On April 8, 1947, Langley Collyer was found dead in his New York home, buried beneath a mound a newspapers he had been obsessively collecting for decades. Police later removed 103 tons of trash from his home. I mean, geez, sometimes you just have to tidy up. In our last article, we talked about how to set up a home office. This time we’ll talk about keeping it tidy.
Purge weekly. Usually at the end of each week, take the time to shred and discard any unnecessary paperwork. Remember you’ll want to keep your financial documents, anything relating to your tax filings, for five to seven years but anything that you don’t need to save should get tossed away. I heard someone on Oprah say that whether you’re keeping things because of your memories of the past, or hanging on to things in case you’ll use them in the future, they both keep you from living fully in the present.
Organize your bills. Sort them first by type of bill and then by year. Personally, when it comes to initial organization, I like to spread out little separate piles. When I’m first organizing I don’t always know what categories of things I’m going to keep to together and seeing the volume helps me decide whether items need to be sub-divided again (Do all home improvement bills go together or are there so many that you might want to separate bills for indoors vs. outdoor improvements?).
File. You can use color coding or labeled files. I like manila folders inside hanging folders, each with a label. I organize the topics alphabetically but it may make more sense to put your most used files in front. Another option is to file by category, put car expenses together and utilities in another folder and mortgage information in a third. I also keep a file called miscellaneous in the filing cabinet in front of the other files. It gets the items off my desk and once a week I go through and re-file the odds and ends. If space is an issue, you can take your least used files and move them to another room (or the garage).
I have handwriting so bad that even I struggle to read it (which really used to bother me when I was of dating age and couldn’t read a girls name and phone number…frequently written on the back of a matchbook in a dark bar). An inexpensive label maker (or labels printed off your computer) will make filing easier. The easier it is to keep things organized, the likelier you are to do it.
With electronic bill paying and banking, it can be fairly easy to minimize your paperwork. Personally, I also recommend a printed backup copy of your transactions. Another option is to keep electronic files, but move them off onto a removable hard disk. They’re inexpensive and can store massive amounts of information. If there is ever a dispute, it’s nice to have your own dog in the fight.
Tidy up every day. It is harder, and infinitely more depressing, to start work by cleaning up a mess. It is much better to take a few minutes at the end of your work to put everything back where it needs to be…including your filing.
Keep business and keepsakes separate. You’ll probably want storage bins and non-acid paper to separate and store those old love letters, new love letters and the flowers you pressed for Mom when you were three. Personally, I like the translucent or clear bins, because you can see what is inside without having to open each one up.
Then, once you’ve got everything purged, organized and filed, could you stop by? I’ve got to get some help cleaning up this mess….