How To Simplify Your Paper Files

Simplify Paper Files | NAPO Houston

Organizing your files today? Or would you rather watch paint dry on a wall?  It seems that this is not the most exciting topic however it can be one of the most necessary in everyday life and in emergencies.  Simplifying your filing and paper files includes knowing what’s holding you back as well as knowing what to keep.  Build your simple filing system with your strengths in mind.  Here’s how to simplify your paper files.

Assess what’s holding you back

What is filing for?  Here’s the first step to get clear. Files are your reference section to keep information to be used in the next year or so.  It’s not necessary to keep every piece of paper that comes into your home or business, especially if it’s not useful for you.  Be ruthless when it comes to keeping what you need now, knowing you can use the internet, friends’ references, or other ways to get information instead of keeping extra paper.

What do you need to keep and how long?  On, Julie Morgenstern has an extensive list.  Print this to keep as a reference while filing.  However, that’s not generally what’s causing a filing problem.  Instead, it’s the articles on parenting, decorating, landscaping or other hobbies that keep holding us back.  Remember, that’s what the internet, Pinterest, blogs, podcasts, and Google are for when we are ready to get started on a project.

Simplifying your system

What’s the best system?  The best system for you is the simplest way to move paper into a system. It’s also the best system for you to know where to retrieve the paper.  Categories are often the context that’s easiest to use in creating files. Whether there are for file folders, hanging files, notebooks or digital notebooks, using general, broad categories helps us file and retrieve.

For homes, these are the general categories I suggest:

  1. House and Auto
  2. Auto purchase
  3. Home Major Purchases
  4. Home Repair/Maintenance
  5. House inventory
  6. Insurance
  7. Financial (anything to do with money)
  8. Banking
  9. Credit Cards
  10. Investment
  11. Retirement
  12. Property Taxes
  13. Life Insurance
  14. Mortgage
  15. Personal (anything to do with people or pets)
  16. Medical Benefits
  17. Medical History
  18. Medical Explanation of Benefits
  19. Medical Paid bills
  20. School/University
  21. (Interests such as parenting, decorating, guns, etc.)
  22. Work
  23. Work history
  24. CV or resume

For office files, here are categories I include:

  1. Clients
  2. Resources
  3. Vendors
  4. Projects
  5. HR or Employees
  6. Financials 20XX
  7. Expenses

Use hanging files for the broad categories and file folders for the subcategories. Use naming conventions, where the file names are created in a parallel way, in order to stay consistent and find documents.

Archive annually

Tax records for each year, legal documents such as purchase or sale of property, and final loan payments are should be kept permanently. While you only need to keep tax preparation documents for seven years, please consult your own lawyer or accountant to be sure.  It’s best to annually when you are preparing for tax time in the spring.

What’s left?

  • I typically keep mementos and keepsakes in a box, one box per person, in the closet of that person. A one box per person system also helps you limit keepsakes.
  • Important documents are generally kept in a safe or safe deposit box.  Here’s a list of important documents. It’s critical to keep these up to date each year. While you are archiving during tax time, update your important documents too.

Paper can be overwhelming and it’s always coming in. Always keep in mind the document’s value in terms of “shelf life.”  How long will this information be “good” is a relative value and you may be able to find information more easily on the internet or elsewhere.

About Ellen Delap of

Certified Professional Organizer Ellen Delap launched in 2000 in Houston, Texas. Ellen works one on one with clients, streamlining their environment, creating effective strategies for an organized lifestyle and helping clients realize their organization and productivity goals. She holds specialist certificates in ADD, Chronic Disorganization, Life Transitions and Work Place Productivity and completed the Coach Approach curriculum.  Ellen works primarily with ADHD individuals in Houston and virtually throughout the United States. She is President of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO).

Certified Professional Organizer Ellen Delap

Wrangling Children’s Artwork with Memory Boxes

Children come home with so many papers. It can be totally overwhelming! Some children are more attached and sentimental about their art work than others. Some parents are more sentimental than others. Deciding what to keep, what to toss, and where to store it can be quite a project. Oftentimes, these papers just end up stacked on the kitchen counter or shoved in a drawer.

Enter, the memory box! This is simply a file box with files for each year of the child’s life. This is where you can store their beautiful masterpieces, awards, special notes from friends and teachers, end of year report cards, etc.

Here are my tips for keeping it under control:

  • Limit yourself to what can fit in this box. There is a folder for each year. There is no need to keep more than that. Trust me, when your child is 30, they won’t want or need more than what can fit in this box!
  • Only keep your FAVORITE pieces or those that are of particular importance to your child. If you have a child who has a hard time parting with papers, give them a display area in the home. The fridge, a cork board, etc. Let them display their works and when it fills up, let them decide what goes in the box and what goes away. You can also try limiting them to a specific number of items for each school year.
  • Only keep the end of year report card. It contains the same information as the quarterly report cards and progress reports on one sheet.
  • Before placing an item in the box, make sure it has their name and grade on the back. If the box ever gets knocked over or out of order, you can easily fix it.
  • If possible, place the box in an easily accessible place and leave the lid off. This will make it easy to drop papers in as they come home.

I would love to hear how this works out for you!

Happy Organizing!

AUthor bio

Naomi Kealy of Charming Spaces wants you to fall in love with your home all over again!  She believes living an organized life allows you to spend more time doing what you love with the people who matter most.

She is a member of The Inspired Organizer Network and the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals

Charming Spaces serves clients in the greater Houston and surrounding areas.

Naomi Kealy
Charming Spaces
(281) 701-9977

8 Tips to Learn Prior to Moving

Move #1:
I personally moved in early September (resettled in Houston after 13 years away!). Moving into my place made me feel like a home owner as I YouTubed so many “how to’s”, ruined multiple outfits from painting, became addicted to home repair shows, and maxed out my credit card at Home Depot (FYI: those last two statements are false). But I did have a few freak out moments when I had to figure out how to seal out all the bugs and drafts from my super cute (but still a garage) apartment.  Some fun issues I had to solve:
  1. The Queen box spring wouldn’t fit up the steep staircase. Took the door off, tried every angle possible. Refused to budge that last inch. So, what did we do? YouTube’d how to saw it in half! It was actually easier than anticipated and the feeling of folding it (hamburger style) and easily walking up the stairs (after struggling for so long to force it) provided giddy relief. (The springs easily folded back into original shape when we unfolded the box spring and nailed the three cut boards back to the frame). #success
  2. The front door didn’t have a frame. It’s open to the outside wood and garage wood. On the left is a tapered 4-2 inches, the right about 1 inch, and the top an even 4 inches. Can I just say one word? Cobwebs. *shudder* Light shining through from the outside…which meant bugs. Lizards. Dust. When I actually saw this (…and how did I not SEE this on the first two visits?!), I panicked. Sleeping that first night was a dismal experience as I felt creepy crawly things all over me (and yes, that first move in day, we found multiple spiders). So, my wonderful parents brought some wood and tools from my brothers (thanks T&R), and we (okay, they, I just held the wood as it was being sawed) added insulation, then built a door frame. Then I caulked the gaps and painted. Oh, it looks so good (and no room for spiders to sneak in!). #happiness
  3. Also sealed and painted the baseboards white as well as the stairs. #perkmeup
  4. A/C window unit. I’ve never experienced one of these. It’s loud. I wondered about the cost of it running 24/7 (turns out, around $20-$30 each month…*high five to savings*). There are gaps where the accordion thing connects to the unit. Guess what? I sealed those too!. After a week, I was able to tune out the racket, but I am excited for these cooler nights when I can open a widow for air and have peace and quiet. #freshair
  5. Gas leak. I had the gas turned on 6 days after move-in (because you have to be here 8am-8pm). So, when the gas people arrived, they checked everything in my apt, then went downstairs to the garage. There’s a gas leak, they’ll have to call in a crew from CenterPoint. Crew arrived. Bigger than they can handle, need another crew. So, after about 4 hours, my leak was fixed. Wahoo. Then a few days later, I decided to use the broiler in my oven. Another gas leak. Centerpoint shut me down a second time. #joysofgas
  6. Storage: so, it’s a 475 sq. ft. apartment. Tiny. But has a full kitchen, a walk-in closet, a coat closet, and plenty of space for my bed, tv, dresser, and hope chest. I bought a shoe organizer and a hanging organizer for the walk-in. The bathroom didn’t have any storage so I bought an over-the-toilet cabinet. Works perfectly. The kitchen has brand new cabinets but not enough storage for all my kitchen stuff so I bought a tall pantry cabinet. I already had one of those six cube organizers, so that’s helped with a lot of my odds and ends (winter gloves/hats, electronics, workout gear, extra bath stuff I don’t use often, candles). Finally, I bought a cute table (off FB marketplace) to be my desk and then a three cube organizer to hold my work papers and extra Tupperware. #OrganizingSkills
Move #2:
I had a client who flooded during Harvey. As they were renovating the entire downstairs (lost everything), they decided to add on a walk-in closet, utility room, and office to the upstairs master.  They hired me to oversee the packing and loading into PODS of everything upstairs. At Thanksgiving, I oversaw the unloading and placement of the boxes/furniture and then we spent the next few weeks unpacking all of the boxes and finding new homes for each item. Their additions were an organizer’s dream. So spacious. Filled with built-in cabinets, lots of hanging space, and bookshelves. So nice and easy to find a home for all of their belongings. The kitchen, dining area, and bar had plenty of custom shelving as well. Such a wonderful home to work in.
Move #3:
Another client was affected by Harvey. The renovations were finally complete and we were hired to unpack them into their beautiful “new” home. Here, they were able to move the majority of the furniture, dishes, etc. to the second floor, so our job was to mimic the set-up pre-Harvey based on photos taken throughout the years. All items were touched and decluttering/purging did occur.
Move #4:
Lastly, I helped a couple pack up the majority of their belongings in April, which they stored for the summer. Then in early November, I helped them move into their new Houston home. Losing an upstairs game room caused us to have to rearrange a lot of their furniture, but they finally have everything settled, and it’s looking great!
So, what have I learned from these moves (and multiple others I’ve helped with)? Plan ahead. Here’s how:
  1. Lists: Make a list of all of the accounts that you will need to turn off in your current home and set up in your new home (water, gas, electric, insurance (home, flood, wind, earthquake, etc.), trash, cable/satellite, internet, security alarm, etc.). Make a second list of all the accounts where you need to change the physical address (bank, anything attached to your credit card, USPS, subscriptions, cellphone, etc.).
  2. Declutter: Before. You. Move. I cannot stress this enough. This could potentially save you hundreds of dollars as (1) you may have enough to host a garage sale (or sell on Poshmark, FB Marketplace, Craigslist, etc.), so you’ll actually make money, (2) you won’t have to buy as many boxes, (3) you’ll possibly need a smaller moving truck, and (4) your movers will be done faster as they have less to load and unload. Go through all of your belongings, literally, every closet, every drawer, even the boxes you haven’t opened in over a year or that you “know what’s in there and you want to keep it all”. Everything.  Then decide if you will keep, donate, sell, or give away. Also, check out Green City Recycler who accepts all clothing, shoes, household lines, belts, purses, hats, and toys, no matter the condition.
    Lastly, categorize your items together before the packing (move all that winter clothing into your master closet, collect all office supplies together, put your Tupperware lids with the matching bowls, etc.). Also, check out this list of common non-allowable moving items, so you’ll know what to discard before your movers arrive.
  3. Free Boxes: Log into Facebook Marketplace and search “Free moving boxes”. This is an easy way for people to clear all the boxes from their home (to your benefit!). You can also post on FB after you’ve unpacked and are looking to remove the boxes. Just don’t list your specific address on the ad (private message it to the person coming to pick it up).
  4. Visualize: Once you know what you’re keeping, visualize the rooms in your new home, and what you will place where. Now, walk around your current home and label the furniture and all the boxes with the new room assignment (e.g. is everything in the Master going into the new Master? Do you have a sunroom that you didn’t have before and now half your living room furniture will be in there? Oh, no, there isn’t an office in the new home, where do all those boxes go?). I like to color code my boxes/furniture to assigned rooms (you can buy labels from Amazon) as it’s easier for the movers to see a color than to read each box. Be wary of placing the stickers on furniture (these ones are recommended for not leaving sticky residue on furniture or you can use color masking tape). Also, when taking apart anything, place all parts inside a Ziploc bag, label it, and then tape it to the largest piece. This way, you’ll have everything you need to set up the bed, dresser, tv stand, etc., without having to dig through any boxes. Lastly, make sure to label the box FRAGILE if there’s anything breakable inside.
  5. Personal Vehicle Packing: Make a list of everything you will need within the first 5 days (I say 5 days because sometimes there are delays and it’s better to over-prepare than under-prepare). Then box it up (or place in a suitcase) and transport it in your personal vehicle. This includes packing for a 5 day trip (clothes, toiletries, hairdryer, etc.), anything you store in your safe (important documents, mad money stash, nice jewelry, etc.), basic tools (hammer, nails/screws, screw drivers, pliers, box cutters), cleaning supplies (dish soap, sponges/rags, multi-surface spray, trash bags, hand soap), electronics (phones, laptops, e-readers, chargers, etc.), and daily vitamins/medications, sheets/comforter/pillows, towels/washcloths/shower curtain, toilet paper (most important!), tea/coffee (caffeine!), and to help you feel normal and somewhat civilized, a set of plates, cups, and silverware (or buy plastic silverware and Styrofoam plates for easy cleanup). You can also pre-purchase and cut shelf liner so the shelves are ready before the movers arrive. Lastly, keep some cash for tipping or last minute purchases. If you have children or pets, pack food, clothes, medications, etc. for them as well.
  6. Food: Ideally, you’re only moving an hour or two away and can deliver the food via cooler. However, if you are moving long distance, it’s best to whittle down the food supply in advance, so you do not have to throw anything into the trash. A month before you move, start planning meals around the food in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. The goal is to use the majority of what you have and only buy a few fresh ingredients. If you still have food left near moving day (and you don’t (or can’t) move it in your personal vehicle (moving companies won’t move perishable food)), consider donating it to a local food bank. In addition, don’t forget to store snacks and ready-to-go meals in your personal vehicle during the times when movers are loading and unloading. You’ll need a pick-me-up throughout the moving process.
  7. Storage Items: If you know you’ll be storing items in your new home, skip the moving box, and buy a bin to transport these items. Then the bin just goes into your garage, closet, etc. Plus it’s one less box to unpack!
  8. Soft Items: You can use heavy duty trash bags to transport large soft items such as comforters, blankets, sheets, towels, etc. This will save you money on buying large boxes (30 bags for the price of one box…loving it) and be easy to unpack in the new home.
What tips or tricks do you find helps the most when moving?
What has moving taught you?

Author Bio

Stephanie King of Status: Organized shares her Eight Tips for moving on the NAPO Houston Blog. You can connect with Stephanie and Status: Organized at

5 Tips for moving from a Houston Professional Organizer

Are you moving anytime this year? Here are some tips to help you with your move. You may also want to consider hiring a professional organizer to help you purge before a move, help you during the move and organize your space after a move. You will save so much time, energy and your sanity. If you are in the Houston area, we would love to help you get organized for your move.

Amy Vance of Eco Modern Concierge shares some moving advice on the NAPO Houston blog. You can connect with Amy and Eco Modern Concierge at


Michelle Smithpeter of Pretty Practical Spaces shares one of her clients experience in using a professional organizer. You can connect with Michelle and Pretty Practical Spaces at or

If all the seconds, minutes and hours I have spent looking for my glasses, keys, phone, credit card, purse and anything else that doesn’t come attached were combined, enough time would have accumulated for me to actually accomplish something, like start a small business, write a novel or, dare I say, organize my house?

Any reluctance to marry again is not that I don’t want to live with someone else. It may not be fair to ask someone else to live with me.

I can never get out of the driveway in one motion. There’s always the “go back” thing for my sunglasses, the dog leash or the birthday card I just signed.

My whole life I have not known where to put anything. A Birkman personality test confirmed it. I officially have no inner structure.

It’s a family thing. My mother was not exactly Martha Stewart, but I am worse. My little brother is even worse, but he’s male, so less is expected.

I sought counseling. OK, I brought it up to my hairstylist, Brittany. Brittany has an artful way of relating her personality quirks, which frees me to make my own confessions.

Here’s the latest.

I get home from work to Annie, the anxious Yorkie/Poodle overwrought with the delight of my presence. Knowing her walk is coming, she follows my every step. I root around for the house key, venture into a pile of shoes for my walking shoes. One is on the floor. Where is the other? I never have to look for Annie, who follows me like a human/dog synchronized act. If only my stuff followed me like that. The leash? Oh yeah, it’s in the car from a weekend walk, along with the doggie bags. Annie finds the other shoe and drops it at the front door out of self-interest.

Finally. Ready now.

Oh, my phone? Where is that? Ah, I’ll just leave it wherever I put it.

Here’s something you need to know: My front door automatically locks when it shuts. Here’s something else you need to know. There is a locked gate between my front door and the outside world, with a small alcove in the middle.

So, I open the door. Annie runs out and up to the gate.

Cue the wind gust.

The door slams shut with the key still in the door on the other side.

Annie and I are locked outside, between the door and the gate.

Why didn’t I bring my cell phone?

This story has three varied endings, which “work out.” That’s because it’s happened three times. One upside to my condition is my well-honed ability to get myself out of jams. Here’s a synopsis of the protocol.

Step 1: Scream. (People do walk by my house.)

Step 2: Some stranger walking his/her dog arrives with a cell phone.

Step 3: Since I don’t know anyone’s phone number, I call a restaurant my son-in-law owns and get them to call him. Before I thought of that, I called the locksmith. But he was kind enough to let me off the hook once I reached my son-in-law.

In between: Zen pose. Pray. Pet confused dog.

Thankfully, the weather has always been mild. I didn’t have to go to the bathroom.

Let’s just say Annie and I have done quite a bit of self-imposed jail time between my front door and gate.

Brittany listens and clips in syncopation. My hair is looking better and better as I relate this story. Brittany expresses her own habit of dropping things to the floor in the creative process, but without seeming nearly as unhappy with herself. Brittany says she knows she will never change. She just accepts it.

What? I have spent the last six decades planning to change. When I get married, when I have kids, when I quit work, when I go back to work, when the kids are older, when the kids move out. I have spent decades in a perpetual mindset of procrastination.

One day later, I brought this up to my “worse” brother, Buddy, the least likely person to have the answer. But the following six words came from his mouth. “Matt’s wife is a professional organizer.”

Matt? Your best friend from high school? That kid actually grew up and got married? Then, I felt the following words come from my mouth.

“Give her my phone number.”

Within two days I had a perky text that felt like a jury summons. “Hi Cindy, are you ready to begin organizing your spaces? Would you like me come to your house Saturday?”

It sounded so immediate. Without feeling it at all, I said, “Let’s get started.”

Michelle Smithpeter forced me to notice that I had three pieces of furniture in my closet, along with files, memorabilia, picture frames and AC filters.

“Your closet is where you dress. Only what you wear should be in it.”

We set some things on the street with the words “free” taped to them. They vanished. There was suddenly more room in my closet and in my brain.

I think I worked with Michelle one full Saturday. The rest of a two-month period, Michelle worked around my schedule and texted me pictures and asked me to make decisions. Michelle was on a roll. She lost 3 pounds the first week.

I knew my life was different toward the end when our helper Ronaldo needed slightly shorter screws for the paper towel holder. I remembered that there was now a bin in my garage labeled SCREWS. I went to the bin, pulled it out, and there were two slightly smaller screws that were just perfect.

A wonderful, relaxed feeling of relief entered my soul. I have not changed, but my life has, with the help of other people.

What a relief.

(Photo: Aimee McCrory)


Cindy Gabriel was born into journalism. Her parents met on their college newspaper staff, then took her to work with them while running her great-grandfather’s small town newspaper in Rosenberg, Texas. It never occurred to her that going to work was anything but fun. The sound of the printing press, the smell of fresh ink, mixed with iron shavings from the typesetter, stale coffee and flattened cigarettes on the floor are etched into her earliest memories. Cindy’s first job in journalism would be as a wire service reporter. This would lead to radio news jobs for KIKK, KTRH and KQUE. Finally, she would become a local TV news reporter for the CBS affiliate, KHOU TV-Channel 11, followed by a stint as producer of the nationally syndicated Dr. Red Duke Health Reports. More recently, Cindy has worked for city and county government handling media-related communication involving the relocation of evacuees from New Orleans to Houston following Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ike and Harvey recovery efforts. The highlight of this was her production of a light-hearted video for homesick New Orleans evacuees on finding a job in Houston. The video, which opened with a little riff on The Wizard of Oz in the backdrop of downtown Houston, then appeared as the front-page lead story in the Sunday, New York Times.

Michelle Smithpeter’s Bio:

Michelle Smithpeter of Pretty Practical Spaces helps you make your spaces BOTH Pretty AND Practical:
Home Staging for Living!
Home Organizing-Space Planning-Closets & Kitchens
Curb Appeal projects.

She is a member in the following organizations:
National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professions
Faithful Organizers®
The Organizing Specialists Network
The Association of Change Management Professionals

Pretty Practical Spaces® serves clients in the greater Houston area, including Conroe & Montgomery, Texas.

2018 Eco-Friendly Holiday Gift Guide

Amy Vance of Eco Modern Concierge shares her 2018 Holiday Gift Guide on the NAPO Houston blog.  You can connect with Amy and Eco Modern Concierge at

Eden & Earth Diapers:They are produced in a zero waste to landfill facility and are made with sustainable fluff.

Glass Straws: No more plastic straws 🙂

Market Bag: An eco option to plastic and perfect for the farmers market.

Cotton Face Wipes: They are made in part from up-cycled cotton t-shirts.

Thaan Charcoal: This is a clean alternative to traditional charcoal and is made from rambutan fruit wood.

Stainless Steel Ice Pack: 100% non-toxic and reusable.

Bamboo Toothbrushes: 100% biodegradable and made with BPA free charcoal bristles.

Reusable Snack Bags: They are made from some recycled material.

Stainless Steel Water Hose: An eco-friendly option to plastic.

Reusable Lids: These are great to keep things fresh from fruit to canned goods.

Cutlery Set: Great for those that take their lunch on the go, like me.

Air Purifier: Energy efficient and filters large and small particles in the air.

Author Bio

My name is Amy Vance and I am the founder of Eco Modern Concierge. Eco Modern Concierge is lifestyle company that helps you get sh*t done you don’t want to do or don’t have time do. Whether it’s personal assistance with tasks, professional organizing or eco – consulting. I specialize in using the most eco- friendly ways of providing my services whenever possible. Let’s connect!