By Stephanie Nelson
Ok, ok... So there’s no fire, but I got your attention didn’t I? If I had titled this #eventstatus something like "Paper Clutter During a Quarantine," I bet you would have just scrolled on past.
As an event planner, one of the comments I get regularly is, “You must be so organized. You have to be in order to plan such elaborate events.”
Ummm...smile and wave boys, smile and wave. If you know me, please stop laughing at this thought. Seriously, I can hear you all snorting with laughter. I am here during this quarantine, to officially say: "Hi, my name is Stephanie and I have a paper organization problem."
Y’all this was my desk at home:
When we moved to our house nine years ago, I thought the desk being in the kitchen was going to be a great motivator for me to keep our paper in check. I was wrong. But somewhere around 2015, I stopped caring about what people think. Then, I got my dream job and that paper control issue transferred to my office (which drives my uber-neat and ultra-organized office mate Brittany, absolutely insane. Sorry, Britt!).
In an effort to better myself during this quarantine, I decided to take a paper clutter “Mini-Boot Camp”. This is what we are supposed to do, right? Use this time to better ourselves? Clean out our closets? Get rid of the things weighing us down? Yes! I can do this! (Right? Anyone? Friends?)
So, with large glass of wine in hand, I started collecting all of my paper from around the house. That’s right. All of it.
Those papers in the filing cabinet upstairs? Yep.The kids' old art projects and schoolwork? Yep. Twenty years' worth of neatly organized tax documents? Yep. The random piles of “I don’t know what to do with this but surely I’ll need it” papers? Yep, even those. Everything piled on any surface, even if I don’t know what that pile is? For SURE.
I used the dining room as my collection point. There were a couple of reasons for this:
Once I collected ALL of the papers, the sorting could begin. It was at this point I called my mother, who has been in banking for all of my 40+ years of life, to confirm which financial papers to save. Evidently, that whole "don’t save taxes older than seven years" is true! Same with bank statements. In fact, most banks don’t save statements longer than five years. That means it is so rare that anyone looks at bank statements from more than five years ago, that most banks don’t even keep them!
It quickly became apparent that I was going to need a paper shredder. So I went to an office supply store’s website and promptly ordered said shredder. Luckily it was on sale, I could pick it up that day, and it could be brought to my car.
I sorted all the documents/papers/junk into categories and, one by one, began tackling each pile. This part of the process took approximately three days to work through. The consultant I was using recommended setting a timer and working for 15 minute intervals, but I just dove in and worked until I was tired of sorting. I found I became more ruthless with “needing” to save something when I was deep in purge mode and wanting to power through to get done.
Making the piles was easier than I thought it would be. As I started sorting, the piles and their categories kind of took shape naturally. We had everything from insurance, to hospital and medical records, to kids schoolwork and old paper maps.
The process caused quite a mess in my dining room, hence furthering the need to finish. No one wants to track shredded paper all over their house. Trust me.
Efforts also seemed to produce a metric ton of shredded paper. At one point the shredder jammed and I swear it was smoking. But after letting it rest for about two hours, the poor thing started functioning again. I enlisted my husband to go through the piles I knew he would want to peruse himself. Together, we worked to whittle away at 23 years' worth of paper work!
It should be noted at this point that my father-in-law is notorious for saving papers and such (bless him). It is one habit that drives my hubs crazy. Once he saw so much old paperwork had accumulated (meaning he was well on his way to the same fate as his beloved father), there was no problem getting him on board with the purging and reorganizing process.
I have to say, it was kind of fun going through old paperwork. We still had stuff from when we sold our old home nine years ago, as well as banking statements from 15-20 years back. Also, I used to be so organized with reconciling statements…then came the wonders of online banking, So, I haven’t done that in ages.
The lesson here is that when you file stuff away in a filing cabinet, it probably goes there to die. We essentially whittled down to needing only one drawer of the cabinet, instead of the full filing cabinet plus the full desk filing space. We didn’t get rid of the cabinet, and decided that long term items will live there, while short term/current items will be filed in the desk drawer.
Here is a list of the things we kept:
Overall, the project worked out just like we had planned. I posted an Instagram story (because I’m THAT GIRL) and my college roommate texted me that I inspired her to do the same thing! On the advice of my consultant, I designated a tray on the edge of my desk for all incoming papers. Everything goes in this tray, trash is thrown away immediately, and “action items” are dealt with accordingly. My goal is to not have it overflow, so we have been doing a good job of tackling it as it comes in, or every few days. (Disclaimer: We are under a safe-at-home order, so I have much more time on my hands, and - as school has been called off for the year - there are no new school papers are coming in.)
And just for fun, above is an "after" of my kitchen desk and Easter table. I love the way my dining table turned out this year and it was made even sweeter by having cleaned up the paper mess!
So, this seems to have been a successful project overall. Now, let’s just see if I can use this same strategy for my office desk. (I promise I will work on it, Britt!)
(Special thanks to Grid and Glam for the tips and the mini-camp.)