The Paper Chase

Piles of paper! They make me cringe. I like to have a place for everything and everything in its place. However, despite my need for organization, even I sometimes just put things aside to “deal with later.” I swear I’ll be better next time and not let it happen again, but then life takes over.

So, this morning I am dealing with this pile of paper which has accumulated on my desk. Fortunately, I have good systems in place and will take advantage of those to simplify my task. The cornerstone of my system is my calendar — I use it religiously. I put appointments and tasks in it and check it each day so I know what needs to get done. Secondly, I have a folder called “This Week” which I go through Saturday mornings to handle my household paperwork.

Get a manila folder and title it “This Week” or something catchier, if you’d like. Have your calendar (physical or virtual) in front of you, and take these steps to get rid of the paper piles in your life:

  1. Each bill gets filed into the folder I call “This Week.” Every Saturday morning, I go through this folder and pay bills. After paying each bill, I file it into one of 10 or so folders I use in my filing system. I like the idea of a weekly process because it allows me to deal with these items in a timely manner. Pick a time that you can commit to weekly to deal with these kinds of tasks.
  2. Appointment reminders are easy. Enter the appointment into your calendar with a phone number (in case you need to reschedule). Then, throw away the card (or, ideally, recycle it).
  3. Information for a future event: bake sale, holiday party, charity dinner. Again, enter the event into your calendar. If there is a related task, such as making something for the bake sale, put that in your calendar, too. Once you have entered all the information, recycle the paper.
  4. Forms to be filled in for insurance, banking, children’s activities or school: If it will take more than 2 minutes to do, file it in the “This Week” folder and do it when you pay bills. If it takes 2 minutes or less, do it now, then mail it or drop it off.
  5. Catalogs: Most of these should be thrown away. It’s not like you are receiving the Sears Wishbook anymore. If there is a catalog I want to go through, I will do it during commercials while watching the Patriots game. Believe me, that gives me PLENTY of time to look at catalogs. I identify if there is anything I want, and then I file the catalog in my (that’s right!) “This Week” folder. When Saturday comes, if I still want/need the item, I order it then. I hold on to the catalog until the item arrives, then I recycle it.
  6. Bank statements: File in a folder called “Taxes.”
  7. Paperwork for volunteer activities. First, I enter any related tasks into my calendar; e.g., generate meeting minutes, plan next meeting, organize bake sale, etc. Then, I make a folder for that volunteer activity and put it in my filing system.


Moving forward, we want to reduce and eliminate paper in our life.

  • Plan to handle each piece of paper only once. When you open mail, decide then and there what will happen to it. Does it go into the recycling bin right away (catalogs and junk mail) or does it get filed into a folder?
  • Sign up for electronic billing. Get companies to email you invoices rather than mail you paper invoices. I file these electronically as I receive them and pay them on Saturday mornings.
  • Do the same with bank statements. I actually reconcile my checking account every Saturday morning when I do online banking, so I save these electronic bank statements in a Tax folder.
  • I love my scanner. Again, this is a Saturday morning task. Once I’ve scanned and filed a piece of paper electronically, I recycle that paper.

I have now dealt with that paper mess! My “This Week” folder has quite a bit in it, but I will plan to spend an hour on it Saturday morning. As we enter the holiday season, I know it won’t be long before I need to get my files ready to do taxes. Cleaning up now will make the task less daunting later. And, I don’t want to think about it during the holidays! I now love walking by my clean desk and know I can keep it clean . . . for a while!