I really don’t like checking the mail. For a good while, this meant having a stack of envelopes and paper sitting on our countertops for days on end and then wasted hours spent opening envelopes and dealing with lost checks or missing bills. The mail monster had invaded our home, and I just had to do something if I was ever going to get to the bottom of the pile and destroy it once and for all.
I started limiting the number of times I actually checked the mailbox for mail (not sure if that’s okay), and that has helped me take care of everything in one shot instead of on a daily basis. I suppose if this was really an issue, I could put a basket in our laundry room to put the mail in on our way in from the garage. The thought of bringing the heaping mess further than that before mail filing day would just go against The Plan.
You see, it was The Plan that made the mail monster less fearful. With The Plan, I didn’t have to worry about going through the mail and then end up with more piles than I started off with by the end of it. I also didn’t have to end up with the same amount of paper–just outside of the envelopes, scattered in heaps throughout the house. No, not anymore. The Plan made sure every single paper and envelope had a home so that slowly the monster disappeared altogether. Here are 10 tips that helped us tame the mail monster.
1. Categorize the mail 1-2 times a week.
Whether you have a “holding tank” or basket to collect the mail or just manage to get to the mailbox a few times per week, try limiting the amount of times you actually sort through it all. I try to do it just 1-2 times a week, and it’s worked out well so far. As I work through the mail, I pile everything in one of the following 5 categories:
a. Recycle: Junk mail, junk mail, and junk mail.
b. Trash: Junk mail that has plastic in the envelope or needs to be trashed for whatever reason.
c. Shred: This is for credit card offers or bank offers that are not a priority for us.
d. Hubby: Stack for my husband’s mail.
e. My Mail: Everything else.
Once I get to the “everything else” pile, which is my responsibility, then I get to work with the filing. Here’s where I put it all.
2. Set up a basket or tray for bills and follow-up mail.
I have a tray right by my computer, which is where I hunker down once a month to pay the bills. Having all of the bills in one place makes it easy to just work my way through the pile until I get to the bottom of it all. I also keep follow-up mail here for those offers and quotes or situations that require a phone call or email of some sort. Once I take care of it, I make a note of it and move it out.
3. File those coupons!
I’m not the biggest coupon saver, but I do keep the ones I am most likely to use. As soon as they jump out of the mail pile, I take the scissors to them and put them in my wallet. I have two compartments in my wallet where I store all of my money savers. One is for “rewards” and “frequent buyer” cards, and the other is for my coupons. (About once every month or two, I go through the coupons and make sure to throw out any expired coupons as necessary. I don’t want any baby monsters getting too comfortable there.)
4. Set up a filing system.
We have a cabinet full of hanging files that help us keep everything organized and in one place. (You can also use a portable hanging file folder bin.) If I need to keep any part of the mail monster, I can guarantee you that there will be a hanging file willing and ready to take it in. (If not, I make one ready on the spot.) These are the categories that have done the job for us.
a. Memories: This is for cards, picture invites, letters, and sweet notes that I want to keep and look through later. By the end of the year when this folder gets full, I throw out the extras and keep the memorable ones in a scrapbook.
b. Taxes: Need I say more?
c. Investment accounts: This includes funds for the kids and any retirement accounts.
d. Insurance: I keep our policy documents, claims, and any other important info here.
e. Family members: We also have a folder for each child and family member to include important information, such as medical records.
f. Family pets: We have a folder for our dog, including his training school docs and any surgeries and vet visits.
g. Vehicles: We keep a folder for each vehicle and dump in any relevant paperwork, such as the title, maintenance, service, and warranty information.
h. Credit cards: I have a folder with any credit card agreements and relevant information. I also make it a point to make a copy of the front and back of all my credit cards that I carry in my wallet, so that I can easily contact the companies should I ever lose any of them. (To save time and space, I put all of my credit cards on the scanner at one time and copy together then flip to the backside. Done!)
i. Medical receipts: I haven’t needed this folder much since we switched to a more natural lifestyle, but if there is the possibility that you may be able to claim a tax deduction on medical expenses, you’ll want to make sure to keep track of your receipts in one place.
j. Charities: I also keep a folder for any charities we donate to, including any relevant correspondence.
k. Vacation: This is a fun folder for any vacation ideas or planning docs that we want to keep on file as we prepare for an upcoming trip.
l. Cleared/Canceled: We keep any documentation concerning a canceled or cleared account in this folder.
m. Catalogs: I love looking through homeschooling curriculum catalogs or idea books but don’t usually have time for it right out of the mailbox. Having a folder ready for those great catalogs keeps them all in one place for when I have the time to sit back and enjoy.
Other possible categories to consider: Side business information, bank information, subscriptions, utilities/HOA, etc. If it doesn’t have a home and is important, make one. Otherwise, throw it out!
Whew! That sounds like a lot, but it really makes for a much tamer mail monster. When the folders fill up or about once every year or two, I’ll go through each one and shred or dump anything that is no longer worth keeping. Most of the time, however, I try to use discretion before ever putting the papers in there so that I don’t have to file it in the first place.
5. Filing receipts.
Receipts can become their own beast all by themselves. It’s one of those things that if you throw them out, you may end up needing that one that found its way to the bottom of the trash can–right under the egg shells and oatmeal goop. Keeping them indefinitely can be just as scary because they actually multiply; I’ve seen it happen. So, I’ve made it a point to save and toss every six months. Here’s how I organize them:
a. Long-term Receipts: I have a hanging folder for all of the receipts that accompany some type of warranty or those for a larger purchase. These are receipts we definitely want to make sure to have on hand.
b. Short-term Receipts: Most receipts will fall in this category. I purchased this plastic index organizer at my local office supply store and keep it in my car so that I can instantly file after a trip to the mall.
I tagged each category by month, two months per tab. I labeled the first Jan/June, then Feb/July, Mar/Aug, etc. In January, I put all of my receipts behind the first tab, then follow with Feb. March, etc. When June rolls around, I end up back where I started and am forced to work through those January receipts to toss whatever I no longer need. After six months, it is safe to say that most of those will be okay to throw away. If it’s important, I dump it in the Long-term Receipts Folder instead. Month-by-month, this system ensures that I don’t end up with too much clutter but still have important receipts at hand if needed.
6. Filing magazines.
I only have a subscription or two but can easily see how this can get out of hand. I have a small reading basket on an end table in our living room for books I’m reading and magazines. When the magazines come in the mail, they go straight into the basket. If they don’t get read, they get recycled, set aside for crafts, or donated to the library.
On a side note, when I read my parenting magazines, I tear out the pages with craft ideas or anything I’ll actually use and file it in my homeschooling folders and recycle the rest of the magazine. This way, I only keep the pages I’ll actually use again in the future and don’t let the clutter get out of hand.
7. Filing manuals.
Okay, so these really don’t have much to do with mail, unless you have something shipped to you, but I thought I’d share anyway. I’m not sure if there is any easy way around this one. We just keep a bin for all of the manuals we may need in the future.
8: Filing house documents.
This could easily be part of the hanging file system, but for me, I have found it easier to keep my house documents together in one place. (I also really liked this pretty organizer.) I use it to store the following documents: Home Services, Mortgage Information, Homeowners Insurance/Warranty, Appliances, Landscaping, Interior (including paint colors and renovations). The open pockets make it easy to file the paperwork as it comes in and makes it easy to find any information that is needed.
Keeping this system really helped a few months ago when we sold our home before moving. Having everything in one place meant that we weren’t searching all over the house for information that we needed to share with our lending officer or new buyers.
9. Filing the long-term storage stuff.
We bought a large bin for all of those tax docs that would just stare us in the face and growl for the longest time. We sealed the lid and put them away just far enough out of sight but close enough to access if necessary.
10. Keeping the mail monster out of the house altogether.
My filing system has really helped keep our home in order, but even then, I have found it easier to file when I have less paper coming into my mailbox to begin with. Here are a few ways to keep the monster out altogether.
a. Receive and pay bills online. This has really helped keep the bills from invading our mailbox. I file all of the bills in a folder in my email account and pay via ePay through my bank once a month. Easy peasy and no paper clutter.
b. Sign up for electronic statements. We receive all of our credit card and bank statements via email as well. Once a month, we reconcile our accounts, download the latest statement onto our computer, and file it in a folder for future reference.
c. Remove your name and address from the mailing list. I took a few minutes to do this a while back ago, and it has kept all of those annoying credit card offers from ever making it into our mailbox. If and when I was in the market for a credit card, I simply went to their website to see their latest offers and didn’t miss out on a thing. To opt out, call 1-888-567-8688 or click here for more information.
Well, there’s The Plan that has really helped us spend less time dealing with paperwork and more time enjoying our countertops and time. In this fast-paced world filled with an overload of information and what seems like everyone reaching into our pocketbooks, it helps to keep things in perspective and not have to devote much more time to that which is unimportant. Our God is a God of order, and our homes function that much more smoothly when we bring order to the chaos as well.
What are some of your tips for organizing paper clutter?