It’s January, time to shred 2001. At the advice of my accountant, I keep documents 7 years. As I rotate 2008 into storage, I’m reminded of a three part series I wrote entitled “Don’t File Paper at Home Anymore.”
If you are SICK of managing the paper in your house, check it out.
We’ve made one modification to the process this year.
We now throw away all the receipts we don’t need. Why were we keeping grocery store and restaurant receipts? Why were we keeping receipts for household cleaning products and stuff we weren’t going to return?
Many of the expenses we need to track are on our bank statement. We now only keep business receipts. We don’t even need to shred many of them because they don’t show our account numbers.
In “don’t file paper at home anymore. part 2.” we read about POW’s transformation. After changing her name to Perfectly Organized Woman, Reformed (POWR), she created a flexible and successful replacement for the “perfect” filing system. This new system, while subject to multiple modifications over the years, is still working today!
But what happens to all that paper when it becomes outdated? Where is it stored for the 7 years required by Uncle Sam? Where does all that paper go while it waits for the shredder? Where is “death row” for the paper in her house?
Referring back to The Underwear Principle, she observed. What actually happened to the papers POW had obsessively filed in those old Archive Folders anyway?
Absolutely nothing. They were never touched again. Neglected. Ignored. For YEARS. Eventually shredded.
So WHY did she put so much time and effort into creating and maintaining them and their predecessors, the Active Files? Why? Why?
Flash forward to today. Picture a blue Rubbermaid tote. Inside are 7 expandable bucket folders. In each bucket folder you see a beautifully disorganized display of paper.
But here’s the beautiful part. Each bucket folder contains one year of paper. If POWR is ever audited, she has all the papers she needs for the friendly IRS auditor She can sort the paper then. If she’s not audited, she never has to sort and can shred with abandon. And shred she has – for the last 7 years. Amazingly, she has never been audited. And she never needed to look up a cell phone number she dialed in March of 2004. She never needed to search for an item listed on her credit card statement in October of 2003. She never needed to find out how much she paid for internet in April of 2002. She has never touched her Archive Folders until shred day. (cross cut, of course).
“But she doesn’t need to keep everything!”
But she also doesn’t want to spend one second sorting through the paper to extract the shreddable from the non-shreddable. Not. One. Second. If one blue Rubbermaid tote will hold it, why sort? Why not just put the lid on the box and every January, feed everything to the shredder?
But hey, if you want to sort paper, go for it. POWR’s too busy.
There had to be a way to apply the Underwear Principle to her filing situation. The filing system needed to be a two part system. First, what to do with “Current” paperwork? Secondly, she needed an easy but efficient “Archive” system.
First, the “Current” System. She had to watch. Evaluate. What was naturally happening with the paper in the house? It seemed to accumulate in the kitchen. Everywhere in the kitchen, but still, mostly in the kitchen. Paid bills stacked in one corner. Receipts in a drawer. The refrigerator wallpapered in paperwork from school. Recipes and telephone numbers taped to the inside of kitchen cabinets. A stack of papers to be shredded next to the garbage can. Paper. Paper everywhere.
POWR was on a quest. Organize the paper, but keep it in the kitchen. This new filing system had to be just as easy for her family to follow as it was for them to put the papers in their current locations. She went back to her books and articles, culled what she deemed to be the best ideas for her situation, made a decision, bought the necessary organizing paraphernalia, explained the new system to the family and implemented it.
Then she waited.
To see how it would fail.
So she could modify it.
See, that’s the key to any family organizing system. A successful organizing system will ALWAYS FAIL if it only works for the person who created it. It has to work for everyone else as well. So POWR watched her family. She watched the paper trail. She modified the system. And again. And again. And again. (you get the idea).
Finally Currently, the system works like this:
1. There are two large magnetic clips on the front of the fridge. One for each kid. These clips hold ACTIVE papers ONLY. Lunch order forms, project instructions, this week’s spelling words, upcoming birthday invitations, permission slips, etc.
2. There are two plastic bins in the laundry room (off the kitchen). One for each kid. These bins hold all inactive paper for the kid for that year. So there’s a “1st grade” box for her daughter and a “7th grade” box for her son. They put their papers in their own boxes. Whenever she sees paper, she can say “put this in your box” and it disappears! At the end of the year, the boxes get lids and are stacked in the top of the kiddo’s closet. Then, some time later when the papers aren’t as precious and the kids can bear to part with them, she can sort through the box with them. Great for a rainy summer afternoon.
3. There are cork boards on the inside of as many kitchen cabinet doors as will accommodate them. Tacked behind one door are frequently used recipes and measurement conversions, behind another one telephone numbers. One cork board is designated for her son, another for her daughter, who uses hers to keep track of every Webkinz card she owns.
4. There’s a tabletop hanging file folder box on a counter, right next to a cross cut shredder and the garbage can. There are no folders inside labeled with the names of vendors. There are no folders inside the hanging folders at all. Just the hanging folders, with generic labels like:
“Automobiles” for all family car info including insurance, repair, maintenance.
“Insurance – Health” for all medical, prescription, vision, dental paperwork for the entire family.
“House” for all things related to the house, like homeowner association info, pest control, security alarm, newspaper delivery, etc.
“Phone/Cable/Internet” which includes both cell and home phone records, cable and internet bills, cable repair records, etc.
“Banking” for well, all things bank related.
“Credit” for all credit card statements. (The fewer you have, the smaller the folder.)
“Instruction Manuals” for things used frequently, like the phone, the cameras, the DVD player, the camera.
And here’s a key component in the new filing system: papers are stuffed in the hanging folder in whatever order as long as it is within the same year. The papers inside each folder are NOT organized AT ALL. Not by vendor, by date, by person, or even by size. The order of the papers inside each folder doesn’t matter. When (if ever) a paper is needed, each folder is small enough to be searched in less than a minute. It’s essentially a “stuff it” system, similar to a “pile” system. Only vertical.
5. Receipts. Big issue in her house. They got tossed and stuffed EVERYWHERE. Last year’s system was a binder clip in a kitchen drawer. All receipts for the current month were added to the clip throughout the month. A 3×5 paper was in the front noting the name of the month. At the end of the month, the full clip was moved to an out of the way location (for her, in the laundry room in one of those plastic drawer units.) A new clip, a new 3×5 paper and they begin again. When they need a receipt, say for a return, they know exactly where to find the receipt and there was absolutely no organizing effort required in the process.
This year, POWR’s husband has asked for a change. The process of clipping receipts was annoying. He wants a “stuff it” system, similar to the one described in #4 above. So, they are trying a magnetized plastic box on the side of the fridge. No clip to squeeze, no drawer to open and close, no lid to remove and replace. Once a month, she’ll empty the box, rubber band that month’s receipts and put them in the plastic drawer unit in the laundry room as usual. Another modification.
“crazy woman say what?” (yes. we watch Hannah Montana.)
Really. Don’t file paper any more. Let me tell you a little story.
Once up a time, the perfectly organized woman (POW) would meticulously label color coded folders. Then she would sort papers, first by vendor (to go with the folders of course) and then she would sort the papers again. This time, chronologically. (of course). She would then staple together anything that was numbered “X of XX” and punch holes in the top to load onto the prongs in the folders. Folders without prongs? NEVER!
The mail would come in, the bills would paid and the checkbook balanced. (By her husband of course – she married him so she would have someone to balance the check book and change the cat litter.) The POW’s husband would then stack up the remaining paperwork and the POW would file it neatly, according the perfect filing system previously described. At the end of the year, the contents of the pronged color coded folder would be moved into a matching folder behind it. The contents of this matching archive folder was arranged chronologically as well. Both the active folder and the archive folder were nested neatly in a matching, color coded hanging folder.
The POW would open her file drawer and angels would sing the Hallelujah chorus.
Then, one day, the POW and her husband had a baby. Then, a few years later, they had another baby. And after a time, for some reason or another, the POW needed a copy of the first baby’s birth certificate.
AND SHE COULDN’T FIND IT!
She suddenly realized she hadn’t filed in her perfect system for SIX YEARS. When she opened her file drawer, she heard screaming. Realizing the screaming was coming from her own body, and being the problem solver she is, (and confident that she would never find the original birth certificate in her own house) she ordered a new birth certificate from the State.
Then the POW filed for and was granted an official name change. She is now known as
Perfectly Organized Woman Reformed (POWR). She purchased 47 books on organization (second hand, of course), read 2413 articles entitled “100 Ways to Organize Your Home” and then had an epiphany.