Monday, January 10, 2011

51 January Challenge: Project Paper {step 1}

Many of you mentioned you are excited to start tackling things one room at a time this year.  One room at a time, one project at a time.  Good job you!  That is exactly the way to do it!  This will ensure a less overwhelming feeling.  Trying to do too much at one time will only set you back, not move you forward.

Many of you also mentioned that you like a good challenge.  Some fire under you if you will.  That it's one thing to look at a project completed by someone else, it's another to be challenged to focus on your own.

I decided a little challenge would be fun!  However, just one a month is good.  This will ensure you are able to take your time, focus on one thing, and feel amazing when it's done!  Of course, if you wish to go hog wild and complete many, many projects in a month, have at it!  I have months where I get oodles done, and some where only one or two things get checked off the old "To Do" list.  It's all about ensuring it doesn't burn you out, and that you do it in the time that works for you!

Take pictures and blog about your awesomeness!  I am hoping to do a giant, "We did it!" celebratory post where we can all link up our paper filing success stories!!

This month we are are focusing on paper.  Ugh, really you say?  Yes I say!  Getting papers in order, and setting up a good system at the beginning of the year, will help you throughout the whole year!  And it seems to be quite the hot topic right now, so let's do it together!

In fact, I could really use a little help in this area myself.  I like to empty out my files from the previous twelve months and give myself a blank slate for the new year ahead.

However, I am going to throw this out there.  I am not a FINANCIAL expert.  I am in no way trained in regards to paperwork, what to keep, what not to keep.  I can not be held liable.  What I can do, is share what works well for me, and what I have learned in my research along the way.

And the funny thing is, I own seven books on home organization, and not ONE really touches the "What to keep and what to toss" dilemma. Urg!

We are all different and in different situations.  Some need to keep more papers than others.  It's all personal.  It's all based on your current life scenario.  It's SO important to keep that in mind.

So here is part one of the "Project Paper" challenge... Who's with me!?

1.  Research.

As I mentioned, everyone is different.  You need to be the one to decide what YOU need to keep and get rid of.  But I will say, don't be scared to let go.  It feels great and gives you much more space to work with.  And less papers to sift through when looking for the one you need.  And think, how many times a year do you go back to your filing zone to pull papers?  Me?  Maybe once or twice.  And it's important to think about that, what are you going back for, what have you never looked at?

Here are three links that I have turned to when deciding for me personally, what to keep, what to toss:

Simply Stated: What Papers Belong in a Filing Cabinet?

Consumer Reports: When to Toss Documents

Consumer Report:  How Long to Keep Documents

Of course, no matter where you look, you may find different answers.  That's the hard part for me.  There is no black and white.  And as an indecisive person, I like to be told exactly what to do.  That's what honestly makes this process painful for me.  Just sayin'.

2.  Keep what you need.

I printed off the list of what to keep, and used a marker to place a dot next to each situation that pertained to me.

I then sorted through all of our papers, and placed them into piles by type.  I made use of open floor to do this!

Once I had all my piles, I stacked them {criss-cross style to keep piles separated/orderly}.

For someone who is a little iffy when it comes to papers and letting go, minus my tax information {which I will touch on later}, I keep a document box in my storage room that holds my previous years papers.  So right now, I will remove all of my statements/papers from their respective files, recycle those I absolutely know I no longer need to keep, rubber band the remainder together, and bring them straight down to a document box {I use this one}, in which it will live.  I get only one box for this purpose.  When a new years worth of documents enters, the oldest year in the box, gets recycled.  Number of times I have ever gone to that box.  Once.  Is this necessary?  Probably not.  But I run a business and am nervous.  So it's my personal insurance.  

It's also important to be realistic about how much space you have to store all of your papers.  I for instance, live in a pretty tight quarters with a large family, space is definitely limited.  In fact, I don't own a filing cabinet, my goal is to make everything fit into my one document box in the storage room {my archived documents} and in one portable file bin {current year's documents}:

I found this portable file at Walmart late last fall for around $9.  I choose to go portable because I like the flexibility it provides when working on projects such as these, the space saving it provides and that it's easy to bring to my mail vs. bringing my mail to it.  Again, just a personal preference.

3.  Recycle.

Take that enormous stack of no longer need to keep papers and shred them.  If you don't have a shredder, take them to a friend or family member that does, or utilize a bon fire or fire place in need of some kindling paper.

I called it a day at this point.  Tomorrow I plan on organizing the file bin with folders and labels, giving my stack a place to call home.

I hope you all see that it isn't as terrifying or daunting as organizing paperwork typically is made out to be.  If you have oodles of back-log and piles to go through, plop in front of your favorite DVR'd show and take your time making the piles.   Enlist in your family to help give you the time you need, whether that means the kiddos playing together for awhile or doing it after they are in bed.  

I would love to hear from you if you are taking the paper plunge and doing this with me!  Any other great resources to share when it comes to the huge "What to Keep" question?

I decided a little challenge would be fun! This month we are getting all those papers in order!  Wanna join?  Take pictures and blog about your awesomeness as you go!  I am hoping to do a giant, "We did it!" celebratory post where we can all link up our paper filing success stories at the end of the month!


  1. Thanks for dealing with paper this month! Paper clutter is my worst enemy and I can really use some great ideas as to what to do with it all!

  2. I think my paper issue is a tad overwhelming. 1 month should be plenty of time, though, I think. I just finished organizing everyone's new toys from Christmas (4 kids=2 many toys) so next project... Thanks for doing this--love your blog!!!!!!

  3. I regret not buying the portable boxes when I saw them at walmart last year. Havent seen them since then. Im afraid that if I get a bigger box I'll just be keeping papers I do not need.

    Thanks for the awesome post!

  4. Please bring on more paper challenges this month. I am a "paper pile freak". I am in on the challenge and know others who will love this also. On Wednesday, 1/12/11 I am highlighting this post and your challenge on my blog. I need help.

  5. I am putting the hubby on this challenge, he is willing to take it!

    I will let you know how he makes out!!!



  6. I love this challenge and I am in. I just started following your blog! You are so cute and I love your style. Thanks for the motivation. I am going to try and take before and after photos.

    Katherine (fellow mom of sons)

  7. Count me in. I have yet to do the inside of my desk and purge the year's stuff. I'm anxious to get started.

  8. This is an awesome Idea! I need to do this so badly so hopefully I can get started and tackle this project into oblivion! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Jenn @ Peas & Crayons

  9. things i really save are receipts and tax docs. a few years ago, i went through stuff and had electric bill from 5 years ago. WHY??? i figure, you can ALWAYS get another copy of nearly anything. so i save nearly nothing. i shred like it's a sport.

  10. What perfect timing! I am working on organizing our office and boy do we have paper! I spent around 3 hours this weekened just sitting and shredding old documents, it's crazy! I managed to get through all of my old stuff, but my husband has about 5 banker's boxes to go through. It may take me more than a month but I'll get through it!

  11. I've been doing this for years. And, it looks like you and I have identical styles!

    I have 2 big boxes that have 'archived' documents. One is for long term stuff like, taxes, house documents, birth certificates, etc (really, really important stuff) and the other is for medical related stuff (pets included). That way, I have an easy to access and easy to find source if I need to reference old health info (which, I've needed to go into quite often).

    THEN, I have my file box for the current year- tabbed off into corresponding categories to the archived box (ie current medical documents for each family member, bills, receipts, etc.). At the beginning of each new year- I just move important things to the archive and shred everything else. That way, I begin each year with a 'clean slate'.

    I also have a mail bin where we keep important mail- and sort through/file that once a month. Again, important stuff gets filed in the 'current year' box and everything else gets shredded. It works... magnificently.

    Side note: I also opt-in for any company that offers paperless billing. This not only helps save room by not having to file more stuff, but it is easier (computer access) AND it is a great way to save trees and be a bit more green.

    Just my 2-cents :)

  12. What a great idea and something I really need to work on.

    We went through our firebox a few months back and wow that was a task all by itself lol!

  13. Yes, this is what we do every January! Except for last year... so we have almost 2 years waiting for us in our filing cabinet! Eeeek! WE simply HAVE to do this... so thanks for the challenge! It helps!

  14. Thank you so much for this article. I printed both articles from Consumer Reports. You bless so many people with your blog.

  15. I'm a pretty neat and tidy person by nature... always have been, I think it's genetic! :) But paper is my downfall. I have a large family (6 children) and homeschool which means I have TONS of paper to deal with on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis. I cannot imagine only having only one box of important papers.

    I think your advice is good just instead of a box some people will need a filing cabinet or two. :) It makes it harder but it doesn't make it impossible! Thanks for the challenge!

  16. Yes! My husband and I just had a talk the other day about how we had to go through our years of backlogged paperwork and sort out everything. Maybe this will give us the kick in the rear we've needed to actually get it done. **On a random note- where did you get your adorable green patterned clipboard?**

  17. This is a really good challenge. I'm horrible at keeping our paperwork organized at home. I have two great file boxes but for the past year or so I've been throwing everything in an IKEA box and calling that "filing". LOL :) I really need to get everything organized and keep up with it on a daily basis.

  18. Hi Shelly!

    I agree with you and kid's with paperwork, we do have separate filing boxes just for that purpose, you can read about that here:

    And Brooke, the clip board is from Target. I think you can find it by all their notebooks and folders.


  19. My husband is in charge of this and does a pretty good job! But, I kow there's room to improve.
    One thing that has helped us? Whenever possible, we have gone the paperless billing route. We pay a lot of the bills online anyway, so why get a paper bill?

  20. I talk about having a shredding party in my blog.

  21. Hi Jen,

    The giveaway has ended today and the winners are announced. I will mail you the email ids once they are confirmed.

    Thanks for giving me the oppurtunity to host this giveaway!


  22. Thanks for the advice. My bills are in folders but I think they need some re-organizing!

  23. Jen this is a great challenge for this month. I'm going to put it on my To-Do-List, but I might not be able to get to it this month because of other projects already on my list. ;)

    Thanks for the kic-in-the-butt I needed with a challenge. :D

  24. Ah, paper is the ONE thing I do have a handle on!

    I have a filing cabinet and have organized all my financial papers according to David Bach's Smart Couples Finish Rich system.

    The finance categories are:

    Tax Returns (separate folder for the past seven years plus one for current year), Social Security, Retirement Accounts (folder for 401k and IRAs), Credit Reports, Investment Accounts, Insurance (with separate folders for health, dental, life, and rental insurance), Bank Accounts (with separate folders for checking and saving accounts), Credit Cards, Family Will/Trust (I don't have one of these yet, but when I do, it will go here!).

    I don't have anything for bills because I do them all online. Saves paper and gives me one less thing to open and deal with.

    I also have more general files. These are the ones I can remember off the top of my head:

    Housing (copy of lease), Medical Records, Household Inventory, Auto Repairs, Auto Records, Personal Information (copy of passport, birth certificate, etc.), School Records (e.g., transcripts)... then there are some more personal file categories like Travel, Keepsakes, Book Recommendations (I tear out reviews from the magazines I read and stash them in there), etc.

    The best thing is that I can find anything in seconds. And that when things come in I know exactly where to put them. It took a *lot* of work setting it up, but now that it's done, it's been so easy to maintain. I'm going on two years and it's still perfect.

    Now if only I could do that with everything else in my place. ;)

    nest.insomniac at gmail

  25. Eeeeek! Do we have to? Okay we do! haha.... I think one of the first things I need to buy is a shredder! You are so right - half of the dilemma is deciding what to keep! I love how motivating you are!!!!

  26. I just started reading your blog and I must say I love love love it!! I NEED everything organized or i feel my day is wasted looking all about for everything. I just looked at all the paperwork, all over the place and took mental not to work on this exact project. Thanks for posting..I'm in!!

  27. Wow! I love this idea! This is definitely something we struggle with, but I love how you've found chic and functional storage for all those papers we must keep. Aww to be grown up! Thanks for the post!


  28. Yeah!! Thanks for putting this together!! I just spent last weekend sorting through 3 years worth of paperwork (we had a baby and lost track of time). I should probably invest in a document box. Right now, I have everything sorted by year from when we got married into paper shopping bags and labeled with the year and chucked up into the highest shelf in our office closet. Definitely not pretty :p

  29. Our office just got a new copier that scans files to PDF and emails them to you. So I was able to shrink all my old paperwork to a few electronic files! it is a fabulous way to get rid of paperwork but still keep the papers. I did this was back taxes (over 5 years old only), paperwork from purchasing/selling homes we no longer live in, credit card statements for closed accounts, etc... It was fabulous for me!

  30. I just did that exact thing this past weekend. I reorganized my office... completely last weekend. Just this past weekend I reorganized all my files and relabeled them. My dining room table was out of commission for a day.
    Then Sunday was taxes day.
    I am thinking I might invest in a snap scan this year. My sister keeps telling me to get one to get rid of mucho paper!
    Also saw your ad for Fort Rapids. I was working on my post for them today. We went the last week of December. Hoping to have it up on my Explore Ohio with Sandy blog tomorrow or Wednesday at the latest.
    I'd love for you to link on my Organizing Mission Monday link party.

  31. I love this!! I was at wal-mart tonight and saw some filing things that i almost bought. we have a good bit of paperwork that definitely needs a home. i think i'll give this challenge a shot! :)

  32. I'm in!
    Perfect timing, too! Just in time for ....organizing taxes! YUCK!

  33. We had our house appraised today for refinancing the house. I had a MESS in my room and decided that what was getting me down was all my loose papers. I dragged them all out and got big bags from the dollar tree that match my living room decor. On the bags I clipped notes that said...shred, file, action, and a big trash can next to it all. I have this hiding on the side of the couch for a huge project. I know when I get done with this I'll feel so much more in control. Then I worked on my stuff, in my room. I created labels for some of the clear boxes and left the clothes for last. Dragged out dirty laundry, put away clean laundry and it all started to look sooooo much better. I've been reading your blog for almost a year now and you have inspired me so much. :)


  34. Thanks Jen! I just printed off that paper and will put it to good use.

    Can you please share teh names of your favorite organizing books? Thank you!

  35. Ok! Last night I organized the paper from my filing cabinets. I have 2 double cabinets... a bit much, doncha think? Anyway, I got my Mary Kay filing in to two expandable files (perfect for tucking away somewhere out of the way), and my personal files all down to one drawer. There's still plenty that can be taken out, but I figured that is a good start. I have 2 huge stacks in the middle of the office floor now. TRASH and SHRED. Tonight the plan is to get those out (why didn't I just do this yesterday?!) and to start tackling all the paper work that has made it "in" to the office, and stopped at the closest flat(ish) spot! Thanks for the inspiration!

  36. This is fabulous! i do have a file cabinet but I'd like a little portable file box like you have under your desk. I'm looking for a little desk that I can tuck away into our den and have a set up something like you do! Thanks for the inspirations!!

  37. this is EXCELLENT thank you! I am looking forward to reading (and doing) more!

  38. Hey Jen! I blogged about how I handle monthly receipts and credit card statements and linked your blog and this post in mine ;) Hope this helps and have a great week, fondly, Roberta

  39. I just found your blog and I am inspired! Starting this tomorrow! I need something to get me started and this is perfect. My daughter has been out of school because of snow and it has thrown off our schedule like you wouldn't believe! Tomorrow, she has no school, but we ARE leaving the house and I WILL buy some cute file folders!

  40. what are your thoughts on e-statements? thinking of converting most of our accounts to cut down on paper clutter, but wonder if i need to make a list to keep in the filing cabinet of all of our account names, #'s, customer service #'s etc in case something were to happen and others wouldn't know what accounts we had because we wouldn't have physical statements?

  41. I've just found your lovely nice and tidy blog from A bowl full of lemons and I so want to do this paperwork project!
    I've my hands full a little with Toni's 21 day challenge at the moment, but I'll be back! Day 22 is the start of project paper!

    See you then, then!

  42. I've taken the plunge!
    I already had a box full of papers, but I love the links you posted to help me figure out what I should be saving, and what I could've tossed a while ago. My poor box was stacked with junk from years ago.
    Can't wait to link up at the end.

  43. do we need a file for utilities? how long do we need to save month to month bills

  44. I would say that is up to you. I save my utility statements for tax purposes, however, for no other reason. Others save them for budgeting purposes. I think it's really a matter of personal situation and preference, but I would just ask how often you have gone back to retrieve one in the past and for what reason.


  45. I'm going to be taking this challenge on Monday!! I will be sure to blog about mine and share it with you! :) I can't wait!!

  46. Hi Jen,
    This is a goofy thing to say to someone with an organizing blog, but your blog is SO organized! I am a teacher so now that summer is here I have a little time to tackle some of the monthly projects you've been doing--I love that it's all so easy to find and follow along with (for those of us who are a little late to the party!) Thanks so much!

  47. Thank you for this post....I always worry about my important paper during hurricane evacuations and your post has made me decide to put them in a portable file box instead of a cabinet! Than you ;0

  48. I travel a good bit for work and hated not having access to various papers and statements while I was away from home. I started scanning basically every piece of paper that came into our house. I scan to my email (instant backup) and then save to a file on my computer. So I have electronic folders set up for every place we deal with plus one for every family member. Every incoming piece of paper goes into a pile and once a week I scan and save. Then once a year I'll archive the folders that are no longer active. There have been several times in the past that I've closed an account and then needed a statement. You can get it, but it takes forever when you need it. This way it doesn't take up any physical space and I always have access to any document that affects our family. The exeption is receipts. I use a small accordian file and then file receipts by month. Probably overkill for most people, but I needed a receipt recently to prove that I was at a certain place at a certain time and was able to locate it in 10 minutes- and it was for a date a year and 10 months ago!

  49. I just started doing my home and trying to blog about it too... paper is my worst enemy! About an amazing organization book that does really give guidance on the sifting process (and especially the emotional side of it) is Julie Morgenstern (Organizing from the Inside Out + many others) . She's the one that gave me enough inspiration to get things going. Love to see there is more inspiration out there like your blog. Found you through pin-interest and I'm getting that shoe cubby!


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