AZ asks: Dorothy Merchant’s advice on organizing mail/bills.



AZ asks:  Dorothy Merchant's advice on organizing mail/bills.

Dorothy Merchant moved to Greensboro from Ohio. When asked why, she replies, “I was looking for sunshine.” For the most part, she has not been disappointed. This mother of four adult children and grandmother of two is a retired college and university professor and administrator. She has also worked as the executive director of a non-profit, a business consultant and Realtor before starting Simple Solutions Professional Organizers which provides hands-on organizing and consulting services.

In addition to an undergraduate degree in English, Dorothy has a Masters degree in Education, an MBA and a Ph.D. While she has never been divorced, being widowed at a young age revealed the importance of women having a total understanding of their financial circumstances. Dorothy can be contacted directly at

AZ asks:  I have been very busy at work and traveling a lot and I am having a hard time even going through the mail so my unopened mail has really piled up, any advice?

Set aside an hour or two on a day when you are not too tired. Have somebody help you, somebody who can keep you focused on the task, help you throw away what you do not need and sort the rest into categories based on what you need to do with the item next. Professional organizers call this process “shadowing.”

AZ asks:  Every time I get caught up, then more mail comes in. Any suggestions? 

This is going to be an ongoing problem. There is no way we can stop all of the mail. However, we can plan to deal with it on a daily basis so it does not accumulate so much.

A few other steps to consider to help eliminate paper are:

1)      Get off Junk mail lists by contacting the Direct Marketing Association Mail Preference    Service, P.O. Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512.

2)      Do not even open certain pieces of mail such as solicitation letters. Write or email the sender requesting that you be removed from their list.

Periodically, I conduct a session called the Suitcase Seminar where I encourage people to bring their “fat file folders” and other disorganized papers and we work together on purging old files and organizing papers. I find that every time I have a group, at least one person finds money or a coupon. 

AZ asks:  How do I set up files?  I seem to have so many different topics?  For example,  insurance—do I have a separate file for homeowners, car, long term care, health insurance, appraisals for household items?

You do need to be able to access insurance information quickly in case of a problem so you may need separate folders for different kinds of insurance. The biggest issue is that people do not throw away the outdated policies. However, when you have too many different topics in your files, it is too difficult to remember exactly what you named the file so it is more difficult to retrieve when you need it. Try to consolidate papers under a more generic topic and by all means create an index for each file drawer.

AZ asks:  Do you have to shred everything? 

No, some people think they need to shred anything that has their name and address on it, but that is already public information. You should be sure to shred anything with personal account numbers, social security numbers, credit card offers or other personal information that could be misused.

AZ asks:  Once you sort the mail, how do you get the bills paid and do the other things that you need to do to follow up with the items in the mail?

Schedule a specific day and time to work on each category. Even spending 15 or 20 minutes on each category should allow you the time to finish the highest priority items. Then stop, get away from the papers and reward yourself.

AZ asks:  Any suggestions for how to reward yourself?

Go out to dinner, buy yourself flowers, read or watch TV —whatever you enjoy.


Dorothy Merchant is not affiliated with  Zuraw Financial Advisors, LLC.

About Ann Zuraw

Ann Zuraw, the voice behind "Chicks, Chat and Change", is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA®), and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA™). If you have comments on this post contact Ann Zuraw

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