Developing a Paper Management System

The longest lasting organizational project you will ever take on is…P.A.P.E.R. The fact is every day new documents come into our possession, magazines, bills, cards of various importance, etc. And at the end of the day if you are lacking a good organizational method for management you might just get lost in it all.

Here it is readers…my shameful paper piles
The first steps to organizing is to find a general system that works for you. Here are some of the systems I have used over the years:
1. The Accordion File System:
Why it worked for me: At the time I was living in an apartment with only rent and a few utilities as bills. This allowed me to have all my bills in one easy to grab place. Each bill went into its own folder and the tabs were great for labeling where each bill was. The whole folder took up very little room so it was easy to store in my tiny apartment. 
When it no longer worked for me: Once I finished school all the adult bills started coming in. This meant my accordion file would either have to get larger or I needed a new system to accommodate all the new paperwork. I attempted a large accordion file at first but it soon became to big to carry and it lost its easy-to-use appeal. Also finding things in this file usually meant taking everything out of the pocket to sort through. 
2. The Filing Box System:

Why it worked for me: This method provided more space than the accordion file and the handle and locking system made it a mess free transport. {yes moving from one room to another in house requires safe transport}. It was built to use hanging files so I was still able to separate and label each bill. The hanging files also meant I could see everything and sort through it without having to remove it from the container.
When it no longer worked for me: When compared with the accordion file this method was much less apartment-friendly. This box took up a little chunk of space but despite that I used this system for nearly two years. Another problem I ended up having was it had a limited amount of storage space and I often found myself cramming papers into the hanging files. Over that time the weight of paper took its toll and one {very sad} day the handle snapped off when I went to lift the box. I knew the box would have limits and when the handle snapped it was time to buy new one {I would need two this time} or find a new system. Since I wasn’t super stoked about how awkward it was to store this box {let alone 2} it was time to move on.  

3. Filing Cabinet System:

Why it worked for me: The biggest reason this worked for me was the price. My mom had one of these that she no longer wanted and asked if I wanted it. F.R.E.E was the biggest reason I went this route. Also this method had the same hanging file system I liked from the box method so I could label each bill and easily sort through anything I needed to. The obvious perk was the amount of space.

Why it no longer worked for me: Technically this method only kind of stopped working for me. I still have the cabinet but it is strictly for storage at this time. After my husband and I bought our house I felt it was time to get a more comprehensive system. I wanted one that not only held the bills, but kept record of payment, a budget, and was portable and easy to use. With these new needs came a new method but the filing cabinet is still used to catalog back bills, records, taxes, and anything we may need later.

My Current Method

I am in love with the binder method. I have always been a huge fan of binders when it came to organizing school notes and class work so it should have been a no-brainer when I was looking for a home paper organizational method. I started using this method over the last year when my husband and I moved into our new home. I have made some changes and adjustments here and there but all-in-all it has worked great.

Here is the meat and potatoes of my household binder:

I use a 3 inch binder. It provides tons of space!
Who ever invented tabbed and folder dividers is amazing! I LOVE them!

This is the area that is very personalized. For this binder I focused solely on financials. Each tab is as follows:

  1. Budget: This includes our written out budget to determine savings, goals, etc
  2. House bills: This tab begins first with a “Year’s bills at a glance” sheet. I created a single page document that has each month and each bill. There is a space for date paid, check number, and amount paid. This allows us to calculate averages over the year, make sure each bill is paid, and keep record of payment just in case.
  3. Auto Bills: This tab includes auto insurance payments and maintenance schedules and payments. Even though it has its own tab all money spent for on automobiles is also recorded in the “Year’s bills at a glance” sheet.
  4. Justina Bills: Two words: Student. Loans. Helps me keep track of payment, due dates, etc
  5. Medical: This area is storage for all insurance payment information, co pay and prescription information.
  6. Retirement/Savings: This place is an area for all our quarterly statements and account records
  7. Tax Info: Taxes only happen once a year but require information from throughout the year. This tab allows me and my husband to file away receipts, documents, etc throughout the year. Come January all the documents in this tab are moved to a file folder and are ready for tax filing. 
So there’s my method of paper clutter cleanup. What’s yours?
**Stay tuned for tips on tax preparation!**


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