Before we start talking about how to organize your home, you first want to understand what you actually want. The building blocks of creating and maintaining an organized home are lifestyle, mindset, and momentum.
Having an organized home isn’t a one-and-done project. I’m sure you’ve seen or heard of TV shows where a crew comes into a messy home, removes everything, sets it up, and leaves. This may seem appealing to you–many people are overwhelmed at the thought of going through their belongings, making a decision about each item, and then maintaining an organized home. Wouldn’t it be easier to have someone just come in and do it for you?
The problem with one-and-done organizing is that it doesn’t help you build new habits. Your home might look nice right then, but if the way someone else organized your things doesn’t suit you, and you don’t know how to keep it organized, the clutter will come right back. It’s a learned skill and one that anyone can learn. And there is nothing wrong with using an organizing service like Organize to Excel to help you with that on a regular basis. An organized home is much easier to keep that way!
Organizing business paperwork takes dedication and consistency, but once you have systems in place and you (and your employees) use them, it becomes a routine part of business life. Here are my ways to make organizing business paperwork go more smoothly.
Shred it and for-ged it
When paperwork is past its “keep until” date, shred it if it has personal information. If you have a small business you may be fine with a small shredder. For larger business, there are also services like Shred-It that pick up shreddable materials and turn them into recycled paper.
New year, new folders
At the beginning of your financial year, create new folders you can use throughout the year. Keep in mind the 5-20 rule! Any folder with fewer than 5 items in it should be combined with another, and any folder with more than 20 should be subdivided into other folders. This streamlines searching for documents, saving you time and money!
Here are some of the ways I keep track of my personal financial paperwork, and help others keep theirs under control.
Date, not category
Filing bills based on date instead of by category works better for me. Sorting by date allows me to keep what’s current in front of me and see all of my bills at a glance instead of having to correlate different bills from different files.
The whole point of saving paperwork (as actual paper or digitally) is to be able to refer to it later!. You need to be able to find it, or it’s just clutter! Here are some ways to make retrieving paperwork easy, navigable, and actually useful.
Having nomenclature or “naming rules” for your paperwork helps you find things again when you need them. Use categories to simplify your files–but not too much! A file folder labeled “Home Expenses” packed with dozens and dozens of pieces of paperwork in it isn’t very useful.
For paper systems: Create a hierarchy of categories and subcategories using hanging folders and interior folders. You could still use a “Home Expenses” folder! It just needs to be divided into subfolders like “Repairs,” “Mortgage Documents,” and “Yard Maintenance.”
A good rule of thumb for folders is limiting the amount of paperwork to 5-20 individual documents in each folder. Any folder with fewer than 5 documents doesn’t need to be its own category. Any folder with more than 20 documents should be divided into subcategories. The 5-20 rule makes for easy retrieval, since you don’t have to sift through piles of paperwork to find what you need.
For digital systems: The folder/subfolder system works just like paperwork, but you can use fewer levels of folders with digital filing because they are searchable through keywords. With that in mind, naming your files in a consistent, searchable way becomes very important!
One of the most common problems I come across when helping clients go through their paperwork is keeping items because they’re unsure of when it’s time to let documents go. You don’t need all paperwork forever! For any specific questions it’s best to consult your CPA or attorney, but I have general rules you can follow to organize financial paperwork.
“Forever” documents should be kept your entire lifetime, and in some cases passed on to any beneficiaries you have. These are things like your social security card and your birth certificate. Keep these documents in a safe place so they can’t be lost or tampered with. Create backups online or in a separate location in case of a natural disaster or fire.
“Permanent” documents are kept for the life of the item they’re for. These are things like documentation related to stocks and shares. Once you let go of an item, there’s no reason to keep its paperwork! Make paperwork a part of your overall decluttering process–if your vacuum is ready to donate, look around for any paperwork associated with it and let that go too.