How to Organize Paperwork

January 14, 2014 2

How to Organize Paperwork

A home office: It can seem a contradiction in terms. Home is the place you where you relax, escape the stress of deadlines, bills, and contracts; the office is the place to face all those things head on. And yet most of us need a place in our houses to get work done after hours, and to manage our mail, bills, and other documents. The challenge is making that space feel more homey than the spot where you do your 9-5 job.As a writer, I constantly have stacks of papers and books that I need to refer to frequently. They often look a mess and I feel guilty every time I sit down to work. I have tried stashing the pile out of sight, leading to a frustrating 20 minutes pulling out drawers (and my hair) trying to find what I need when I need it. I definitely need to learn how to organize paperwork.
I have a feeling I am not alone, and that a lot of people have this same issue. So I wonder, is it possible to create a functional, well-organized home office space without totally taking over your home and destroying the relaxing, warm, and inviting ambiance that you spent so long trying to create for your living space?For the answer, I called New York-based Erika Ecker, aka The Spacialist, founder of (named the best home office organizer by New York Magazine). I figured she, of all people, could help me get to the bottom of this home/office/paperwork dilemma.

Tip #1: Corral your paperwork instead of piling

“Piles of paperwork are no good to anyone as you don’t know what’s in them,” says Ecker. “Piles tend to start with paperwork that belongs in the garbage and grows from there.” Instead she suggests keeping a stash of clear project folders (an improvement on the manila folder because you can see at a glance what’s in them), and begin organizing that way. One for invoices, one for fabric samples if you’re giving your home a makeover etc. Then she suggest organizing these files into broader “macro” categories (e.g., freelance work, home décor, kids’ homework, bills) and keeping these out on a desk in some sort of file holder.

“Remember this is your home office, it doesn’t need to look utilitarian like your office at work. Try using things like a tall napkin holder as a file divider or a cool toothbrush holder for pens,” says Ecker, “It will give a softer look to your home work space. And the more visually appealing you can make it, the more you’ll want to spend time there.”

Tip #2: Label and put away

“The main offender when it comes to organizing paperwork,” explains Ecker, “Is archival papers mixing in with the present stuff.”

If you need to keep it but don’t need it out — think financial paperwork — then label it, put it in a box and store it away. Ecker says she particularly loves “September, the college time of year” because stores like Bed Bath & Beyond really stock up on decorative boxes and bins good for storing and organizing.

Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to shred

A 10-15 page paper shredder is a necessity in a home office says Ecker. And don’t bother with those that can only take one or two pages at a time. “Those applications for credit cards that you don’t want should be able to go straight into the shredder without even opening the envelope,” she says.

Tip #4: Go paperless

“Everyone should be getting their bills and receipts online these days,” says Ecker. And, she says, if you’re scared that they’ll get lost in the mass of personal/work emails, set up a separate email account dedicated purely to receipts and bills.

Of course there are many paper receipts that you still need to keep. She suggests getting a small accordion file and labeling it with broader categories such as “gifts”, “appliances” etc. Or if you’re really ready to go paperless invest in a receipt scanner so that everything is kept on your computer.

And finally, Ecker says the key staying on top of home organizing is to keep moving forward. “Don’t wait for the perfect organizing item to show up, work with what you have available and try not to start a new pile of papers. Don’t wait,” she says, “Get organized!”

Nicola Ruiz

Comments (2)

  1. I appreciate these tips, but it would have been wise to edit this post before blogging it! There is a big difference between coral and corral!

    - LBH
    1. Thanks for the catch. We updated the post and corrected the error!

      - Jen Dennis

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