I have a theory that most organizing advice proffered in this world is generated by people who are naturally organized. They rightly realize that they don't struggle as severely with chaos as others they see around, and want to help! The disorganized among us acknowledge their talent for bringing order and attempt to implement their wisdom. Our results with "perfect systems" can be mixed and discouraging because we have difficulty focusing on the tasks and making the decisions required.
What works for me is simplifying as much as possible to avoid organization needs, then looking for the most minimal method for handling the stuff I can't avoid - enter receipts. Receipts can quickly become overwhelming when my pack rat instinct is to keep every scrap of paper, because I might need it. Frankly, I frequently do need them for returns or to reference against credit card statements, etc.
Here's my current method for handling receipts that's been in place for about a year:
- Immediately throw away small receipts for cash purchases, like fast food.
- Everything else (all credit card purchases) I "file" which involves stuffing it in the front pocket of the desktop organizer you see pictured above. There's zero thinking involved.
- On the first day of each month, I move all the previous month's receipts from the front pocket to the small drawer, and remove the receipts already there.
- I sort the receipts from the drawer - at this point they are between one and two months old. So for instance, on May 1, I sorted through March's receipts and put April's in the drawer. (Depending on your financial system, this would be the time to enter info for budget purposes) Most are easily identifiable as no longer needed - all the grocery store receipts for food already consumed, etc. They get thrown out. I file the records of big purchases like electronics with the appropriate files. There might be one in the bunch that is not resolved, like we're not sure if needs to be returned, and I put that in the top left pocket. This takes maybe five minutes.
At this point, you may validly be questioning whether this is a simple system. "Why not just touch everything once? Sort right away?" Again, this is a method that I've adopted to try to balance the need for order with the reality of my pack-rat tendencies.
Truth: I have the most mental clarity about what is important after some (but not too much) time has passed.
In the case of receipts, this one-to-two-month holding period gives me the distance to relatively accurately identify the few things that should be retained. I have similar, but less explicit, techniques for papers in general and my boys' artwork.
Not too much time passing is very important. After six months, for instance, there would be a daunting amount of receipts piled up, and I would have begun to forget what many of them were about, which would mean I would want to hold onto them.
In the case of my kids artwork, if I leave everything for a year, everything starts to look like an heirloom. "Oh, look at all these beautiful dragon drawings. I remember when he loved How to Train Your Dragon." If I tackle art a month or two after creation, I am probably thoroughly sick of dragons and tempted to save very little, maybe the very best example.
Please do not misunderstand and think this is a perfect system. It's a practical one, that I don't always perfectly use. It works for my brain. Maybe you can modify it to work for yours! The key elements are
- A. Avoid forcing immediate decisions when your reflexive response is to SAVE by establishing a defined holding zone
- B. Identify an approximately optimal sorting frequency, taking into account both the volume of the category you're sorting and analyzing the time window after acquiring when you are most willing to let go
- C. Establish a regular "sort signal" based on the frequency you have identified - For instance, mine is the first day of the month. That's enough to remind me it's time for a five-minute sort. Perhaps you need a reminder on your phone, or perhaps there's a certain level of stuff in the holding zone that triggers a sort. The important thing is to find something that works for you.
Keep tweaking! Aim for minimizing the amount of thought, effort, and decisions required by the systems you choose. Remember, the goal isn't perfection, the goal is a workable method that you will actually use to keep your life running.