HOW TO CREATE A LASTING HOUSEHOLD PAPER SYSTEM
I’m excited to continue our journey to conquer paper clutter! To recap, step 1 was quickly sorting papers with the R.A.F.T. system (read it here) and step 2 was creating the right filing categories and subcategories for you (read it here). Today we’re discussing step 3: the 4 zones of a lasting household paper management system.
The 4 Zones Of A Lasting Paper Management System
Like filing categories, there is no “one” right paper management system. But all lasting paper management systems do have one thing in common: they’re convenient and easy to use. My secret for a convenient, easy to use, paper management system? Like all organizing, I use zones!
Zones recognize not all household paper is the same and provide separate homes for the different types, making finding what you need, when you need it quick and easy. I suggest the following 4 zones as the basic framework: 1) papers and information accessed regularly; 2) landing zone; 3) short-term filing; and 4) long-term filing. To ensure the system will last, the zones can be customized based on who needs access, space and budget needs, and aesthetic preferences. Let’s break the zones down and discuss customization.
Zone 1: Papers And Information Accessed Regularly
This is where you keep the important home and household information you access regularly that keeps your house and life running smoothly. Papers and information about school and extracurricular activities, home maintenance and account information, budgets and important contacts etc. Locating all the information your family needs regularly, in one central place, saves time and frustration daily. My family uses a Home Management Binder we keep in the kitchen. Because I covered this in a prior post, I won’t repeat it now. Click here here to read the post, learn to create a Home Management Binder, and get 19 pages of free printables.
If binders aren’t your thing, consider using a portable file box. Here are a number of options available on Amazon.ca in different styles, finishes, sizes and price points. The information from the Home Management Binder post will still apply to set up a system that will work for your family.
Zone 2: Landing Zone
You don’t always have time to deal with mail and papers that come into your home right away. A landing zone provides a designated “home” for all the paper until you review it and determine what the next action should be. This area is vital to stopping paper clutter from ever starting to accumulate and spread. It also reduces the time (and frustration) spent looking for misplaced papers. My family uses this desktop file organizer I found at Homesense Canada:
But you could use a desktop magazine holder, a wall-mounted magazine holder, a paper tray or anything else that will contain incoming papers in one place. Consider how much paper comes into your home daily and how often you will review your inbox (I suggest at least once a week). Then choose an option large enough to contain everything. Locate the landing zone somewhere everyone bringing paper into the house can access (including children), and ensure everyone knows to put all papers for review in it.
Zone 3: Short-Term Filing
This is where you keep papers you’ve reviewed from the landing zone that need further action you can’t complete right away. Minimally, I suggest having Read, Act and File categories. Let’s say you review a credit card bill, a school newsletter and an invitation to a party. You pay the credit card bill, but don’t have time to read the newsletter or respond to the invite. The paid credit card bill would go under File, the school newsletter under Read, and the invitation under Act.
This zone provides organized, assigned homes for these papers so they don’t get misplaced, forgotten or become piles of paper clutter on your counter. A File category is included because most people don’t keep long-term filing in the same room they review papers that come into their home. As a result, filing gets set down to be dealt with “later” and becomes paper clutter. A short-term filing category provides a convenient, assigned home until the papers can be properly filed.
My family uses a file box located right above our inbox.
Maybe you have a drawer in the kitchen you can use for filing, or you can make use of vertical space on a wall like this. It just has to be located in the same place you sort, read and act on papers so it’s easy and convenient to use. You can also add further categories to suit your family’s needs (I have Receipts, Taxes and individual files for each family member).
Zone 4: Long-Term Filing
As the name suggests, this is where you keep the information you don’t need to access regularly, but do need to keep. Insurance policies, birth certificates, mortgage information, tax records etc. You can use file boxes, filing cabinets, multiple magazine holders, or use adjustable file rods like these to turn almost anything you want into a file box.
Generally, this zone is kept wherever you have room for it. Ours is in our basement home office. Because you aren’t using it daily, this zone doesn’t have to be as conveniently located as the others. But it does still need to be easy to access. A file box on a shelf in your closet is great. A file box at the back of the closet under two other boxes is not great.
Not all household paper is the same. Creating 4 zones for the different types of paper keeps similar papers together and separate from other types of papers, and provides assigned homes for everything. This stops papers from being misplaced, forgotten or becoming mixed-up piles of clutter around your home. Most importantly, it makes finding, retrieving and returning what you need, when you need it, quick and easy; which is exactly what a lasting paper management system should do.
Let me know what you think of the zone system in the comments below. And don’t miss next week’s post where I share important tips on choosing the right filing supplies (files, hanging folders, labels, color coding etc.) to suit your current and future needs, as well as tips for maintenance of your system.