How I FINALLY Solved My Paper Problem

How I FINALLY Solved My Paper Problem

How I Finally Solved My Paper ProblemEveryone and their hairdresser has been talking about decluttering guru Marie Kondo and her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” so I decided to take the plunge. I snagged it up at my local wholesale store last month, and (while I don’t agree with everything she says) I jumped on board.

I consider myself a very organized (and very lazy person), so the idea of decluttering once and for all and never having to do it again appealed to me. Especially when I got to my paperwork.

In my kitchen, I have a drawer for all our receipts, and it was overflowing, because I never clean it out. Our filing cabinet was the same way. It was definitely a paper problem. See for yourself:

This is what I used to look at.
This is what I used to look at.

A few years ago, my husband and I decluttered this filing cabinet, throwing out years of mortgage bills, old invoices, and scraps of paper that we had no use for. Like I always do, I vowed to always stay on top of it, so that it would never get that bad again. But did I create a system for how I was going to do that? No, that would have been too smart. So it and my receipt drawer kept getting out of hand.

I needed a System. Something that would force me to regularly clean out what I didn’t need and keep the things I did need easily accessible. I actually don’t like the KonMari method of doing this (the method Kondo describes in her book), which is to throw out everything as soon as you’ve checked that it’s correct and keep everything else basically in one bin. Her rationale is that it won’t take that long to look through one bin to find something you really need, but I’m 1) too organized for that and 2) frequently in need of things weeks or months later.

The question was: how far back did I need to keep papers?

For receipts, I determined that I only needed to keep most of them for 2 months. There were very few items that I wanted to keep for longer than that. So I labeled three envelopes: “Current Month,” “Last Month” and “Keep.”

This ENTIRE drawer was full to bursting before. I had receipts from 2013.

This is my System:

  • Whenever I bring home a receipt, it goes into the front of the “Current Month” envelope.
  • At the beginning of every month, I quickly glance through the “Last Month” envelope. If there is anything I still want to hang on to (i.e. receipts for big purchases, like car seats or garage door repairs), I file it in the “Keep” envelope. I throw out everything else.
  • Then, I move everything from the “Current Month” envelope into the “Last Month” envelope. I’m now ready to start a new month!

Keeping everything restricted to envelopes forces me to regularly clean out useless receipts that have long since expired and also allows me to close this drawer completely.

I wanted to use a similar system for the bills and such in my filing cabinet, but I knew I wanted to go back further than two months. I decided the simplest way would be to keep things for one year only. So I labeled 12 folders for each month of the year and labeled a few additional folders for other categories (I’ll go through them in a bit).

Files After
Isn’t it GORGEOUS?

Paper problem = SOLVED.

Before, I had a category for everything: Car Insurance, Taxes, Medical Bills, Old Taxes, Mortgage, Credit Cards, Checking Accounts, etc. Etc. Etc.

Now, I use my simple System (I gotta come up with a catchy name for it!) to regularly weed out paperwork I no longer need. Each month, I go through the folder and throw out or shred my year-old paperwork, refiling if needed. I place ALL of the bills for that month into that appropriate folder. So everything that comes in this month—electric bills, dentist invoices, credit card statements, vet invoices, you name it—goes into the “May” folder. At the beginning of June, the May folder will get moved to the back and the process starts all over again.

As promised, here are the categories I created:

  • Jan-Dec: One folder for every month of the year.
  • Annual: Stuff that gets renewed once a year (or even quarterly), such as HOA payments, insurance policies, retirement plans, and license plate renewals.
  • Hold-Temporary: Stuff that I want to keep for longer than a year, but not forever. In here is insurance stuff for the auto accident I was in a couple years ago and the court paperwork for the condo that got foreclosed on (long story!).
  • Clarity: This is stuff I want to hold on to for my part-time gig as blogger for Clarity Creative Group.
  • Important: Things like passports, marriage/birth/death certificates, social security cards, and voter registration.
  • Shlomo: Normally, a dog doesn’t need a whole file to herself, but I like to keep her microchip information readily accessible in case she ever gets lost.
  • Home Improvement: Similar to the Hold-Temporary folder, but related only to home improvements that we’ve made.
  • Manuals/Warranties: Eventually, I will end up throwing out most of our manuals and warranties, but here’s where I’ll keep them after I’ve decided what to keep and what to toss.
  • Taxes: Each year’s tax documents are paperclipped together. Every tax season, I’ll toss anything older than 3 years.

You might be asking: “What’s to stop you from letting all those other categories get out of control? Eventually you’re going to add more and more paperwork to the “Hold-Temporary” folder and you’ll be back where you started!”

Well, I thought of that, too, and I’m one step ahead of you.


A built-in reminder system! Now, every January when I sort through my old paperwork to throw it away, I’ll be reminding myself to sort through other files as well. I also used these files to remind me to sort through other areas of my home, like clothes. I just picked a month that I wanted to do a particular decluttering, and wrote it down on the folder.

Files Before After

And there you have it! A filing cabinet that practically cleans itself!

Hmm…maybe I can come up with a similar system for my bathroom….

Have you tried the KonMari method on your paperwork? What did you think?




2 thoughts on “How I FINALLY Solved My Paper Problem

  1. Wow, I like it. I just need the time to do the purge/organization session. I’m doing this at my office now and when I retire…I’ll tackle the house.

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