A 5-Step Plan for *Finally* Organizing All Your Paperwork

published Dec 22, 2020
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Credit: Samara Vise

As a nation, the U.S. goes through a lot of paper—really a lot. Our annual usage rate of nearly 71 million metric tons means we’re each using an average of 700 pounds of paper a year. Like I said: Really a lot. And, if you’ve ever felt unable to tame your piles of paperwork that number probably seems low.

Here’s another relevant stat: Twenty three percent of adults pay bills late because they can’t find them. But you don’t have to be a statistic! You can finally (finally) organize your paperwork. Here’s how.

Go paperless.

One third of the more than 49,000 pieces of mail the average American receives in their lifetime is junk mail, according to NAPO. Another jaw-dropping paper fact: According to the Direct Mail Association and United States Postal Service, 100 million American households receive 1.6 billion catalogs a year.

The solution? Stop the madness before it starts. Barbara Reich, owner of Life Organized suggests unsubscribing from all mailing lists and paper catalogs and paying all bills online. Jarret Yoshida, principal of Jarret Yoshida Inc. agrees: “I unsubscribe myself from paper catalogs and even emails. It’s too distracting from what is important,” he says. Try a service like ecocycle.org “to stop this ecological and personal time disaster,” Yoshida adds. 

Just open it.

Organized people have a common mantra: Just do it. In other words, “Open your mail every day,” advises Sharon Lowenheim, NAPO board member and owner of Organizing Goddess. Specifically, she suggests opening each item and laying flat; throwing out the outer envelope; and using a sticky note to indicate important dates and action. “This will prevent you from having to reread the paper every time you come across it,” she notes.

Recycle or shred it.

“If a piece of paper doesn’t require action, recycle or shred immediately to avoid unnecessary paper piles,” says Lowenheim. Amy Tokos, owner of Freshly Organized Omaha and president-elect of NAPO, agrees. She suggests having a recycling bin handy to “sort out recycling before you even set down the mail.”

If you’re on the fence about whether to keep something or not, here’s a fun fact for you: Some experts state that 80 percent of us don’t ever look at paperwork once it is filed. This is a good argument for the old adage: When in doubt, throw it out.

Deal with it.

Create a single open box on your desk for items that need action and add these items to your to-do list. Before shutting down for the day, do a desk sweep and review your to-do list. Actions that take two minutes or less, like paying a bill, should be completed immediately. “After doing this for a week, it becomes a habit,” notes Reich. 

Upload it. 

Finally, don’t keep any paper you don’t need to keep, says Lowenheim. If it’s an important document that you think you’ll want to keep, upload it. iScanner is a handy app that—you guessed it—scans every imaginable document.