Friday, November 13, 2009

The Paper Trail

If you're anything like me, the activities and demands of a busy household pull you in such a way as to leave a hurricane in its wake.

Especially on the kitchen counters.

It is during this pre-holiday season when the problem is at its worst. Holiday magazines arrive by the dozen, cramming our mailbox full and hampering my efforts to sift through the mail and make peace of the nightmare. Soon Christmas cards will be joining the mix, making the mail even more time-consuming to tackle. Heaven forbid the mail lands on the counter and stays there until the next day when the new pile arrives and lands on top.
Add to this the endless supply of coupons and savings that I aspire to keep and use (but hardly ever end up using because I lose them within the chaos and don't discover them again until they are expired!) And don't forget the countless receipts that clutter my purse and also end up on the counter in the hopes that I will add them to our budget roster. Also, now that my kids are getting to be school-aged, add to the insanity school papers, permission slips, projects, etc. that are eventually creating the perfect storm of paper. Help! I'm drowning in paper clutter!

I've been trying to address the situation like a good homemaker would. I've succeeded in places and in others, have obviously failed. I set up a filing system for bills, where one slot is for bills-to-be-paid, the other is for statements-to-be-filed, and the third is for items to save and not throw away. This system has been somewhat successful, but I will say, in order for the bills to be paid, you have to take the time to look in the bill slot! I wish this system had a priority element to it, where bills needing immediate payment are in a special category to draw my attention sooner.

Another organization technique I've been trying is keeping the kids' school papers in individual folders, one per child. The problem with this technique, however, is that the folders end up on the counter after all! Perhaps a hanging folder system is the way to go? Perhaps devoting a small corner of the house to overall paper organization is the secret?

As for the myriad of receipts, well, here's the outcome. This was a Halloween basket I picked up for storing candy. Scratch that. It is the current end all be all for every receipt that comes in the door. Now its just sitting there, gathering dust, hoping someday to be sorted into what matters and what can be trashed. Is it even worth hanging onto receipts when most of our purchases are logged through the credit card? I'm at a complete loss.

One last godsend I've instituted is our kitchen recycling bin. It is stored in the closet and is the immediate spot for sending all mail rejects. If I can take the time to attack the mail pile, I can sort and immediately dispose of what is not needed. But what about where to put the important items??

What are your secrets? How do you handle the paper trail? What products help you with organization? Do you have any suggestions to help this disorganized mother achieve more streamlined organization? Especially before the holidays hit????
THANK YOU. You're helping more than you know!


Jaime said...

I know you probably have a lot more to deal with than I do, but there are two things that have helped me. First, I have settled on a day a few days before my first bill of the month is due, and literally pay all of my bills online (and if needed by check). Then you don't have it hanging over your head and you don't miss any bills. Secondly (and again, this may be because I don't have little ones running around) if I watch the news/any TV, I take the pile with me and sort it there during commercials. Its easier to stay on top of and it doesn't feel like a chore.

Kat said...

B-Mama, I feel your pain!

Here's what I've started to do:

1) Receipts: I keep them in my wallet and when the stack gets too large, I sit down and file them into our budget (we use Microsoft Money) and throw away all receipts that are no longer needed.

2) School papers: Once a week, I read all of the school notices and jot down the dates and important information in my calendar, then throw away the fliers. In terms of school projects, I have a dedicated section of one of our walls where I tape the favorites so that we can all enjoy them. The projects that no one really cares about, I toss! I also have a folder for each child where I put old artwork that I'd like to keep once it is taken down from the wall. Really, this is the hardest area for me to tackle, though!

3) Mail: Catalogs are looked at and thrown away, because I rarely buy anything from them and if I need to, I can always do so online. Bills are done electronically. Cards are put on the mantel for a short time and then put into a box - we have cards from 2003, 2004, etc. all the way up to 2009 - we are sentimental and like to save them :) Christmas cards go in a special place on a separate wall. RAndom mail is put onto the counter and sorted through, then tossed once a week when I clean the kitchen.

The rule is, If I haven't looked at it in a few weeks and I really don't need it anymore, I toss it!

KL said...

We also pay everything online the 15th of every month and have cancelled any paper statements from our various billings sites. Receipts go to the desk and we log them nightly after our daughter is asleep. I keep a recycling bin under the sink and put all catalogs and other junk mail in there immediately. If it's a catalog I want to look at I put it on my nightstand and read it before bed. The trick for me (because we have one corner on the counter that is the junk collection site) is to move these various papers to their proper homes. If I can keep the at least in piles in different places I know I am more likely to tackle them instead of being overwhelmed by one misc. pile. I only hope I can keep this up for when we have school papers. The best default/fallback plan is a junk drawer!

Sophie said...

what has worked for us is to have a set time when things need to be cleared out, on a regular basis. When mail comes in, I generally don't open anything. We have a sorter with 3 sections...bills, to do/to file, and to read. Every Sunday night husband empties it. Pays bills that need to be paid before the next week, files important stuff in filing drawer, and puts stuff out for us to read (like newsletters, magazines, coupons to clip). We have a binder with folder dividers to keep bills waiting to be paid, ministry schedules, restaurant coupons, invitations. Separate section for 1 month, 6 months, etc. Also a section for things like lab forms for blood work and that kind of stuff. Every month we have a set day where that binder should be purged of old stuff as well.
Then we have one magazine holder on our desk that is for the unknown stuff. Papers and such that we just don't have a specific place for yet, or that we should read later, etc. Also gets purged each month, at a set time. Make a new file, toss, read, etc.

I think the key is to have regular built in times to keep paperwork under control.

Christmas cards, when they come in, we read them, staple the card to a wide ribbon hanging on the wall with sticky tack. If there's pictures they go on the fridge to enjoy, and special letters get stored away in a bin for keepsakes. After Christmas season we take the cards down and put away with our advent decorations so we can use them for crafts the next year.

I've made sure to just create binders or files for stuff I didn't want to toss but didn't want lying around. For example, before summer I realized I had a bunch of stuff piling up of ideas for places to go or see locally. I finally put it all in a binder, including maps to various places that we only go seldom. It's all there, so if I can't find that list of events at the local park, I know it's in our "places to go and do" binder.

The Nichols said...

What a timely post! My husband and I just finished a marathon paper recycling/shredding/filing project. Typically, I file our receipts once a week and important papers once a month, but our schedules have been a little hectic and things really piled up quickly.

As for reducing paper coming in, we have many of our bills charged directly to our credit card (paid off monthly) and receive e-statements. This step has significantly reduced the amount of paper we receive in the mail. We have also taken the time to opt-out of many direct mail lists (a quick google of "stop junk mail" pulls up good resources). I also keep a recycling bin under my desk for junk mail.

In the end, I try to remind myself that a few minutes each day saves me a headache and the environment!

Mary Alice said...

We do pretty well with this one: When the mail comes in I flip through it over the trash can and throw away as much as possible. The rest, to be dealt with, goes into a desk drawer. Every Sunday night, we sit down and go through the drawer, pay bills, and update our calendar. I sometimes have a little "to-do" list for Monday of phone calls that need to get made, etc.

I save receipts in my wallet until Sunday, when we go through and put them into our budget spreadsheet. We have been getting lax about this, but almost all of our purchases are made on a credit card, so we can also do it off of that.

I do not keep many catalogs, but a really fun looking one might get tossed into the drawer with the mail. I will flip through it Sunday night after meeting, then throw it away.

We do not save cards, but I have one son who is more sentimental, it is a struggle for him to throw them away. Kat, I may adopt your system and let him start saving his cards in a small plastic file crate.

I use my mom's system for postcards, I stick them in a book on my bookshelf. When I come across them, it is a treat to remember and I can use it as a bookmark! I sometimes do this with random snapshots as well.

I do have a little desk area in our kitchen and I keep a notebook there with calendars and paperwork for the kids activities and other things I have to deal with, my household management stuff. I have a much bigger binder for homeschool paperwork.

My husband does the actual bill paying and he has set up most things on line. You can set it up to pay out right when it is due, so you do not loose money by doing it all in advance if you want to only do it once a month.

Anonymous said...

Regarding coupons - I have adopted the "coupon mom"'s system - no clipping involved. Take your newspaper inserts of coupons - write in sharpie or marker the date rec'd, file in an accordion file (I use a colored plastic one with a stretcy closer and it sits with cookbooks in the kitchen. THen, if I have time to mess with coupons, I check the coupon moms' website for what coupons match up with what deals this week - and then I clip the coupon. Yes, that means that I don't always use a coupon when I might - but then I didn't anyway - this way at least I maximize the discounts when I actually use coupons. And - no loose coupons floating around (a few in my wallet from other sources).

Mary Alice said...

On the coupon front:

I don't have a good system for those seriously worth it coupons like Gymboree Gymbucks. I keep forgetting to use them, and they can easily save you hundreds of dollars if you shop there often. However, I have an "extra wallet" -- a small zip pouch to hold credit cards. In there, I keep my shoppers cards, membership cards and gift cards, as well as the credit cards that I don't use on a daily basis. I guess it makes sense to keep my gymbucks there, as well. It pays to give it a quick glance at check out, because I just might have $5 left on an old Gap gift card from returning something, etc.

I don't use coupons at all at the grocery store. We buy the same things almost every time, and I find that coupons are designed to get me to try something new, which is usually a waste of money in my house. The entire circular goes directly in the trash each week. What I might lose in pennies I gain in time and peace of mind, both of which are more valuable to me right now. When a staple we use is on sale I try to stock up, but we get all of our meat delivered from a service, our milk from the milk market, and there are never really coupons for fresh fruits and vegetables, so I don't think it is a benefit. One exception to this is those coupons that print at the register. I try to keep those in the money part of my wallet to use the next week, since they are usually for items I buy anyway -- for some reason a big one for these seems to be organic yogurts.

Olivia D said...

Real quick:

1) immediately throw away/recycle all paper that come sin the house that is trash. IMMEDIATELY.

2) I tape all important things to the wall in a certain place in the house. Just a piece of tape, and its there. Coupons, bills, etc. I cant ignore it because it is in a glaring place in my house so I have to get it done. If I put in a "special place" like a file or basket, I never see it again.

Good Luck!

Wondering said...

I would like to hear more details about what exactly people do with their receipts! Thanks!

Jennifer Kallus said...

I have this same problem. I work on it daily. Here is a website a friend of mine referred me to once. Maybe it might help some of you... Good luck!