7 Simple Steps to Organize Your Paper PilesPosted by Medicare Made Clear
By Bill Bliesath, the Organizing Guy™
Taming piles of paper is the #1 organizing problem people come to me with. Never fear, help is here!
A lot of paper comes into our homes even though we’re supposed to be living in a paperless age. And, truth be told, many of us feel comfort in having hard copies of important documents on hand. Electronic versions on a computer or off somewhere in “the cloud” may seem too elusive.
So, what to do with all the paper? Well, your “stuff” needs a home.
I like to approach every organization project using these seven simple steps:
- Assess and prioritize.
- Get what you need to do the deed.
- Categorize, sort, purge and move on.
- Clean it up.
- Containerize, label and place.
- Celebrate your success.
- Maintain it.
The goal with a paper problem is to create the ultimate file system that makes it easy to find what you are looking for, and more important, makes it easy to put items away.
Let’s take it one simple step at a time.
Assess and Prioritize
It’s easy to get overwhelmed before you even begin, which can paralyze the best of us. Consider these questions to help bring boundaries and focus to your project.
- What type of material is most important to tackle first? This could be personal papers, business papers, papers in a specific category such as health or finances, etc.
- Where are the papers you want to organize—in one area or scattered in several rooms?
- Are the papers critical to your daily life or work, or are they reference materials you might need someday?
- What kind of filing equipment do you have? Is it located near your desk or work area and easy to access?
- How much time can you reasonably devote to this organizing project?
Get What You Need to Do the Deed
Once you’ve defined your project you need to gather the necessary filing supplies. Have fun with this. Supplies come in many styles and colors. Pick things that make you happy!
Items you may need include:
- Sticky notes and a pen
- Interior file folders, which are slightly different from standard file folders
- Standard hanging file folders
- 2-inch box bottom hanging file folders and 3-inch (1/3 cut) clear plastic hanging file tabs
- One or more file cabinets or other suitable equipment in good condition with drawers that open and close smoothly
You might want to check out Medicare Made Clear’s free, downloadable SmartOrganizer, a tool for organizing health, finance, home and other information and materials.
Categorize, Sort, Purge and Move On
Create a clean surface to work on. Clear your desk or use a folding table, for example.
Gather and sort your papers, like with like. Use sticky notes to label each pile as it is created.
It may be a real time-saver to sort into categories, such as credit cards, health, Medicare, etc. Be sure to use this opportunity to feed the recycling bin and create a pile called “shred.” Yes, there will probably be spillover onto the floor!
After a “super sort” you can go back and sort further. Separate the piles into smaller piles, such as individual bank accounts, different insurance policies, etc.
Clean It Up
This step has a couple of interpretations. First of all, this is your chance to really clean out the bottom of drawers, filing cabinets and other catch-all containers around the house! Get the papers out of there and start fresh. Secondly, take time to tidy up and straighten your paper piles as you sort and stack. This may seem over the top, but the psychological benefits of maintaining order as you go can be profound!
Containerize, Label and Place
Now you get to use your fun, new filing supplies. Place papers for each category into an interior file folder labeled with a sticky note. Create temporary hanging file tabs with an upside-down sticky note.
Arrange the folders alphabetically. If you have subfolders within a category, arrange those alphabetically as well. A credit card category, for example, might include several folders—one for each individual account. The SmartOrganizer includes templates and tips for gathering and organizing papers and information in common categories.
Order the contents of each folder with the most recent items in front and the oldest in back. Once everything is arranged in order and all your papers have a home, make permanent labels for hanging file tabs and individual file folders.
Celebrate Your Success
Break out the chocolate, dance to a merry tune, or do whatever is fun for you. You deserve and need a celebration! You may be more likely to succeed at step 7 when you first acknowledge and appreciate what you’ve accomplished.
Managing your important papers and maintaining a filing system should be easy now that you are well organized. Going forward, you may want to file papers as they come in rather than creating a “pile to file.” Decide which approach you’re most likely to stick with, and commit to it. Get inspired and get your organizing questions answered by joining me for an open Q&A session on Facebook. Hope to see you there!
Now is a great time to get your health and Medicare papers in order. Medicare Open Enrollment is Oct. 15 – Dec. 7, and it’s coming up fast. Your files may be very helpful as you consider your Medicare choices for 2016. You may also want to check out National Medicare Education Week for tools and resources that may help with your decision-making.
For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.
Bill Bliesath, the Organizing Guy™, has been organizing homes, offices and businesses across the country for over fifteen years. He is one of the first and few in the nation to be certified by the Board of Certification for Professional Organizers. He enjoys sharing his expertise with others through keynote speeches, workshops, seminars, private consultations and hands-on organizing. The Organizing Guy and his expert teams are based in Los Angeles, California and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Visit his web site for more information at theorganizingguy.com.