Slay the Paper Dragon

Dear Bettina,

I am drowning in paper. It doesn’t seem to matter what method I use, I end up back in this same place of paper on every flat surface. Can you help me slay this paper dragon once and for all?
Signed, Trisha

Dear Trisha, (aka, Dragon Slayer)

I hear you. Paper is the nemesis of many a well intentioned individual. It drives me crazy too!

For years I couldn’t quite slay the dragon. I could keep the paper from collecting around the house but my office was another story. I tried system after system, with no long term success.

One day it dawned on me, maybe if I wasn’t keeping up my “system” then it required too many steps. I’ve found that if it’s not simple and easy to implement, then I won’t follow through long term. Let’s face it: life is just much more interesting than managing all that paper.

Here are the three steps that have set me free from Paper problems 

1. Keep as little as possible. Be ruthless. Recycle every bit you can. If your concerned about tossing mail with your name on it or there is a back log by the shredder, get a confidential shred bin. It’s worth the peace of mind.

2. Is it a receipt, paid invoice or statement? Much of what comes to us in the world of paper falls into these categories, which can all be lumped together. Get yourself an accordion file with January through December printed on the tabs. Ask yourself, “What month is this?” The answer tells you where to put the paper. It’s so simple. You now have a whole year to reclaim the paper if you need the information. When the current month comes around again you just do a quick check of what’s in there and in most cases, toss your year old receipts into the recycle (or confidential recycle) bin.

3. Usually what is left after the previous two steps either is reference, archive or requires an action. Reference you may want more frequent access to, while archive you know you just need to keep. I keep a drawer handy to my desk for reference files, and my archive is a 2 drawer lateral file. A label maker and an alphabetical system is as complicated as this ever gets. If I know I can find the information online, I don’t even bother keeping it in my file drawer.

The result has been that now my office and my house are virtually paper free. When in doubt, I keep paper by month. I find what I need in a minute or two by asking myself, “when did I buy that?” If it wasn’t January like I thought, then maybe it was February. Most of the time I don’t need the paper, but I have the peace of mind of a simple system if I do.

If you are not as fond of accordion files as I am, you are welcome to set up your own monthly files in a drawer; either way works just fine.

It’s a great life, simplified!
Bettina Blanchard

About Bettina Blanchard

It’s not what we have, it’s what we do that makes life fun. Professional organizer, business owner, radio show host, accordion player, I love to live and write about finding the balance between having and doing.