Got clutter? Weed and then file

Patty McPherson

No matter who you are, you have to deal with mail and household paperwork. The only difference is how you handle it.

When you sort through your incoming mail, do it near a trash can. Immediately pull out the bills and put them in their designated area, ideally in a convenient spot near where you drop your keys and the rest of the mail or the desk at which you pay bills.

Try to spend a few extra minutes opening the bills and discarding the outer envelope as well as the envelope stuffers. Get it down to just the bill and its return envelope (or even better – just the bill, if you pay online).

Put reference items and things you don’t access regularly into a container labeled “TO FILE.” This is a holding spot – a temporary home – until you can file the items. Items move from this spot into either short-term active files or long-term archive files, most likely in a 2- or 4-drawer filing cabinet.

Files do not equal piles. Avoid boxes of papers or layers of documents laid horizontally. Schedule a regular time to file; the frequency depends on the volume of your paperwork. Once a week works for many people.

Put all items you will eventually look at, such as magazines and catalogs, into a basket or magazine holder. You can only keep adding items until it’s full, then it’s time to purge.

Aside from obvious trash and junk mail that you can immediately toss or shred, deal with questionable items by asking yourself the following: If I need it later, can I easily get it elsewhere (i.e. online)? By the time I mightneed this, will it be out-of-date? Am I realistically going to follow up on this? And for bills already paid, ask is there any benefit to keeping them?

Designate a space for “TO ACT” items that require action. It can be individual folders labeled for specific and repetitive actions or it may be a vertical paper organizer. Items that usually go here include: bills to be paid, catalogs from which you need to order something, information that needs to be entered into your computer, and calls to make or return.

For your filing system, use hanging folders to support manila folders, which will store your documents. Broad categories are for hanging files, specific ones for the folders. Broad categories would include household, auto, real estate, employment, banking, credit cards, and family members’ names (for personal or medical paperwork). Use generic folder names whenever possible. For example, name the file “Cell Phone” rather than “Verizon.” That way, you don’t have to start a new file if you change phone companies. Group similar documents together whenever possible. For instance, if you have more than one credit card, begin each file name with “Credit Card --”, then the specific name of the card.

You don’t need to keep the utility bills from eight months ago – generally having the last couple stubs is sufficient. Many bills for are set-up so the current statement makes the prior one obsolete. Don’t forget that most information on your account is also retrievable online. Always add new items to the front of the file so your most recent documents are in the front.

Patty McPherson is the owner of Orderly Manor in Plymouth, and a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. She can be reached at 774-269-6519 or by e-mail at