Imagine for a moment how wonderful if would feel if someone created a filing system specifically for you...as a gift! What if that someone was you, creating this system for your aging parents so you could be assured their financial, medical and insurance needs are organized in such a way that you and your parents can both use the system?
In May, I had the opportunity to spend a few days with Jennifer and her parents Elmer and JoAnn. Jennifer hired me to work with herself and her parents to help downsize years of documents and organize what was left into three paper management systems.
The three systems we created were for:
1. Everyday Reference
3. Important - one of a kind documents
Our goals for our two days together was to create the above three systems with input from her parents so everyone could use the systems and maintain them.
Before we began, it was evident that Jennifer had spent hours sorting through the volume of paperwork in order to break it into broad categories; including:
1. Rx information for each parent by year
2. Medicare statements for each parent by year
3. Receipts by year
With a large volume of the paper that was pulled, it made it much more efficient for us to be able to concentrate on the remaining paperwork that Elmer and JoAnn would need daily access to.
Prior to my arrival, Jennifer had purchased two Elfa rolling file carts from The Container Store for this project. The idea was that each cart could either be placed under the desk or next to the desk so that either one of them could roll it close to where they were sitting and be able to view all of their files by the label from the top.
We dedicated one cart to all medical related paperwork and the other to everyday reference documents. To visually simplify and distinguish the two, we used hanging file folders in two different colors. Red for medical, and blue for reference.
Talking as we sorted, we began formulating the "structure" of each system. This was accomplished by asking everyone what common words or phrases come to mind when I spoke of specific types of paperwork. Keeping in mind that the "structure" of our system is going to be based off these words that Elmer and JoAnn think of and will be at the top of their minds.
Any useful paper management system is much more than just a bunch of hanging file folders with some pretty labels. Labeling is the easy part you do at the end when you have your system in place. It's knowing "how" to design the structure for the system that is a challenge for most. This is one reason why people hate to file and have difficulty retrieving information later on. It also causes multiple places where the same type of paperwork is stored.
Recognizing this, we began creating each system by building the framework, or structure - just as you would do if building a house. For each system we created, we had categories and sub-categories.
I'm listing below the actual categories and sub-categories we used for Elmer and JoAnn's system so you can see what I'm talking about. Please note that this is not their entire structure for each system, but it will give you some ideas for how you can begin to design your own.
House - Corvallis
House - Palm Springs
Insurance - Auto
Insurance - Home
U.S. Bank - Visa
Utilities (Within this hanging file, there were multiple manila files label by the utility name for contact information for each utility)
Doctors - Elmer (Within this hanging file, there were multiple manila files, labeled by doctor name)
Doctors - JoAnn (Same as above.)
Info. for Doctors Visits - Elmer (This was a place for Elmer to keep any important info that he needed to take to the doctor with him - then he can just grab the folder and go.)
Info. for Doctors Visits - JoAnn (We did the same thing for JoAnn.)
Insurance - Medical - Elmer
Insurance - Medical - JoAnn
Prescriptions - Elmer (Each year, a new folder labeled with the year will be a placeholder to keep the information about all prescriptions prescribed.)
Prescriptions - JoAnn (We did the same here for JoAnn.)
Important - One of a Kind Papers (that were stored in a fireproof safe)
Birth & Death Certificates
Passports | Social Security | Voting
Power of Attorney
With the structure for each system in place, we were able to do quite a bit more purging and shredding and at the same time, place the paperwork in each of the 'temporarily' labeled files. I used sticky notes to label the manila file folders and the hanging files until we were all done sorting and filling all paper.
With the end in sight, we all agreed that using the "Viewables" labeling system by Smead was the best option for labeling so that we could accomplish the goal of easily being able to see all files from the front, top and back. This way, either one of their Elfa file carts could be placed in between them and they could both see the labels at the same time.
Even though we accomplished our goals for the two days, Jennifer still had work to do. Remember all of those receipts, old Rx info and past Medicare statements I mentioned? There were several boxes worth that Jennifer took home and was going to review to see what needed to be kept in the end. In fact, she even planned to electronically record the history of the prescriptions along with dosages for each parent so they had a history to refer to. Most of these documents I'm sure ended up being shred in the end. Jennifer knew up front that all of this past information did not need to be part of her parents new system, which is why it was removed immediately. This is what I call a "macro" sort. If you have years of paperwork to go through, this is a great step to start with, so you can remove anything that will not live in the new system or systems you create.
In the end, everyone was thrilled that this project was complete. There was peace of mind in knowing that anyone could use these system, whether it was Elmer and JoAnn, or Jennifer or one of her siblings.
Here's a look at the finished product. Kudos to Jennifer for giving her parents the gift her time (and mine as well) that will result in less stress for everyone!
Eliminate Chaos Fall Class Schedule Announced
Here is a list of our upcoming classes for the fall. In addition to these classes, I will be offereing a new class this fall called: Eliminate Home Office Chaos. Each of these classes are being held at the Eliminate Chaos Office. Click on the links below to read more about each class and register. Don't delay, these classes fill very quickly. I'll look forward to seeing you in class!
Or, if you want to see a list of all classes, click here.
Can't make it to class, but would like to bring one of these programs to your office or association? No problem. Click here and fill out my speaking request form and I'll give you a call to see how we can arrange for your group.
Click here to see if I will be in your town in the near future for a speaking engagement. If you would like to bring one of these programs to your area, or have me speak to your organization on another "content-rich" subject, complete our speaking request form and I'll give you a call.
Fall Promo - Special Pricing on Services
We're celebrating the start of our 10th year in business and the gifts are for you!
For a limited time, we are rolling back prices on some selected services. Choose from one of the following packages and complete that project now that you've been wanting to tackle.
Organizing Kick-Start 12 hour package - $918 - you save $102
Organizing Dream 24 hour package - $1734 - you save $306
Organizing Bliss 36 hour package - $2448 - you save $612
Home Office Services
Office Kick-Start 12 hour package - $1080 - you save $120
Piles to Files 24 hour package - $2040 - you save $360
Eliminate My Chaos! 36 hour package - $2880 - you save $720
The Fine Print: All sessions last 6 hours. Services are provided by Eliminate Chaos Specialists, but do not include the services of Robert or Laura Leist.
Please contact our office at 425.670.2551 to reserve your package and schedule the time that works for you. Packages must be pre-paid by September 18th and the work must be completed by October 16th. Unused hours will be forfeited.
Eliminate Chaos in the News
We've been featured in several articles recently and I wanted to share them with you because they also provide useful tips if you are preparing for an upcoming move or have recently retired and are downsizing paperwork.
And...if you are located in the Puget Sound area, look for the article in the Puget Sound Business Journalon Friday, September 4th in the "Growing Your Business" section of the paper that features Eliminate Chaos!