Sunday, August 24, 2008

Household Paperwork

Even with Internet banking, Blackberries, scanners and computer file storage systems, we all get plenty of paperwork coming into our homes. Before leaving my parents home, I honestly never realised just how much paperwork goes into keeping a home. I naively thought that you get a bill, you pay it and you throw it away- if only. With endless amount of mail coming in through our letterboxes it's hard to know what to keep, where to keep it and how to keep it.
Judy from Brocante and etc. left a comment on my previous post saying that she would love to know how organise her paperwork stack, so I thought I'd tackle this post first and share with you some of the things I've learnt.

Our homes are and should be different to a work environment, but organising our home paperwork is the one exception. A company cannot function effectively without some sort of paperwork organisation system. It's what keeps the finances in order. So it's worthwhile using a proper storage method for the paperwork you accumulate at home. And as with all things regarding home organisation, it takes a bit of trial and error to find a method that works for you. So although I am sharing my method that is working for our household with you - do adapt it to how you live, but most of all keep it simple or you'll never use the system at all.

There are three main ways you can store and file away papers in an organised way...
  1. Ring binders - offices use these all the time... BUT a word of warning, it's a whole extra step you have to take to punch and file away papers, so do not use this method unless you enjoy doing so. I know for a fact that neither me or my husband would punch and file away papers regularly so I only ever use ring binders for lots of paperwork that needs to be kept for future reference, not for paperwork used regularly. An example of this is all the paperwork for the purchase of our home. I only filed this once I had everything together, and I'm not likely to need it again anytime soon.
  2. Magazine file boxes - These are effective if you have a spare shelf somewhere an no space for a drawer filing system. Label them into rough categories, and then when you need something at least you don't have one whole heap of paperwork to look through.
  3. Hanging Files - If you have space, this is by far the easiest and most organised way once you have it all set up - but setting it up is quite time consuming. This is much easier than ring binders, because paperwork can easily be thrown into their correct slot, and retrieved just as quickly - no punching holes either. I organised our drawers by allocating one drawer to financial paperwork and the other to personal paperwork. Below I've made a detailed list of how I categorised our paperwork.
To set up our paperwork filing system, I tried to categorise our paperwork in the house. And I took EVERYTHING into account, even clippings from magazines, to take away menus, postcards, letters etc. and here's what I came up with.

- Banking (statements, spare cheque books, account information)
- Cars (insurance policies, licenses)
- Work (contracts, payslips)
- Guarantees and receipts (for home appliances)
- Travel (local, international, this includes brochures and information on bookings, flights and copies of important travel documents such as passports *)
- Cards and letters (these are ones that I would like to keep, and never get a chance to put in a box or album - one day!)
- Magazine clippings (divided into decor, craft and recipes as well as subscription information)
- Hobbies (brochures of courses, patterns)
- Volunteering (records of volunteer work I've done, as well as information regarding volunteering I'm interested in)

The rest of our paperwork is filed as such:
- We have a box in which I keep all the manuals for our household appliances along with any extra screws or discs that come with it. Tape the extra bits to the manual unless it's too big in which case just make sure it's labelled.
- All our take-away menus are stored in a folder with plastic sleeves so that they don't take up the kitchen drawer space.
- Important documents
such as passports, marriage and birth certificates should are kept in a safe. It's best to get a fireproof one that can be screwed to the floor. Unfortunately my Mum recently had a robbery in their house and the safe was taken too, so get the best you can afford and don't make it a take-away safe.
Within any of these categories, there will always be a mix of documents because you cannot possibly have a folder for every category in your life. But at least if you know you had a cut out of a great pie recipe from a magazine, you won't be searching for it between the pile of bank statements and that is what makes organised paperwork so great - it's so satisfying when your washing machine breaks and you are actually able to find the guarantee for it withing 5 minutes.

Now I know you're thinking "but I've tried to categorise things, but then I just don't use the system anyway and still end up with a pile of paperwork that needs sorting out". I only know this because this is exactly what I felt about a month after implementing our drawer filing system. I just realised that I don't have time to file away the mail everyday (or even every week). So I devised one more system. On our desk we have three paper trays labelled and used as such:

Stuff to do
This is for opened mail that needs looking at - bills that need paying, sticky notes with people's numbers that need putting in the address, unopened mail and receipts that we need to make a note of for our budgeting.
This is where all the paperwork that needs to be kept goes. Bank statements, electricity bills that have been payed.
This is where we can dump stuff that we don't need to keep like old receipts, junk mail with our address on etc.

These trays have been a big help! It means paperwork can stay there for a while because at least I know that the middle shelf has no junk, and when I get time I can sit and file it away carefully. The top tray we can look through to see if we've done everything that needs to be done and when I have the time I'll shred the documents from the bottom tray (we shred rather than throw away to avoid identity theft). Here are some (not very professional) photos of our paperwork system - I've used a label maker because my handwriting is just so bad!

The ring binders are for masses of paperwork that needs storing together.

Our drawers- this is where our paperwork lives until we have time for it.
Below is our Drawer Filing system - the tabs in the middle are the main categories, whilst the tabs on the left are sub-categories. (I had to blank some of the labels out because of personal information :)

To devise my paperwork system, I used two books that you might find useful too...
The Organised life - a brilliant little jam-packed book full of organising tips. I love this book because it keeps things simple. My favourite organisation book so far!

Lighten Up - I found this book really great to help me devise a system to help with paperwork clutter, my only criticism is that it slightly over complicates things especially regarding sub-categorising paperwork which I found to be a pain. But worth a read.

If you have any paperwork tips to share with us please do. Do you also use trays?


Judy said...

Wow this is awesome. Thanks for the tips. It's also nice to know that I'm more organized than I thought I was. I use the hanging files in a 2 drawer file cabinet but some of it needs to be moved to somewhere else. This was a really big help. I'm going to the container store and picking up a couple of things to clear out one of the drawers so I'll have more room. I keep my important papers in a locked fire proof box. I can't believe those thiefs stole the safe. Thank you so much and also for visiting my new home!!

Debbies-English-Treasures said...

Thanks dear Judy for sharing the locked fire proof box... I wonder if we have it in England!
And to another dear friend... that was such a great post!
Very useful indeed!
I so need to get more organized, specially with all the work that my kiddies keep bringing from school.
Any ideas for how to store it all!?

I`m sorry to hear about your mum`s house been robbed... I hope that she as recovered from the awful shock!
Kisses & Hugs
Debbie & Alan

Lesley said...

oh I bow down in respect of one so organised :-) i love the use of the label maker and thank you for the idea re the safe !
lesley x

Steph @ Handmade Heaven Glassy Goodies said...

i use a locking file box instead of a filing drawer. does the same job :) in each section, i put all my paperwork grouped into plastic wallets, in date order (newest on top). this system seems to work well. eg. gas bills in one wallet, electricity in another. as for getting paperwork in the post to keep, i chuck it all into a box file to sort out later. again the newest things end up on top, until i file it all away properly.

great post, as ever :)

Ivy said...

This is a helpful post!!!

My desk is a mes as we speak.

I have a picture/memory box thatI sometimes toss papers in or reciepts that I don't have time to file right away. At least it get's them out of the way and doesn't add to clutter. When I have time, then I go through the box and put papers in their rightful place. :)

Country Bliss said...

Hi, I've just found your blog through Debbies English treasures. Great post, I'm now going to go and fold tee shirts after reading your previous post, I saw it on Anthea but couldn't work it out!

A note on perfection

Many of the posts featured on this blog are about doing household chores the correct, or so to say perfect way. My intention is not to make readers feel that the way they are running their households are wrong. So if making the bed, or ironing shirts in a certain way doesn't fit your lifestyle, do not feel guilty about it. But by learning the correct way of doing things it might just come in handy for those times when special guests are staying, or when you need to iron that shirt perfectly for a job interview. So enjoy the learning, but skip the guilt and LOVE your homes. x

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