Written with Permission
By Malia Russell
Taxes. Medical bills. Permission slips. Calendars. Rosters. Phone trees. Papers to grade. Schoolwork to file. Artwork by children. Prayer journals. Bills. Bank statements. Ads. Junk mail. Newspapers. Magazines. Legal paperwork.
No wonder the word paperwork has a bad reputation. It seems benign as it quietly seeps into our happy homes. Then it gets stacked, piled, filed, pushed, dumped, hidden, and crammed until it can no longer be ignored. Finally, in frustration or out of necessity, we spend half a day struggling with paperwork. One curse of the electronic age is the speed with which we can take a single message, mass produce it, and send it all over the globe. Unfortunately, paperwork is one area we simply cannot afford to ignore.
Although I have not yet found a solution to eliminate the constant deluge of paper found in our homes, I have found that there are some things you can do to make handling all that paperwork a little easier. One thing I know for certain: messy piles of paperwork can grow into a monstrous problem, stealing our peace and joy. First Corinthians 14:40 is a verse I often ponder when I am tackling a housekeeping issue—and paperwork is no exception. It says, “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
Let’s start with how you keep your paperwork. Our family has three categories of paperwork:
• Business paperwork
• Everything else
For our business paperwork, I use a filing system similar to the system I used as an accountant. That makes maintenance pretty simple, even if someone else does the actual filing. If you have a home business, it is wise to speak to a tax professional to get his advice about what and how to store your business paperwork.
For things in the “everything else” category, I have two systems. The first is just a system to gather it all in one place until I have time to deal with it. We have a large wicker basket that we call the “paperwork basket.” All the children are taught that all loose paperwork (except schoolwork) goes in this basket. Then, when I am ready to tackle paperwork, it is all in one place. Also, if I suddenly need a piece of paper that is not yet filed, I have to look for it in only one spot.
As I empty that basket on a regular basis, I use a simple filing system: I discard anything I do not need for reference and file everything else alphabetically. This is a simple, usable system. I add new folders as needed, and once every six months I try to go through and eliminate things we no longer need.
When we do our taxes annually, I make one huge file of everything required for our taxes and put those items in a sealable manila envelope marked with the year. We store all our tax-related paperwork in a separate area so that it does not take up valuable filing cabinet space.
For Preschool Children: We keep a 2-inch, three-ring binder for each child. I do not use tabs for preschool. Keep it simple. When they create some artwork or something else on paper that they want to save, we hole-punch it and put it right on top. When the binder starts getting too full, I will (privately!) cull some papers. I will sometimes send these to grandparents in a care package. This is a good idea if you have several family members who like to get artwork from your children. If you visit nursing homes or hospitals, the children can share their artwork with the residents.
For Elementary-Aged Children: We also keep a three-ring binder for each of our elementary-aged children. These are a little different, because we include tab dividers for the main subjects. Try not to make it too complicated, because you will teach the children to do the filing themselves. Broad categories such as writing, art, math, science, history, and Bible should be sufficient. Train your children how to file things neatly and in the right categories, and also teach them how to decide what to keep and what to toss.
For Middle School Children: Middle schoolers accumulate a lot of papers. My children’s math papers alone could fill up a three-ring binder. At this stage we switch to having a filing box for each child. This box will include all of their school subjects, as well as provide a place for their artwork (they produce a lot of this!). They can keep their own team rosters, AWANA schedules, and special notes or letters from friends and family here as well.
This box can also be a place where they keep the package inserts from video games, Lego instructions, and their manuals for electronics. Of course, you should keep the receipts and any warranty information in a folder in your filing system.
Help your children set up this system by giving them letter-sized manila folders. Spend some time helping them make nice, clean labels. This is a training ground for adulthood, when they may be responsible for their own family’s paperwork. Occasionally on your paperwork day, have your children also go through their filing boxes to update and straighten them.
If your state requires a homeschool portfolio, I suggest you keep their portfolio items separate from this box, in a three-ring binder. Those items should remain in your care.
For High School Children: Once you enter the phase of keeping records for a transcript, set up in your own system a folder marked “Transcript for (child’s name).” In this folder, keep a copy of everything you think you might need for a transcript for college or military entrance or even for a vocation. Keep copies of any academic testing, the student’s reading list, and a photocopy of the title page of any textbooks he uses. Keep course descriptions for any classes you create yourself. Put all this in one folder together.
Keep the portfolio in your filing cabinet. The responsibility to keep these records is simply too important (if required by the state) to delegate to your student. You can teach your children to keep their portfolio files updated, but it is still ultimately your responsibility to make sure you are in compliance with all state laws.
For all the other papers they want to keep, create a filing system similar to the one you use for middle school-aged children. Working students should set up a folder to keep track of their budget, their pay stubs, and anything they will need for taxes. Also encourage them to keep track of their high school reading lists on their own. Asking them to maintain a reading list helps keep it updated more regularly than you might, especially if your list is filed away.
By encouraging your child to set up his own filing system and training him to maintain it, you will be setting him up for success in this important area of life and homemaking. Scripture tells us to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). As you build these good organizational habits, you will give your children the best possible chance of success in the area of office management and paperwork in adulthood.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free atwww.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps atwww.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.