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Getting Organized: The Paperwork Pileup

The following is a submitted article by reader Seana Turner , the second in a series on getting organized. If you would like to submit material to be published on The Daily Darien, send it to .

Are you drowning in paperwork? This is one of the most common problems I run into as a professional organizer. Even though we are supposedly becoming a "paperless society," there is still a lot of paper out there!

A good place to start is to SORT what is out on surfaces. Gather all of the paperwork, bills, catalogs, schoolwork, etc., that is lying around on tables or counters and put it in a pile on a large clear work surface, such as a kitchen table or island. Then go through piece by piece and make four piles:

1. Trash: If you are tempted to keep an item that you only "might" read later, challenge yourself to pitch it. New reading material has a way of showing up. (Any item with your name and address on it should be shredded. If you don't have a shredder, you can pick one up at Staples for a fair price).

2. Long-term storage: This is for items that you need to be able to find reliably but not often. Examples would be appliance/computer manuals and warranties, previous year tax paperwork, old bank statements, etc. These items can go into banker boxes with labels and put in an attic, basement or closet. Be sure to label the boxes so you can find it when you need it.

3. Short-term storage: These are papers you will need to access regularly. Items would include current receipts, insurance paperwork, current banking paperwork, current contracts with household service organizations, etc. These will need to find a home in a filing system, preferably a file cabinet. If you don't have space for a file cabinet, freestanding file boxes with hanging folders also work well and can sit on the floor of a closet or under a desk.

4. Action items: Any item needing your attention this week can stay out. I like using a pretty folder that matches the décor in my room. This folder should be cleared out weekly, with completed items moving into the short- or long-term storage locations.

Once you have cleared off your surfaces, Step 2 is to go through the same process for paperwork you've conveniently shoved into drawers and cabinets — you know, the stuff that was out when friends were coming over to dinner?

Finally, once you've tackled the paperwork currently in your house, you need to keep the pileup from reappearing. THIS IS KEY: Establish an "invisible fence" through which no paperwork moves without permission. Ideally, you want to find a space not far from the door where the mail comes in. Every day (yes, every day!) go through the paperwork that has arrived and sort it into one of the four categories. Once again, if you are tempted to keep a catalog, resist the urge. Read through the magazines right away, and tear out any pages you'd like to keep. These can go into your short-term storage under files such as "decorating ideas," "craft projects" and "summer activities." Items you want to purchase can move into your Action Items file.

I realize that to some of you this sounds like torture. If so, consider setting aside a full day for the initial sort, and then rewarding yourself with dinner out or a favorite movie. If the task still seems too daunting, you can always hire an organizer to help you get started.

Next week: No more forgotten items.

Seana Turner

Professional Organizer

The Seana Method

Freedom Through Organization


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