The 21st century ushered in what was supposed to be paperless living. The data of our lives was to be recorded in digital clouds. We were told to click the option for paperless statements, unsubscribe to unwanted catalogues and keep a shredder nearby at all times.
So how are we doing?
"We have a bigger need for paper management than before because we have more access to information than ever before," says Chris Plantan, creative director for Russell & Hazel, maker of stylish office accessories. Plantan says there are lots of files and lots of piles out there.
For many, organizing papers is another chore that inspires procrastination. You don't need to be a regular viewer of the A&E cable program "Hoarders" to know that many of us stash our papers in shopping bags instead of filing cabinets. Filing doesn't make it onto the to-do lists of many over-scheduled people these days.
"It ranks at the bottom of the list, along with having a tooth pulled," says Melissa Sorensen, a professional organizer based in Woodbridge. She says paper management is one of her toughest assignments. "People are hamstrung by fear, worried about what will happen if they throw something out," Sorensen says. "Eighty-five percent of the things you file, you never retrieve again."
Those who do have files often suffer from another issue: figuring out where they put stuff. "I ask people, 'If you even have it, will you be able to find it?' " says Susan Kousek, a Reston-based professional organizer.
Holly Bohn founded See Jane Work, an online source for creative office products, to make the task of staying organized a bit more fun. "Despite technological advances, paper management is a problem because we are bombarded by paper," Bohn says. "Our lives are so busy and complex we can't make decisions." She believes each person has to create her own system to accommodate both mundane paperwork and sentimental mementos. Her products, geared toward multi-tasking women, offer a bit of glamour.
Solutions don't have to start with a clunky metal filing cabinet. Some people are stackers and save things in fabric-covered stackable boxes. Kevin Sharkey, executive editorial director of Martha Stewart Living magazine, keeps decorating information in clear sleeves in color-coded binders. Plantan uses colorful plastic trays to compartmentalize and organize travel information, greeting cards and bills.
Bohn's advice is to make your system flexible. Because many people don't have a dedicated home office, files should be portable to schlep from dining room table to bedroom. Kelly Vrtis, a Container Store spokeswoman, advises customers to use beautiful file folders ("It makes it more fun to file.") and erasable folder labels.
Will virtual living eventually mean the death of filing? "People who have cookbooks still like to pull out recipes and save them," says Kim Oser, a Gaithersburg professional organizer, "just like people who love their GPS still like looking at a map."
"In our lifetime, we will still have paper and still have filing," Oser adds. "One hundred years from now? Who knows."
www.containerstore.com: The basics and more, including sturdy and stylish British-made Bisley steel filing cabinets.
www.freedomfiler.com: A filing system, favored by many professional organizers, based on dates. Color-coded labels guide you through what to keep for how long.
www.getbuttonedup.com: Four women share what they learned about organizing their lives.
www.napo.net: The National Association of Professional Organizers provides lots of tips and describes what professional organizers do.
www.russellandhazel.com: This online retailer offers a fresh take on office supplies and decor.
www.schoolfolio.com: A welcome solution for filing kids' oversized artwork.
www.seejanework.com: Products to help manage time efficiently and with style.