How to Organize Paperwork at Home in 4 Simple Steps

Rachel | Linin Up Ducks
by Rachel | Linin Up Ducks

Welcome to Linin’ Up Ducks. I decided to start purging paperwork because our mail basket was a hot mess. I just couldn’t stand it anymore, because, let’s get real, if you cannot find your bills, you cannot pay your bills. My quick and easy project turned into a huge project. I’m going to tell you exactly how to organize your paperwork at home.

Gathering all the paper clutter

1. Gather everything

The first step is to gather everything. I started gathering my paper clutter from around the house — the pile kept growing and growing and growing some more. I was surprised at how much I had.

Sorting and purging paperwork

2. Sort and purge

Sort everything quickly. The categories I’m going to be using are: sentimental clutter, bills, tax documents, trash, business stuff, and then items you have to keep forever, like your last will and testament.

Mother’s Day card

Apparently, there was a time in my life when I was really good at sending greeting cards because I have a great little system in a hanging file organizer. Here’s a Mother’s Day card I meant to give my mother, that has to be at least five years old.

I suggest keeping paid medical bills for two months to make sure your payment was credited correctly to the account. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve paid a medical bill, thrown it away, and, lo and behold, I get another medical bill for the same thing, can’t remember if I paid it or not, and end up paying again.

Organizing paperwork

This is the box of stuff that I have kept forever and always. A Google search will tell you that you only have to keep three years of personal income taxes to get yourself outside the audit window.

Make sure you consult an accountant before you dispose of taxes to make sure you don’t have any special circumstances that open you up to a longer audit period.

I threw away old wills and powers of attorney that are no longer in effect, college transcripts, and medical records that are now digitized.

When you’re deciding which documents to get rid of, think about how hard it would be to replace that document quickly. You can easily download bank statements, insurance policies (keep a physical copy in case your family ever needs to get it quickly), and taxes.

You may have to pay for them, but the IRS does keep taxes on file. They don’t keep a copy of your supporting documents for deductions and credits.

Clearing out sentimental papers

This is an easy, super great, storage idea from Pinterest, where every kid has a bin for report cards, projects, and pictures. I’ve decided this bin is too much. Not too long ago, my mother-in-law cleaned out the things she’d saved from Scott’s childhood. We had fun looking at it for 30 seconds and then most of it went into the garbage.

Potty training chart

I decided to only keep my kids’ super-cutest items, with one folder for each child in my long-term file bucket. Only you can set standards on what to keep in this category. A good guideline is to set a physical limit and stick to it. Seriously, in this box, I found Kate’s potty training chart. Why in the world would I need to look back at that?

Business paperwork

All right. I’m done with my initial sort. This is business stuff for my Etsy business. 

Documents related to military service

My husband needs to go through these documents related to military service.

Stack of bills

This is my small stack of bills and things that need action.

Paperwork to shred

This is my giant pile to shred.

Letters from mom

These are letters from my mom. 

Sentimental papers

This is a very small pile of sentimental papers.

3. Organize

Here comes my favorite part. It’s time to organize what I’ve kept, hopefully with a good system that I can keep up with in the future. 

Paperwork organization ideas

For incoming mail, I have six folders broken down into bills to pay, desk day (anything that needs my attention), school papers, Linin’ Up Ducks papers, papers that need long-term storage, and tax papers. 

Storing sentimental letters

This whole stack here are letters from my mother. My mother has faithfully written me letters for the majority of my life. I absolutely cherish them and know one day when she’s no longer with us, (which I hope is a long time away) I’m going to love to keep every one of these. I got this small storage box from Hobby Lobby to keep the letters in.

All the stuff I used for my paper-organizing system came from things I’ve emptied. I didn't have to spend any money to set it up. I’m storing things upright and in folders to prevent paper piles.

Purging paperwork

This is my final keep box. The first section is identity documents separated by person. It’s really important to keep these in a fireproof safe. The next section is our will, power of attorney, and advanced health care directions.

The next section is for valuables, like our car title and jewelry appraisals. Next, I have a blank folder for life insurance papers. I need to get mine printed out and put in here. I have folders for the tax files I have printed out.

I plan to scan those, digitize them, and get them out of my paper file storage. The last section is the folders I kept for each of the girls.

If you don’t have a shredder at home, don’t go buy one. You may have access to a shred box at your office if your office is okay with it. My dad has a farm, so we’re going to burn the papers at his farm.

Empty boxes and folders

This is the stack of boxes and folders that I have emptied.

4. Find a permanent home

Find a permanent home for the things you’ve decided to keep. Sometimes, finding a long-term home can be more difficult than organizing the paperwork.

Long-term keep pile

This is my long-term keep pile: A box of organized papers, my mom’s letters stored nicely and neatly in these two boxes, and I have space to grow.

How to organize paperwork at home

I’m using Hobby Lobby command hooks for my mail command center.

How to organize paperwork at home

That’s it, everybody. Organizing papers can be hard but is necessary to do. How do you store your paper clutter? Let us know in the comments. 

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