Paper Clutter Part 2 - Creating an 'Action Station'

This month, we are working paper clutter. My last post talked about how to conquer your mailbox – the gateway to paper clutter. You can revisit that here if you missed it. This week, I’m talking about how to manage your stuff so you can stay on top of it.

Paper comes in through the mailbox, from your kids backpack, from work, the HOA, all kinds of places. If you’ve followed my previous advice, you are now mainly dealing with piles of paper that require something from you. Time to create an action station. Creating a central location for this will help you stay on top of it. That location – be it the kitchen, the foyer, or your home office, should be a place it is both convenient to ‘dump’ stuff, and also a place where it won’t get forgotten. Sorting that file will help you stay on top of your business.

Paperwork falls into these basic categories:

  • Stuff ya gotta pay & Stuff ya gotta do…

  • Stuff you need to save for a while…

  • Stuff you need to save for a long time…

Paying stuff is technically ‘stuff ya gotta do” so I prefer to make that one category. It’s your important and timely pile. It has a due date or deadline. Bills to be paid, permission slips to sign, car registration. Everything important that really needs to get done ends up in one place. If your To-Do/Pay pile has something in it, that’s where you focus your time / energy. You should strive to keep this file empty.

Stuff you need to save for a while:

I call this the on-going pile. Things you are working on and will need to go back to now and then. My ongoing file currently has some theater tickets, the tax planner my accountant sent me, a flier for an event, and the guest list for a party I was planning. If this file is starts to look big, there’s probably some old stuff that’s completed and that visual gets me to purge. The party was months ago, so, uh, even I’m not perfect. Time to clean out. 

Stuff you need to save for a long time:

This is essentially filing. Personally, I don’t have a ‘to file’ pile.  I just have files. Whenever possible, avoid a ‘to file’ area. It’s just a form of procrastination.  One or two pieces of paper are much easier to file then when you have a whole stack. But if it just isn’t convenient, make sure to set time aside to file that pile, or you are deciding to allow clutter to accumulate. You should also really consider what you really need to keep in terms of paper. Bank Statements, utility bills, and lots of other items are readily available again online. Once you’ve dealt with these individual pieces of paper, really think about whether you need that paper ‘just in case’.

Ok, so you’ve sorted it – how should you store your piles?  Well that depends a lot on what makes sense to you, and what is easy for you.  Here are some options:

The big basket

You may find that you want to put all your papers in one single place and only do this sorting when you are really dealing with it.  This can work for people who are not as naturally inclined to organizing. As long as you set the time get the stuff dealt with, one big basket is fine.

Any one of these options can act as your ‘action station’. Chances are you have a long-term filing system of some sort. If it’s working for you - great.  My next post will talk about re-thinking your long-term system. 

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