Through Your Papers

Yael Wiesner

Are you buried beneath the mess on the desk (and every other available surface)? Five foolproof steps toward finally organizing that mound of paperwork

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

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“Eighty percent of the papers we file we never refer to again.” (The Small Business Administration)


tep 1: Research Your System — Before You Buy

Just because the store sells a contraption doesn’t mean it will work for you. Here are some popular storage options:


The most traditional system, it provides easy access for both active and inactive files. The downside — this system often gets over-detailed and you can’t remember which file is located where. To prevent this, keep an updated index in the first file.

Tip: Don’t use a filing cabinet if you’re inconsistent about filing papers.


For active papers only. In a home office, this useful office tool usually becomes a dumping ground and collapses. Save it for work.


Excellent for reference papers such as recipes, magazine clippings, random shiur notes, special children’s drawings, etc. Use a new one for each category. Tip: Save only your favorites.


Typically used for inactive papers, like archives or old tax documents. Tip: Ask your accountant how many years’ worth of papers to save. Every time you fill a new box, try to dump an old one.

“The average American receives 49,060 pieces of mail in a lifetime. One-third of it is junk mail.” (National Association of Professional Organizers)


Compact systems useful for those who haven’t accumulated a lot of papers yet. Alphabetize all files into a few sections. Tip: This system is short term. A few years down the line, overstuffed accordion files won’t do the job anymore.


Perfect for busy people who don’t file daily. It’s a place for papers in use that you want around but not sprawled over the dining room table (current bills, medical papers, magazines, etc.). Sort through monthly, and permanently file or trash its contents. Alternatively, try the “one in, one out” method; for every paper you put in, deal with another. Tip: Create a shelf of drop-in boxes, one for each category.

Step 2: Quick Processing

Cut back on papers before you even begin filing: 


Many papers can be eliminated by writing the date of the event in the calendar, entering the phone number in the phone book, or recording the errand on your to-do list.


Probably half your pile is garbage — paid bills, old receipts, expired warranties, old school notices, outdated invitations, excess duplicates.


Use technology as your filing cabinet! Scan specific categories of paper into the computer, back them up in a safe place, and discard the originals. Try doing much of your paperwork online to begin with.

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