Paper Management – Part 1: Reduce the Influx

The influx of paper into our homes on a daily basis can be overwhelming. We get more mail in a single day than our grandparents got in an entire year! If you hold on to even half of it, you have the makings of a serious paper crisis on your hands.

And paper comes to us in even more ways than through the mail. There are the papers you bring home from the doctor’s office, from your church, from meetings, or school. There are ads you pick up and receipts you bring home. There are magazines and promotion material and business cards. If you live anywhere long enough, these items can really pile up.

How can we control this avalanche of paper?

  1. Mail – reduce your junk mail     
  • – started in 1917, the Direct Marketing Association has made it possible to opt-out of mailing lists through its Mail Preference Service
  • – a free service that sends merchants your catalog opt-out request on your behalf
  • – to keep your name off prescreened lists which will cut down on credit card offers
  • – will help you evaluate charities and when combined with Direct Marketing Association can help you opt out of getting some of the donation solicitations 

We enjoy some of the mail that comes in like letters and cards and perhaps some of those catalogs. But enjoy them and then let them move on. Of course, some cards and letters you may wish to keep, so place them in your memorabilia box but don’t keep them all. I have seen clients with trunks and dressers filled with old cards, many of them with no special notes but just a signature.

Some bills will come in and those you must deal with but consider paying on line and after paying a bill, decide if you really need to keep the bill.

   2. Items you pick up and bring home – do you really need it and what do you plan to do with it?

  • Recipes – I strongly suggest that if you bring a recipe home, you try it out within a week to see if it is worth filing away
  • Coupons – know yourself – are these coupons you will really use and how do you plan to keep up with them? – each time you look through your coupons, discard any that have expired
  • Special interest material – if you are collecting information on interests like health, home decorating, landscaping, or vacations – plan a special place to store them and at least once a year look through what you have saved and purge the ones you no longer need
  • Receipts – know why you have kept them – if it is something you plan to return, keep it with the item – is it for something you will get reimbursed for? A charge you want to keep until you reconcile your charge statement? A business expense? A large purchase for your home? Have a plan for storing those you feel you need to keep and let the rest go.
  • Business cards – let go immediately the ones you no longer want – pull information from others by scanning or entering the information into your phone
  • Magazines – read them within the month and let them go – if you can’t find time to read them, stop getting them
  • Computer print outs – read them and then decide what action needs to happen – then either do the action or let the print out go
Bottom line – a lot of the paper clutter we have lying around is there because we have not taken the time to decide on what to do with it. It is a deferred decision. Don’t let any of this junk paper linger. It will make it so much easier to find the papers that are really important if the unimportant is gone.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Maintain a Paper Flow Not a Pile Up


Everyone has piles on their work area at some time or other. Usually with me they appear when I have not been managing my time well.

Here are some tips to make your paper flow across your desk without piling up.

  1. Spend as little time as possible getting that paper off your desk. Paper piles up because you defer making decision about it. Instead of laying down the paper and leaving it there, take a few moments right away and ask, “What is the first action I must do with this paper?”
  2. Immediately trash/recycle/put in the shred box what you do not need.
  3. Put the other papers in action files according to that first action. You might label the files “Read”, “Pay”, “File”, “Pending”, or “Contact”.
  4. Record dates on your calendar. Record dates of obligations to others and dates you plan to do the action that the folders demand. Record when you are going to pay those bills, make those calls, or read those papers.
  5. Put all magazines and catalogues in a basket near where you read. Every month clear out old editions.
  6. Use project bins. If you have ongoing projects, designate a bin for each project or a folder within a bin. After you are through working on a project for the day, sweep it back into that bin.

Following these habits will help you maintain a clear desk and a clearer mind. Getting rid of the piles of paper that scream “Look at me!” when you are working on something else can be very distracting.

Let’s keep the paper flowing right across the desk and on to its final destination. No more pile ups!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Paper Management – Now Where Is That Stuff I Need For Taxes?

If you are like many of us, you are just now getting around to panicking about if you have all that you need for taxes – and where those papers might be.

What do you need and not need is always a question. I suggest first looking at your last year’s return to see what you needed then.

Probably Needs:
1. income documents (W-2 and 1099 forms)
2. expense documents
3. documents for any additional income like rental income or alimony
4. cancelled checks, receipts, or a spread sheet for additional expenses – this would include gifts to charity and medical expenses
5. If you paid estimated taxes, a summary of estimated payments and cancelled checks

Dont’ Need:
1. receipts for prescription drugs – instead go to your pharmacy and ask for your 2012 printout
2. receipts that are not tax related – like for snacks or groceries

Now, where is all this stuff?

I recommend having a hanging file at the back of your active file cabinet and labeling it taxes. Every time you receive a tax related paper – tax on car or house, donations, professional membership fees, bank fees – drop it into that folder. Don’t take time to sort by category when the paper comes in – just immediately drop it into that tax folder. When tax time comes, pull out your folder; look at last year’s tax preparation and check off what you have.

For receipt documentation, keep the receipts in envelopes by month. I also suggest you enter the amounts into QuickBooks or a spread sheet every week. At the end of the year, total up from the spreadsheet and then put the receipts into a large manila envelope. Label this envelope with the year. Since most accountants agree that you need to save the documentation and receipts for 7 years, each year when you archive the past tax papers, shred the receipts that are in the envelope for 8 years ago.

If you keep car mileage for your business, place a  car mileage book in the car. At the end of the year, tear out the sheets for the past year and total the amount that was logged. Drop the mileage log into the same Manila envelope as the receipts.

Preparing the tax papers for your CPA will still not be fun, but at least the process will not be stressful and panicky.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer