We had a guest speaker (Monika Kristofferson, Professional Organizer) at our last MOPS meeting and I was inspired to conquer paper in our house. I didn't take any before pictures, literally too embarrassing. Just use your imagination.
A couple of years ago my husband and I had taken a weekend and gone through all the paper in our home. (Almost.) We decided to use three-ring binders for the files we needed regularly. They fit nicely on the shelving in our walk-in closet. I liked how it looked, nice and clean. Fast forward two years and those three-ring binders were stuffed and overflowing (my husband saves everything, including phone bills). The filing stopped happening because it was just too difficult.
It was time to do something.
Step one: Buy some Bankers boxes at the office supply store.
Eric was shockingly supportive. Usually he merely tolerates my desire to "reorganize". He embraced solving the paper crisis by asking if we needed to go right then to purchase some Bankers boxes! We did, so that I could get started right away!
Step two: Gather supplies.
We had a ton of the hanging folders that Eric had gotten for free when an office shut down, so we used those, not wanting to spend a lot of money unnecessarily. I had three by five cards and paper clips and an ultra fine point black sharpie (my favorite pen). I planned to handwrite my "labels" because I don't have a labeler. I'm okay with that because I like my handwriting (and my pen).
Step three: Set up categories.
We used the following categories: Current (2010-2011), Archives, Closed Accounts/Inactive Files, Taxes (Eric keeps them all, going back in the the early nineties), and Manuals.
Step four: Start sorting into our categories, labeling clearly as we go.
For us this took several days. I worked at it once the kids were in bed, spreading out on the kitchen counter and the dining room table. It was a little inconvenient when I had the in-laws over for dinner and had to stack the boxes to the side, but I tried to keep the big picture in mind. It was going to look worse before it got better.
Step five: Transfer sorted files and label boxes.
I moved our current files to a more attractive file cabinet in our bedroom. (Sorry, no picture.) Instead of cramming them all into one drawer I separated them into two, making it much more pleasant to keep up on the filing. Then I decided what files were going to go into the old metal cabinet that I planned to take out to the garage. They needed to be things we'd likely be accessing, but didn't need to be in the house every day. I decided on the manuals and extra three-ring binders. The rest of the items I left in Bankers boxes, labeling clearly.
I found a spot in our garage. Anyone who has stepped into our garage knows it's my husbands domain, so I am in tricky territory. I try to honor his space and not overflow into it too often, but we'd talked about this already. I managed to find a spot that the metal two-drawer file cabinet can sit. (It had been in our walk-in closet.) In the top drawer I put the manuals (more on that below) and in the bottom I put all the left over three-ring binders, realizing they are pricey and we will likely one day have a use for them. I stacked the Bankers boxes on top of the file cabinet.
I don't know if it's just our household, but the number of manuals is amazing. There are manuals for the kids' toys, furniture, blenders, refrigerators, power saws, and filters. I started by sorting my manuals by category (Kids, Tools, Kitchen, etc.). For most of the manuals I used hanging folders, just like in the bankers boxes. The two exceptions were kitchen items and the kids items. Things move in and out of these categories more frequently and they are really large categories. I took a three-ring binder for each category and page protectors. I used a page protector for each manual, so that I could quickly flip through the book and update as necessary. (Exception: I lumped some of the kids toys in one sleeve, separating by child.)
Next Project: The Paper Trail (everything before filing)