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Paper Avalanche

Have you ever opened your cabinet to get a coffee cup and found your water bill?

I have. Have you reached for a pen on your desk and unleashed an avalanche of papers? I have. My husband used to love to bring in the mail and then leave it in the most random places. He would cram it into any space he could find along his path when he got home. Bathroom sink, cabinet, on top of the fridge.

The stacks of mail around my house eventually became the bane of my existence. At that point in our marriage we didn't have an extra square inch in our home. We lived in military housing with three kids, two dogs and a cat. I ran a licensed home daycare and homeschooled all our kids. It was tight. My attempts at paper management at that point amounted to a large basket by the computer desk. When the basket was full you would find a stack on my counter and a stack on my kitchen table that we would move for meals. Every few weeks I would start searching for my monthly bills and spend a Saturday morning and a half a pot of Columbian Roast opening the important pieces of dreaded mail. Once I found what I needed I'd declare victory and leave the rest for another day, a day that would probably be at least two weeks away.

This didn't work. I would forget to pay a bill on time and then have late fees, even a few dollars here and there, add up to genuine loss. I had to tackle the paper problem. I tried to tackle it a couple different ways but eventually I found a system that works for us and it has served us beautifully for over 15 yrs. Here are some of rules and methods.

Junk mail never, ever comes inside

Adding garbage/recycling bins to the garage or carport immediately reduced the volume by half. Junk Mail does not come in now. Not ever. Drop it in the recycle bin before you come inside. Every ad, paper, flyer or coupon is online - TOSS THEM - if there is a coupon you can't live without, sort it before you go in and bring only the ones you need inside, we'll have a home for it later.

Go Paperless

Just do it. If you haven't, just do it. Save trees. Save your sanity. Get organized. Every bill has a paperless option. Every medical bill, insurance statement, everything has paperless options. The tracking of it all will be addressed in the system below. Trust me, go paperless.

I like Binders. I'm a self proclaimed Binder Queen. I love having the space in my home to have my own office now but it wasn't always this way. Over the years, I've made this system work in a small space on my kitchen counter, a little desk in my bedroom and a little command center I created in our family room.

First Binder

  • First page in this binder is a comprehensive list of all our accounts and passwords. I'm sure that a security guru would tell me this is problematic but here's the thing. Passwords have to be so long, and be changed regularly for security purposes or breeches, it's just too much to memorize and there are SO many. We have at least 30 on this list. They are much safer in a binder in our home office than on my phone or in my head. Having them in the binder gives my husband and I the ability to update it in one place so the other can find it when they need it.

  • Second Page is a simple Ordinal Number List: 1st, 2nd, 3rd... With every bill that is due on that date listed beneath or beside it. I don't need the paper bill. It's due on the same day each month. You log on and check. Easy peasy.

  • Third Page is a month at a glance calendar with income and irregular expenses marked like "Soccer Fees Due" or "Birthday Gift".

  • Fourth Page (+) is where the Budget goes. Debt Snowballs, etc. It may take more pages and need to be a Tab.

  • A pocket folder (or two) holds any bills or financial obligation that aren't paperless.

  • Back pocket of the binder holds our tithing envelopes.

  • Front pocket holds a handful of mailing envelopes, labels and stamps.

Second Binder

For me this next Binder is kind of magical. This binder holds the "stuff" of our life. So many flyers, reminders, cool community events. This is the good stuff. These are the reasons we work, to spend time together. Getting all the things in one place makes sitting down weekly to regroup easy. We have family meetings to go over the calendar, budgets, upcoming events, chores. The Binder System provides an excellent framework for Family Meetings. How you choose to organize it is up to you but here are some suggestions consider.

Create a Tab with folders for:

  • Each Family Member

  • School

  • Parties/Invites

  • Church Bulletins and Events

  • Youth Group

  • Charities

  • Seasonal or Annual Maintenance: for cars, home, lawn, etc

  • Coupons (unless you do serious Couponing then it needs it's own Binder)

First Page of this Binder has a year-at-a-glance calendar for reference. But we also rely on a large wall calendar for the family to keep track of things day to day and we all add the calendar to our Google Calendars on our devices.

Second Page (+) of this Binder has a Contact Information Sheet: Scout Leader, Youth Group Leader, Lawn Company, Septic Company. One place for all your resources. The people and companies in your life are your support team members. When you need to order firewood your firewood guy's number should be handy. A great gal who helps with spring cleaning. The babysitter list. Keep them here.

Everybody Needs a Shredder

Credit Card offers and other sensitive items which are not being kept, must be shredded and recycled. Anything you keep for a time needs to be gone through monthly and shredded when it's usefulness has passed.

Last But Not Least: Filing

Everything we have discussed to this point is m responsibility. I handle all the paper up to this point. The Filing is where my husband takes over and manages it. He has a simple sorting bin, or a hopper as we call it. It has three areas, it's not fancy. The top bin is short term filing, the middle long term filing and the bottom is safe.

Short Term for us is more than a few months but less than 2 years.

  • Health Insurance for this year

  • Car Insurance

  • Some Warranties

  • Current Tax information (documents, receipts we will need for filing this year)

  • Investments

  • Receipts for large purchases (we may need these for insurance purposes)

Long Term is more than 2 yrs.

  • Filed Taxes from previous years and the related records

  • Real Estate

  • Long Term Investments

  • Records - home, services, purchases, vehicles, maintenance

Safe Storage is long term storage that needs to be protected. We learned about this in Hurricane Katrina. So we have a simple water proof, fireproof safe for records that we want to have easy access to and not have to worry about replacing in the event of a disaster.

  • Birth Records

  • Social Security Records

  • Advanced Health Care Directives

  • Wills

  • Banking Information

  • Copies of all Credit Cards, Driver's Licenses

  • Car Titles

Families are like businesses. There is a flow of paper and it must be managed. There are support teams, resources, assets and liabilities. Whether you use my system or come up with your own it doesn't matter, just tackle the paper and manage it so you can get on with life.

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