by Diane Conlinn
February 16, 2001
I am drowning in a mound of paper. Every day, I get more and more bills, copies of bills, a new copy of a bill, more letter from the creditors, important news I should know. I have papers on my living room table, in bags in my closet, I've tried filing them in folders, but I still lose important receipts and papers, and am always looking for things. If I could have found my receipt for my latest piece of software I could have gotten a $25 refund. But, I couldn't find it in the mess. Can you point me in the right direction?
A mess in Kansas City
Dear Mess in Kansas City:
First of all there is hope, you are not alone. I too have struggled with the paper disease. And my eyes were opened when I moved to an apartment in California, and left most of my stuff in storage in Arizona. Including my papers. A funny thing happened. Except for the papers I brought with me, I never needed to look at those papers once in over 6 months. (That's how long it took me to finally go get the stuff and bring it for a joyous reunion with the rest of my stuff in California).
From that little eye opener, I went on to other things and did a little reading. Plus, I asked a professional organizer to come to my apartment to help me out.
The following things were what she did to organize my mess:
She requested the following items from me:
A notebook with alphabetical dividers, some plain hole punched paper, tape and staples, a stack of manila folders, a stack of hanging folders, a big black marker. And several trash bags.
She started to go through my papers and every time she came to a new company, she made a new manila folder (now you have to realize I had about three or four brown grocery sacks of paper at this point. Things had gotten out of hand for me, once again.)
After she went through them all, she threw away all but the two latest versions. She put the lst one in the folder, and the second one, she holepunched and put inside the notebook behind the corresponding letter of the alphabet.
In front of each company, she put a plain piece of paper, and if there were any receipts for payment, she attached those to the company statement.
Then she she told me that when next month's came in, I was to hole punch it and put it in front of last month's statement.
I would carry my trusty notebook to the phone when I talked with my creditors, and on that same plain piece of paper, I would write down who I talked to and when, and what about. If I paid the bill, I wrote down the following: the date, the check or money order number, who to, mailing method, the amount.
02/05/01 Check #435 Bazillion Collections Certified Letter, $25.45
Because the above is a certified letter, I would put the receipt I got back from the post office on the preceding invoice, and when I got the little green post card back, I put that with the invoice. If happened to write a letter, I put a copy of the letter with the invoice, and so on.
Then once a year, I take all that paper work, except for that page where I wrote everything down, and file it in that manila folder. And I have a nice clean notebook for the next year.
If you want to save envelopes for mailing, go ahead, but be sure to put the name of the company in the lower left hand corner, because to me one envelope with a mailing window looks pretty much the same as another.
I also keep in the front pocket of that notebook, stamps, and certified mail forms to fill out if I decide that I must send something certified mail.
I keep my incoming mail in a small drawer by the back door where I come in with the mail. On every Saturday, I do my hole punching thing with the notebook.
Twice a month, I have a check writing session.
This notebook has saved my life. I also have 12 month file in which I keep my important receipts by month. So when those refund offers come in, I can go back and find my receipt, and take advantage of them.
It's nice getting those rebates in the mail.
I hope this helps you. Good luck.