July 23, 2015

Preventing the Paper Pileup

As a writer, I see paper as one of the most beautiful things ever created. White, colored, aged, new, plain, lined, and everything in between - it doesn't matter. I love it.

Until it gets out of control. Papers to be filed, papers to be shredded, empty envelopes, overdue bills, homework, school projects, birthday party invitations, receipts, thank you cards, announcements, newsletters, magazines. and more in piles, stacks, and avalanches-waiting-to-happen.

I tried many, many, many systems over the years, but nothing worked. The papers would multiply faster than rabbits and I was drowning in leaflets of every color. My husband and I were at our wits' end.

One day, as I was studiously working on the computer (a.k.a. playing around on Pinterest), I found a system that had potential and I was intrigued. As is, I knew it wouldn't work for me, so I tweaked it to create the system we use today.

Meet our file box.

Preventing the Paper Pileup - www.lysandrajames.com

I'd call him Bob, but that name has been claimed by a dryer ball that split open and is now used to motivate my children to clean up or get dressed quickly.

Preventing the Paper Pileup - www.lysandrajames.com
"Bob eat toes of naughty boys!"
No, this wonderfully functional file box has no name, but he works harder than almost anything in our home to keep us organized and on top of things.

He's kept in our mudroom and is meant for short-term storage of important paper stuff.

In the handy little compartment on top, I keep an assortment of pens in every color and a letter opener. On a good day, there are stamps in there, too. Today is obviously not a good day. Oops.

Preventing the Paper Pileup - www.lysandrajames.com

When the mail comes into the house, I immediately sort through it. This step is so vital to this system, I'll repeat it in bold caps - I IMMEDIATELY SORT THROUGH IT. If I don't do this one thing, my entire system falls apart. If I don't have enough time to sort through it, I don't get the mail until I do.

All empty envelopes, flyers, junk mail, store ads, and other trash gets thrown away.

Unfortunately, my kiddos are still too young to keep the shredder easily accessible, so all items needing to be shredded are put in a pile to shred once they're distracted or in bed.

Invitations and flyers for upcoming events are put on a magnetic dry erase board next to the garage door and the dates and times are put on two calendars - one on the fridge and one on my phone (sometimes with multiple alerts).

Everything else has a home in my file box.

Preventing the Paper Pileup - www.lysandrajames.com

My files include monthly bills like the mortgage, utilities, phone and internet, and TV. There are also files for receipts, work orders, paid medical bills, and anything else that may need to be referenced.

Preventing the Paper Pileup - www.lysandrajames.com

I also keep a file in there specifically for tax documents. It's currently empty, but when the new year rolls around, it fills up quickly. Then, when my superman of a husband sits down to do the taxes, everything he needs is in one spot. He then puts the tax documents in an expanding file folder designated specifically for the last seven years of tax returns.

All unpaid bills are put into the "To Pay" file. Once they're paid, I pull out one of my handy dandy pens from the top compartment, and mark it "Paid" along with the date and any confirmation number. The paid bill is put into the appropriate folder for future reference.

In the case of monthly statements, we keep only one year's worth. When a new one goes in, the oldest one is taken out and shredded.

Anything required action is put into the "To Do" folder. Or on the message board along with the upcoming events.

Preventing the Paper Pileup - www.lysandrajames.com

These lonely little files in the back are for more permanent items. Receipts are kept for as long as we own the item. I prefer to keep them in my filing cabinet, but it's all the way upstairs.

Like thirteen steps up.

So forever far away.

So I have a temporary spot for them in my file box to save me from excessive unnecessary exertion. Same thing with the "To File" file. Anything that needs to go into long-term storage gets shoved in there until I feel like emptying it out.

My lovely little file box also contains blank and empty folders for any future categories that may show up.

School papers

No, I didn't forget about the worst offenders to paper pileup EVER. I swear, 90% of the mess comes from my kids' backpacks. I can't keep up with all those worksheets, art projects, and permission slips. I just can't. You can't make me!

I take the easy way out. My 14yo's school is becoming increasingly digital, which means I can sign permission slips, check report cards, and see upcoming events online. I've set his school website as one of my starting tabs when I go online. On my computer. Which does happen at least once a week since I refuse to compose a blog post on my iPhone.

I can't even imagine trying that. Wow.

Anyway, when my 14yo's backback begins to overflow, I make him empty it out into a basket specifically set aside for his schoolwork. I glance through it to make sure I'm not missing anything important, then set it aside.

Preventing the Paper Pileup - www.lysandrajames.com

My 6yo's backpack is emptied every day. Sometimes every other day. Again, I glance to make sure all important papers are taken care of before dumping it all into his basket. I don't look at it again until the end of the school year.

At the end of the school year, I'm left with two (soon to be three) overflowing baskets of school stuff. I take a couple of hours and, with a diet Pepsi to keep me company, I sort. All writing assignments are automatically kept.

Artwork is photographed except for the ones I truly love - one, maybe two, per child per year. Those are framed and hung on the wall as part of my decor. The rest are thrown away or set aside.

Preventing the Paper Pileup - www.lysandrajames.com
Still my absolute favorite. I adore the blue rocks. Gorgeous.

Then I pick a handful of my favorite assignments to show my grandkids someday so they can laugh at their parents. Oh, yes. I will be that mother. [insert evil laugh here]

Preventing the Paper Pileup - www.lysandrajames.com

The keepers go into a single pocket of a 13-pocket expanding file-folder. (One pocket per year of school.) Everything else - and I mean everything - gets tossed. Sometimes discreetly, sometimes not. I refuse to keep every scrap of paper my children bring home. If they see me throwing something away, I don't lie about it. They have to learn how to purge eventually.

Sometimes I let my kids help with the purge. They get to pick a couple of their favorite papers to keep. Since this can lead to many tears shed (occasionally they cry, too), I don't do this often.


What I love most about our system is the peace of mind I get from knowing I'm not being buried alive under mounds of paperwork. It takes just a few minutes a day to maintain and nothing gets lost. All that time I used to spend stressing out over it I now spend doing more important things.

Like studiously working on the computer. (wink, wink)

Ooh, look! Fairy gardens...

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