Now that I have a permanent address, I once again have a mailbox. Yikes! I forgot how much paperwork can flow into your life through that little rectangular compartment.
To keep things under control, I’ve been employing the strategies I wrote about in The Minimalist Mailbox: things like signing up for online billing, keeping my name off catalog lists, and putting a freeze on my credit report.
However, some papers still make it through my defenses (and with a mortgage, child, and business, there are some I’m obligated to keep). And for that, I’ve devised a minimalist filing system which I’ll share with you today.
It consists of four components:
1. Recycling bin. Despite my best efforts, unsolicited mail still appears in our mailbox—but I make sure it doesn’t make it into our house. The recycling bin sits outside our door, and everything we don’t need (like circulars and advertisements) goes straight in.
2. Scanner. Yes, it’s another piece of office equipment; but in my experience, a scanner takes up much less space than the paper it eliminates. I scan paperwork when I need the information, but not the physical copy. This handy little device dramatically reduces my paper storage needs; given the choice, I prefer digital files over physical ones.
3. File box. If you read my book, The Joy of Less, you’re familiar with my Inner Circle (things I need at hand) and Outer Circle (things I don’t need often) strategies. I apply this to my paperwork as well. I keep the current year’s files in a small plastic file box in an accessible place—so that bills, financial statements, tax receipts, medical records and the like can be dropped into hanging folders without much fuss. That way, they’re easy to put away, and readily on hand if I need to reference them throughout the year.
4. Archive box. Once a year (usually in January), I purge my file box: scanning, shredding, or recycling the papers I no longer need, and archiving the rest. I transfer the papers I need to save into 9 x 12 envelopes (labeled by category and year), and tuck them away in a corrugated storage box. At the same time, I remove the oldest archived envelopes (one year in, one year out), assuming I no longer need them for tax, insurance, or legal purposes.
With an infant in my arms most of the day, I simply don’t have much time to deal with incoming papers. I find this simple, four-step system to be an efficient way to put them in their place, and keep them from piling up on the desk or kitchen counter. Best of all, it keeps them flowing smoothly into (and out of!) my life with a minimum amount of effort and energy.