How to Organize Your Household Papers

Chasing papers wastes time and energy. And when bills aren't paid or permission slips aren't turned in, the price for disorganization is paid in late fees and lost field trips. In this article, we'll examine some strategies for cutting through the clutter. So if your idea of organizing your papers is stacking them on the dining room table, try some of the following hints:

  • Designate one area of your home, even if it's only one drawer, for filing business papers, bills, letters, and clippings.
  • Set up a filing system for your important papers and receipts. This can be as simple as an accordion file or a file cabinet that can do double duty as an end table.
  • Use a "Miscellaneous" file for items that don't easily fit into a category, but be sure to go through this file when it fills up. You'll find that new categories will stand out, and unneeded items will be easily recognizable.
  • Keep your mail in one location in the house, and open up and file everything at least once a week. If you can't file papers on a regular basis, use a folder labeled "To File" to temporarily store items. Be sure to set aside time to file these items.
  • Hang a basket near the front door and keep your keys in it, so you'll always know where they are. Also use this basket for bills and letters that need to be mailed. When you grab your keys, you'll remember the mail.
  • For households with children, keep a special clipboard in a prominent place for all those permission slips and other school documents that are easily mislaid.
  • Instead of using an address book, try using index cards stored in a file box. Along with names, addresses, and phone numbers, you'll have room to keep track of birthdays, anniversaries, and even presents you've given in recent years. If someone moves, substitute an updated card.
  • Review your filing system periodically and toss out items you no longer need, such as last year's utility bills or warranties on discarded items. Not all household papers need to be filed away. In the next section, we will learn about some household papers for everyday use.

Planning and Priorities

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.A wall calendar can help you keep trackof appointments, birthdays, and other events.

Birthdays and doctor's appointments can be difficult to remember because they do not fit into a structured, daily routine. Here are some simple strategies for keeping track of various commitments:

  • Use a large wall calendar to keep track of appointments, meetings, birthdays, and other events.
  • Make lists, both daily and weekly, to make sure you remember what needs to get done. Checking off the items will give you a sense of accomplishment as well as remind you of what you still need to do.
  • Create a weekly "Family Chore List" where family members can sign up for chores. This gives everyone some say in what they're going to do and also shares the responsibility of getting things done.
  • Use a yearly planner to set long-term goals, such as saving money or planning vacations.
  • Set realistic goals. Don't try to cram too much into one day or even one year. If you find yourself constantly behind schedule, keep a notepad with you and write down everything you do for a few days. Then look at the list objectively to determine whether you've attempted to do too much.

Finally, we will discuss which household papers are too valuable to be left at home and which are too necessary to be left in a safe-deposit box.  

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Guidelines for a Filing System

When organizing your household papers, it's hard to know which papers need to be kept on hand and which can be stored in a safe-deposit box. Here are some simple guidelines:

What to File at Home...

  • Banking--check registers, extra checks, passbooks, canceled checks
  • Car titles, insurance policies, maintenance records, payment stubs
  • List of all credit cards with numbers and telephone numbers; credit card statements
  • Guarantees and warranties, including instruction pamphlets
  • House records -- insurance policy and mortgage papers; list of home improvements and receipts; lease and renter's insurance policy, if renting
  • Investment records -- 401(k), mutual fund, and broker statements
  • Medical records -- immunizations, insurance forms, insurance payments, prescriptions
  • Life insurance policies
  • Tax records --c opies of tax records for previous years and receipts for deductible expenses you plan to claim in next year's return
  • Copy of will (keep another copy at your attorney's office)

What to Store in a Safe-Deposit Box...

  • Personal papers, including birth certificates, marriage license, passports, military service records, divorce decrees
  • House deed and title
  • Financial holdings, including savings bonds, bank certificates of deposit, stock certificates
  • List of valuables (include room-by-room videotape of home, if possible)

Once you have a system in place for organizing your papers, your household will run much more efficiently. In addition, you will be better prepared to deal with the inevitable emergencies that pop up. 

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