Organization Mistakes: The 7 Biggest Paper and Information Mistakes

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  • August 01, 2012

organization tipsGuest Post by Lorie Marrero of The Clutter Diet 

Did you know that a weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than a 17th century English person would have seen in his entire lifetime? No wonder we feel so overwhelmed! Managing our information is getting more challenging every day, and you can improve your skills at handling it before it gets worse. Here are the 7 biggest mistakes we see in our work with clients– are you making these organization mistakes too?

1. Not knowing the difference between Action & Reference

This concept is very important for beginning to get through your piles. You need to separate out paper and information that requires action from information that simply needs to be kept for future reference. If you have the actionable items centralized, you will know exactly what needs to be done. Reference items should go directly into a file, or you can have a basket for things “To Be Filed” to batch up your filing for later.

2. Equipment and supplies making it difficult to file

Many people have poor quality filing cabinets that create barriers to effective and timely filing of your paperwork. We often see drawers that stick or don’t work correctly, making you just not want to open the drawer at all. Many cities have resale stores for used office furniture, and you can usually find a good quality filing cabinet for a great price this way.

Are your files falling apart? It’s worth it to purchase quality filing supplies. Cheap hanging folders come apart, causing the metal piece to fall out (and your papers too). We do recommend using hanging folders instead of just manila folders alone, since they tend to slump down and reduce your visibility to the file tabs.

3. Not having a standard contact management system

Do you have a combination of scraps of paper, rubber-banded stacks of business cards, your e-mail address book, and a paper address book? No wonder you can’t find a phone number when you need one. Decide on one system and put everything in one place. If you do have a lot of business cards, there are card scanners made just for this purpose that import the information directly to Outlook and other contact management systems. Whether typed or scanned, entering the information is a great job to delegate to a young person eager to make some pocket money!

4. Not having a secure home for your passwords

Identity theft is getting to be a bigger problem each year. It’s important to keep your passwords secure and change them often, but if you don’t have a system for tracking them, it’s very easy to forget the information. There are many password keeper software programs on the market that make this task simple. They are secure, encrypted, and require only one master password to unlock all of your other information. Our favorites are SplashID (for PDA users), Password Agent, and Password Depot.

If you are not the software type, you can still develop a centralized place to write down all of this information. Some people like to use a card file with 3×5” cards and A-Z dividers. You can write one website or account on each card, file them alphabetically, and update it as needed. Obviously, you wouldn’t want someone to steal this box. Don’t leave the house with it, and make sure you do not write “PASSWORDS” really big on the outside!

It’s very important for someone else to know this information if you were to get hit by the proverbial bus. Tell someone you trust how to find your information.

5. Not dealing with paper and information on a regular basis

What is your tolerance for doing dishes? Do you let your sink pile up until it feels overwhelming? Probably not… most people do their dishes daily. We teach people that their inbox or mail basket is just like their kitchen sink! The mail is just going to keep coming, and letting it stack up is just going to make it feel worse. Deal with it at least every other day and make decisions about what is there.

6. Not backing up your computer

The question is not if your hard drive will fail, it’s when! Are you prepared?

A good backup system should be:

• Secure- reliable and safe from hackers and prying eyes
• Automated- so you won’t procrastinate or forget
• Remote- in case of fire or disaster in your home

We usually recommend services like Mozy and Carbonite. These reasonably-priced services have saved the neck of more than one of our clients!

7. Keeping too much for too long

Probably the most frequently-asked question we hear is about how long to keep papers. In general, tax supporting documents like bank statements can be shredded or disposed of after seven years, according to most experts. But it’s advisable to save the tax return itself indefinitely, and investment and real estate documents may need to be kept forever as well. You need to check with your attorney or accountant to be completely certain about your unique situation.

How does your closet look? Are you addicted to “stuff”? Wouldn’t you love it if someone would hold you accountable for cleaning up the clutter? Certified Professional Organizer® Lorie Marrero is the bestselling author of The Clutter Diet: The Skinny on Organizing Your Home and Taking Control of Your Life. She is also the creator of, an innovative program allowing anyone to get expert help at an affordable price. Her organizing books and products are sold online and in stores nationwide. Lorie is the spokesperson for Goodwill Industries International, and she is a sought-after expert for national media such as CNBC, Family Circle, WGN News and Woman’s Day. She has also served as a spokesperson for many other companies, including Staples, Brother, and Microsoft, and she writes regularly as an organizing expert for Good Housekeeping. She lives in Austin TX with her husband, two human sons, and 30,000 bee daughters in her backyard beehives.

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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  • Bibhutibhusan says:

    This concept is very important for beginning to get through your piles. You need to separate out paper and information that requires action from information that simply needs to be kept for future reference.

  • This concept is very important for beginning to get through your piles. You need to separate out paper and information that requires action from information that simply needs to be kept for future reference.