You might be surprised to hear that paper clutter is one of the challenges of staying organized that I’m asked about most, and also one of the easier areas to organize. No one wants to spend quality time at home filing paperwork, but we also don’t want to be burdened with late fees on bills or miss any appointments. The trick is to set up a simple system.
Here’s what I recommend for staying organized at home.
Twice a Month
Open and pay bills only twice a month, every month, and don’t even look at them on any other day of the month. For me, that’s always at the beginning of the month and half way through.
Pop the obvious bills into a tray that you will leave out on your desk. Don’t open the envelopes. For any junk, unimportant mail, or paperwork, put that stuff into the recycling bin (or shred it) immediately. Don’t even put it down on a coffee table. Check it, be sure it’s junk mail, and then get rid of it.
For other important notices (that aren’t bills), open them and decide how quickly you need to act upon them. Most things can wait until either the very beginning or very middle of the month. If so, leave them in the bills tray and deal with them on those dates, too. Otherwise, if they need to be acted upon immediately, leave them out in a separate “Needs Attention” tray on the counter in plain sight.
Maintain a family calendar (paper or electronic) into which you enter the dates or commitments you need to remember — doctors’ appointments, school events, the dates of parties, or birthdays. Ditch the notes after the information is in the calendar.
Inboxes Not Mailboxes
Switch to digital as much as you can. These days, almost every bill can be sent to you electronically. For all of those bill or invoice emails, set up a folder in your email server called “Bills — Current.” As soon as a bill hits your inbox, immediately move it to that folder — don’t bother looking at it. Twice a month make sure you clear out this folder. As soon as you’ve paid the bill, feel free to archive it in your email system.
Once your paper bills have been paid, you can toss them into the shredder. If you aren’t comfortable with doing that, put them in a cardboard accordion folder divided by month. At the end of one year, if you haven’t needed the bills from that month 12 months ago, it’s probably fine to shred them (but first check that past bills are available online and that you don’t need them for any important records).
One more piece of advice for staying organized. As rough as it may be to hear this, paying bills is something that’s difficult for two people in a relationship to do equally. It works best if, as a couple, you can agree who has primary responsibility for dealing with the bill paying. That way nothing falls through the cracks. If you want to split the job, decide that the first half of the year is for one person to handle and the second half is for the other to take care of.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, First For Women.