Keeping on top of paperwork is a constant battle. Bills, receipts, payslips, bank statements - clutter quickly builds up and, without proper organisation, you can easily lose track of your finances. It doesn't have to be that way. With a few simple systems and some good habits, you can take control of your paperwork once and for all.
It's all too easy during a busy week to put unopened post in a pile, which accumulates, gathers dust and becomes clutter. A backlog is a daunting and uninviting task, so try to keep on top of post as you go along.
Get in to the habit of opening mail immediately and sorting it in to three categories:
• Recycling, for junk mail
• Shredding, for unwanted post or adverts that have your name and address on
• Filing, for important bills or letters to keep
It's a good idea to have a letter rack or some in-trays at hand, either in your hall or in your home office, to make this sorting process simpler. Paperchase has a Rose Letter Sorter, £8.75 (Dh51) that's just the ticket and pretty, too.
Spring clean your filing system and treat yourself to some new ring binder folders with plastic wallets and sticky labels.
Set aside an afternoon and gather together all the paper that's lurking all over the house, then sit down and divide it in to piles with clear categories: phone bills, tax returns, appliance manuals, utility bills, car documents and so on.
Order the paperwork with the most recent on the top, then allocate each pile a separate folder and label it clearly. This way, you'll be able to find what you need in an instant.
Be ruthless. If you don't need to keep something, shred it or toss it.
Write a list of contents on the ring binder spine for efficient filing.
Keep unpaid bills clipped together with a coloured bulldog clip somewhere obvious so you don't forget to deal with them.
Get into the habit of writing "Paid" and the date on the paper after you pay a bill and before you file it, so you can keep track of everything.
It's not just bills and filing that need sorting. Most of us have stacks of other important papers scattered around that need to be ordered.
It's a good idea to keep important documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates, passports, visas, health insurance policy information and any qualification certificates in a fireproof, lockable box. Visit www.amazon.com and have a look at the Sentry Safe F2300 fire-safe waterproof document and media chest, $52.89 (Dh194). Always store your will and house deeds safely with your solicitor.
For shopping lists, birthday cards, party invitations and all other personal paperwork, a large notice board in the home office, hallway or kitchen can be useful.
Pin a plastic wallet to the board and collect greeting cards as you find them so you have cards for everybody in advance.
Pin a calendar beside this wallet so you never miss an important date, and keep all your invitations pinned beside it, too. Get in the habit of responding to invitations and adding events to your calendar as soon as you receive them.
Instead of having various business cards and leaflets around the house, type all of your emergency contacts (doctor, plumber, electrician, dentist, etc) into a spreadsheet on your computer. That way, they're all in one place and you can get rid of all the paperwork. Print out one copy and pin it to your notice board or keep it beside the phone so everyone can see it easily.
How to go paperless
Ask your bank and utility companies if you can swap paper statements for digital versions.
Instead of keeping boxes of receipts, check out the NeatReceipts mobile scanner and digital filing system gadget, $175 (Dh643) at www.amazon.com. This gadget lets you make digital copies of receipts, business cards and important documents so you can shred the originals and save precious storage space. (There are some documents you should always keep the originals of. Always check with your solicitor.)
Invest in specialist software such as Going Paperless for Dummies, $23.99 (Dh88) at www.amazon.com, which will help you to organise your scanned in documents and to free yourself from paper.
Back it up
Keep at least one back-up of all your digital documents on an external hard drive, and leave it hidden or locked away securely if you go away for any length of time. If your computer is stolen, you don't want to lose a lifetime of records as well. Update the documents regularly to avoid losing important data, or look for a time machine function that automatically backs up your whole computer every few days.
Use web tools
Consider using online tools wherever possible. For example, if you like to tear pages out of magazines or collect recipes, www.pinterest.com can be a great place to store these things virtually instead of having stacks of unnecessary scrapbooks and folders.
Sign up to an online service such as www.dropbox.com, which lets you store your scanned encrypted documents securely then gives you access to them via software, the internet or an app on your mobile phone.