3 steps to organising paper documents like a pro

If you can’t find important paper documents when you need them most, stop blaming yourself and read ahead.

Even in a digital world, paper still holds its own place being the only or the most important record of everything from birth to death and much else you do in life. There’s a small mountain of important documents residing in corners and forgotten spaces in every home, including yours, and you more often than not unsuccessfully spend a great deal of time and effort finding them or they magically appear in places you least expect.

Welcome to the world of paper document mismanagement. You are not alone.

Thankfully, organising paper documents at home is easier than you thought. It takes some storage and labelling supplies, a few hours of your time in the beginning, and an hour or two every month. Shall we begin?

Step 1: Gather paper documents

The first step to organising paper documents is to find them from all the scattered spaces in your house, and gather them in one place. Once you have a large pile of unsorted documents, you’ll have no choice but to organise the pile. The answer to how well you organise the pile lies in the next two steps.

Pro Tip: It’s a common tendency to leave paper documents where you first put them. Look around in the living room, storage bins, bags and backpacks, wardrobes and wall units, desks and drawers, every place you use to keep documents for the meantime and for long term storage.

Step 2: Categorise your documents

Categorise documents by type – Action, Storage, Discard – and create separate piles for each .

  • Action papers include those you need to act now or later, typically, invitations, reminders, utility and other bills due in the short term.
  • Storage should include your most important paper documents that need to be stored safely for the long term: tax returns, medical and immunisation records, academic records, wills, titles and deeds or agreements, leases, loan documents, product warranties, invoices and user manuals, contracts, certificates of birth, death and marriage, passport, social security or ID cards, school registrations and yearly reports, bank documents.

    Within this category, store business, work, personal and household documents separately and label them accordingly. For example, household documents should include product warranties, invoices and user manuals, tax and maintenance receipts, etc.
  • Discard documents like newspapers, magazines, books you no longer read or use, junk mail, expired coupons and others. Shred or tear documents with personal information and recycle all others.

Pro Tip: Keep Action documents where they’re never out of sight, so you won’t forget they need your attention. Sort through these documents and take the necessary action at least once a week, and remember to discard documents that no longer need action.

Action documents can go in a wall mounted document storage container like the AmazonBasic Mesh Bin Office Wall Folder File or it’s table-top version, both simple and cheap space-saving document storage solutions. Similar products include Officemate Wall Files, Deflecto 93604 Sustainable Office DocuPocket and Wooden Mallet 4-Pocket File Holder.

Step 3: Create your home filing system

You will need durable 3 ring binders with sheet protectors and dividers, writing instruments and sticky labels, and filing cabinets if you have a large pile of paper to store. Use the binders to organise each document category, storing one document each in a sheet protector. Keep the binders where you can easily find them but make sure they are safely located in a wardrobe, safe or fire/water proof container if the documents inside are very important or confidential.

Your filing system can make your document organisation professional, leaving no headaches when it comes to finding documents in the right place at the right time.

Look for 3-ring binders on Amazon, and also choose from a range of dividers to separate your documents by type, and plastic sleeves to store individual documents.

Pro Tip: Home filing cabinets or stackable plastic containers are great for storing large piles of documents for long term storage. These help you to store category-specific documents in one place, using labelled containers to easily identify and safely store your documents.

There’s a variety of paper storage products online: big or small, basic or fully loaded, take your pick.

No doubt paper will retain its importance in the years to come, but you might consider digitising paper documents, especially those with signs of wear and tear, stains, or in danger of falling apart. There’s an overwhelming choice of devices and apps to help you scan paper documents and store them for perpetuity in electronic form, with greater safety and security than you can provide for paper documents. Take a look at the Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600 Contactless scanner, a nifty, useful device for scanning books, bound documents and paper without cutting or damaging. Take a look.

When you you master the art of organising paper documents, extend your mastery to uncluttering electronic documents and email and follow these household productivity and storage tips to organise your wardrobe and shoe storage.

Have a productive day!

By Romeo Coutinho

Rationalist, truth seeker, full time writer, part time dreamer.

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