How to organize paper documents efficiently

Even in this digital age, paper documents — account statements, bills, receipts, tax forms and the like — are still with us. Having an efficient system to file and otherwise organize these documents can save frustration and time. Here are some tips:

Prioritize. Think about the pieces of paper you most often need and build your filing system around those items, recommends professional organizer Julie Morgenstern. “Determining what’s critical first (instead of trying to figure out what to get rid of) changes your entire approach to filing. Suddenly, filing isn’t about storage — it’s about retrieval.”

Divide. Separate “action” items from “reference” items, the website Home Organizing Ideas recommends. Action items require some response by you and should be kept easily accessible. Reference items can be filed.

File. “Sort papers, one by one, into plain manila folders,” Morgenstern says. Then choose three to five broad categories, such as financial or research, and divide the envelopes among them. It’s the start of a straightforward, flexible system in which papers can be easily retrieved.


Don’t delay. File documents immediately or at least daily, K.J. McCorry says in the book “Organize Your Work Day in No Time.” “The few minutes it takes for you to file daily will save hours of time in the future.”

Take snail mail seriously. Don’t just go through it idly when it arrives. Instead, set aside a specific time to deal with it, says Elizabeth Larkin, who writes for about organizing. “Resist the urge to manage mail until you have the time and attention to give to this task.”

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