How to Organize paperwork - Bringing 5S to the home

Does it feel like the paper clutter of important documents & paperwork is taking over your desk, kitchen, or home office? From copies of bills & documents, to receipts, tax returns, insurance policies, school forms and much more the mountain of paper clutter can quickly take over your space. 

paper on desk how to organize paper work

Luckily you can bring the chaos to order by implementing the same principles in your home that Toyota pioneered in modern manufacturing. You may have heard such terms as the Toyota Production System (TPS), Lean Manufacturing, & Lean Six Sigma. All of these systems grew from the principles of the 5S Methodology that has grown in popularity in business and manufacturing.

What is 5S Methodology?

5S methodology how to organize paper work

5S Methodology is based on five Japanese terms: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke. Translated to the English language, these mean:

  1. Sort
  2. Set in Order
  3. Shine
  4. Standardize
  5. Sustain

Dating back to shipbuilders in the 16th century, 5S Methodology is a streamlined process for limiting inefficiencies and boosting productivity by creating an orderly and standardized environment. 5S Methodologies have found the most success in manufacturing environments, but the basic ideas have been adapted to business offices, shipping and receiving operations, service providers, and even in homes.

History of 5S Methodology

The Japanese are most often credited with the invention of 5S Methodology, but the roots of 5S date back even further to shipbuilders in Venice. By creating a streamlined environment, limiting distractions, and standardizing processes, shipbuilders were able to become more efficient and build ships in a matter of days instead of weeks.

history of 5S methodology how to organize paper work

However, it was the son of a Toyota engineer who first adapted these 16th-century principles and applied them to modern manufacturing. Toyota has been so successful with this process, which they refer to as TPS or the Toyota Production System that it is still in use today. And, thousands of other manufacturing plants and businesses have followed in their footsteps to adopt processes adapted from 5S Methodology.

How can 5S Methodology be Used at Home?

The one thing that has been consistently proven by the widespread acceptance and adoption of 5S Methodology in business is that it works. Most people tend to feel more productive when their space is clean, neat and orderly. But many have a difficult time achieving or maintaining this type of order in their daily lives.

declutter office space how to organize paper work

5S Methodology provides a process that provides actionable steps that will not only help you achieve a productive space but also maintain it. One area in particular is in decluttering the home office. Whether you have a dedicated space, or just a box of files stuffed in a cabinet, a little organization and order can relieve a lot of stress.

Some of the benefits of using 5S Methodology in your home office include better use of your time and space and lower stress.

5S Methodology Saves Your Time

woman working at her desk full of papers how to organize paper work

Instead of spending your valuable time looking for important paperwork, a well-organized system will put the right items just at your fingertips. You won’t have to waste any more time sorting through stacks of paper clutter, or digging out old documents. By limiting the amount of paperwork and organizing it in a way that is efficient, you will shed minutes to hours off of the time that you spend in your home office just looking for stuff.

But more than just saving time, 5S principles help you make the best use of your time. Specifically, 5S limits your chance of being distracted by removing all unnecessary items from your home or office space.

5S Methodology Helps You Keep a Tidy Home

woman legs on couch with dog how to organize paper work

By simply limiting the number of items only to what is useful and by assigning a place for each item, a 5S process will help you keep a tidier home. You will be able to get rid of the clutter and unnecessary personal items that invade your workspace. Clutter is chaotic and what you see in your physical surroundings often affects how you feel in your mental surroundings. Reducing the clutter and providing a clean environment lessens mental stress and helps you focus on the task at hand.

If you are ready to adapt 5S principles to make your home office a tidier, more productive place, let’s get started with the steps you can take today to implement and sustain a 5S Process at home.

Step One: Sort

Sort how to organize paper work

Start by taking everything that you see in your home office and sorting it into three categories. To get rid of the clutter we need to identify everything in the space and evaluate if it belongs in this space and what its use is. Go through the entire space. For every item, ask these questions:

What is the purpose of this item?

Clutter comes from a collection of things that do not have a home and have taken up residency in the wrong area. Some of this stuff is not useful and will eventually find its way to the discard pile. Other stuff is truly useful, it is just not currently in the best place. By asking the question, what is the purpose of this item’, you will be able to identify which items belong in this space and which do not.

Many people keep copies of utility bills, credit card statements, and bank statements out of habit, but once the paperwork is filed away it is never used again. In this process, it is important to remember that just because it looks important does not mean that it is important. If you can retrieve an electronic copy of a statement by logging in to your account, is it really necessary to keep every statement that is mailed to you? Most financial experts agree that - at most - you only need to keep a utility bill until you receive the next bill or statement showing your payments credited.

When was this item last used?

Generally speaking, any item that you have not used in the last 6 months is no longer useful to you. There are some rare exceptions for items that are only used infrequently. Instead of making an exception to keep every item, be honest and intentional with this question. Any item that has not been used in the past six months or that does not have a use that fits this space should be relocated out of the area. Remember, the goal here is to pair down the objects in the space and get rid of the clutter.

Who uses this item?

Maybe the question is not is this item used, but rather who uses this item and who is going to be using this space. If you and your spouse both handle the paperwork at home, but have different spaces where you work, there may be some muddled waters surrounding which items belong in that space. It can be helpful to identify who uses an item and how or when they use it to determine if it belongs in this space.

Does it really need to be here?

And, finally,the most important question is determining if it is really useful for an object to be in your home office space. Removing useful items like paper shredders and office supplies may hinder your productivity. However, removing anything that is not absolutely necessary will absolutely help!

As you sort through the items in your home office space, use bins to segregate items for different outcomes such as keep here, donate, trash, and relocate. Anything that is immediately important and useful in managing your paperwork should be in the keep here pile. Anything useful to someone, but no longer needed here can be donated. If the item is useful to you, but not for this purpose it goes in the relocate bin. And so on and so forth. Using a bin system will keep you working in the same area and less prone to being distracted by other tasks.

Step Two: Set in Order

Set in order how to organize paper work

Once the volume of things has been paired down to a smaller, more manageable amount; it is time to organize what is there. By identifying the best place for each item in your space you can add efficiencies and streamline your work. For example, if you use pencils it might be more efficient to keep your pencil sharpener on your desk instead of across the room. It might seem like only seconds, but every time that you get up to sharpen a pencil your work is interrupted. The longer it takes you to get back to the task at hand, the more time that is wasted.

In this step, it is important to implement a logical organization system. All containers or folders should be clearly labeled to indicate what is stored in them. This could be your file cabinet drawers with file folders, or decorative baskets on a bookshelf. The ways to organize are virtually limitless and how you store your items is up to you as long as everything is in a logical home and is clearly labeled and organized.

Some useful questions that may help at this stage of the process are to know who uses the item, how it is used, and when it is used. It may be logical to group some items like small office supplies together by the item type.

Step Three: Shine

5S Methodology Shine how to organize paper work

In a 5S process, a great deal of importance is placed on good housekeeping practices. Not only does cleaning help maintain safe environments, but it promotes productivity by lowering stress hormones and making you feel more comfortable. A 2009 study showed a direct correlation between individuals with high cortisone levels (the stress hormone) and untidy homes. It seems that how well kept home is determining whether individuals find their time at home to be stressful or peaceful.

When we have a lot of clutter in our homes, we tend to clean around the clutter. Once you have taken time to remove that clutter, finish the job by deep cleaning the space so that you are starting fresh with a clean, tidy, and well-organized home office. Tidy your files by making sure that all papers are facing the same direction and not sticking out in all directions. Try to put order in every space, even if it is just a storage space, garage, or closet. Cables and cords can be wound up for neat storage instead of being shoved, haphazardly into a box.

Step Four: Standardize

5S Methodology how to organize paper work

Putting a system in place only works if you have ways to maintain it. This task can be a little more difficult for those of us who tend to collect clutter in our lives and homes. However, creating some standardized processes can help us be more successful at sticking with it long enough to develop new habits.

About three weeks is how long it takes to form a new habit. If you can identify specific activities like sorting your mail over the recycle bin as soon as you bring it in, then you will be able to focus on completing those activities intentionally until they become your new habit.

Some standardized practices to try are:

  • Create a mail cubby in your home office for each person in the household. As soon as mail enters the home, sort it out and put all junk mail pieces directly into the recycle. Sort important mail pieces by a person and place them in the respective cubbies. By organizing mail this way, it can be handled more efficiently by each person instead of collecting in a pile on the desktop.
  • Create a to be filed tray on your desktop for papers that belong in an established file (i.e. warranty information, receipts, tax paperwork, etc.). Place these documents in the appropriately labeled tray immediately and designate a one-time slot per week to handle them. Let’s say that on Saturday mornings at 7 am you will file your paperwork.
  • For more of a long-term storage solution a hanging file folder organizer is the way to go. With our COMPONO over the door Office Supply Organizer, or our COMPONO Over Door Hanging File Folder Organizer, both available in multiple colors, you can place documents and hanging files in file folders on the back side of your office door, freeing critical desk space (Also available from below)
  • Implement the same processes with your digital files that you do with your paper files. Many people have adopted paperless systems, scanning bill stubs, and payment receipts directly into the computer for cloud storage.

Step Five: Sustain

5S Methodology how to organize paper work

Building new habits is the short-term solution to maintaining your new and improved workplace. The long-term solution is to understand that you will have to revisit these steps from time-to-time. As things change in life, you will need to fine-tune your filing system or the tools that you use to maintain your home office. For example, a stack of floppy disks used to sit on every computer desk in the early 1990's. Today, floppy disks are an obsolete technology and you will be hard-pressed to find even a single one in any home.

As you keep up with regular housekeeping tasks on a daily, weekly or monthly basis you can keep working on decluttering. At least once per week declutter; remove all unnecessary items from the room or space. And, at least once per month do a quick evaluation of what is currently homed here and make adjustments as needed.

Finally, do not over complicate this process. The only process that will be truly effective is one that is simple enough to maintain. Avoid filing systems that require a decoding key in favor of a simple alphabetical or chronological system.

In no time you will feel like a professional organizer!

For more information on 5S the follwoing is a great resource:

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published