After I graduated college and got a job in 2006, I got a two drawer filing cabinet for my apartment, determined to make sense of the piles of papers I had thrown into a hall closet to be dealt with at an undefined future date.
I read books about getting organized, my favorite of which was Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern. I labored over what the right categories would be for all my personal papers.
I’m sure I got rid of a lot, but I still held on to plenty of papers unnecessarily. I was confused and uninformed. I didn’t know what was essential and what wasn’t essential. I held on to things because I thought I was supposed to. Out of fear that if I got rid of them that there would be regrets and consequences.
The Role of Evernote in My Paper Filing
Fast-forward a few years later, and I met the wonderful man who would become my husband. I can’t take credit for finding Evernote. I might never have found it, or if I did, actually put in the effort to use it, had it not been for him.
When I was first introduced to Evernote, I quickly became overwhelmed by the choices I would have to make about how to organize all my files once digitized. I still sometimes am!
Since starting my Evernote account in January of 2009, I have gone through several iterations of categories for storing my digital files. While I still consider my Evernote account to be a mess that needs a major clean out, I have Evernote to thank for keeping our home relatively paper-free.
I couldn’t talk about the organization of papers in our home without mentioning Evernote, because Evernote is the major driver of our (close to) paper free bliss.
Storing Essential Papers
Since there are certain papers that actually are essential, we have one fire box that we keep those absolutely essential papers in. After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and completing my clothes and books clean out, I was excited to tackle the fire box.
I figured I could accomplish this task within a few short hours, as I thought we were pretty organized and there wouldn’t be much to do.
I was so wrong.
And I knew in the months leading up to my fire box clean out that I had to do something. The box had become overrun by unnecessary papers, making it difficult for me to quickly locate a document when needed.
We had maybe 10 or so folders. None of them were labeled, so I relied on my memory (which frequently failed me) to remember what files were in which folders.
My Paper Clean Out
We had a file folder for stuff related to the house, one for stuff related to the car, one for dog stuff, one for my stuff, one for my husband’s stuff, one for owner’s manuals, and probably a few more I’m forgetting.
Don’t get me wrong – this was still more organized than I had ever been in my life. But still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t quite all that it could be. That after a few more steps, I could finally feel that that area of my life was organized. Once and for all.
I decided to do away with the owner’s manuals file. I either located them online, put them to be stored with the actual item they belonged to, or got rid of them. Easy.
I scanned in everything that we decided we needed to keep. Even the final documents in the fire box are all scanned in to Evernote in case anything ever happens to the box. The scanning process is what made this project so time consuming. But it was so worth it!
(Near) Paper-Free Bliss
Our single place for paper documents in our home now contains only 3 categories: one folder for shared documents, one folder for documents that only apply to me, and one for my husband’s documents. These simplified categories became clear to me as I continued to whittle down the remaining contents of our files.
Our folder with shared documents contains our:
- house deed
- marriage license
- car title
That’s it! It is blissfully simple.
Our respective individual folders now contain:
- personal cards and documents (insurance cards, voter ID cards, social security cards, passports)
- professional licenses and certificates
- a very few select personal miscellaneous documents
It’s so nice when we receive an updated license or insurance card or something in the mail to know exactly where in the house the old version is and to have a system in place to get rid of the expired one. It’s also extremely nice knowing when the mail comes that about 90% of it will end up in the recycling bin. Now if I could just figure out a way to get that 90% to stop being delivered…
I will admit that I still had some random papers in the house that needed to be dealt with. After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I decided to release them from my queue of things to deal with “someday”. I threw away a notebook full of notes from a recent conference and a stack of papers I had been meaning to scan in. I decided it just wasn’t worth the burden to keep this backlog around any longer. Super freeing!
One of the major areas I felt was missing from Marie Kondo’s book on tidying was the tidying of digital documents and files. Who doesn’t have a major mess of digital files and pictures to contend with? So while I feel pretty good about the area of physical papers in my life, I know there is still quite a bit of work to do before all of my files are completely in order.
Although I made the decision to go primarily digital, I still love the idea of any organizing system. I would love to hear about your paper organization system if you would like to share.