How to Simplify Your Paper Files

How to Simplify Your Paper Files

 

Organizing your files today? Or would you rather watch paint dry on a wall?  It’s seems that this is not the most exciting topic however it can be one of the most necessary in every day 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 Oprah.com, 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
    1. Auto purchase
    2. Home Major Purchases
    3. Home Repair/Maintenance
    4. House inventory
    5. Insurance
  2. Financial (anything to do with money)
    1. Banking
    2. Credit Cards
    3. Investment
    4. Retirement
    5. Property Taxes
    6. Life Insurance
    7. Mortgage
  3. Personal (anything to do with people or pets)
    1. Medical Benefits
    2. Medical History
    3. Medical Explanation of Benefits
    4. Medical Paid bills
    5. School/University
    6. (Interests such as parenting, decorating, guns, etc)
  4. Work
    1. Work history
    2. 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 archive 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.

 

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4 replies
  1. Linda Samuels
    Linda Samuels says:

    Even though we live in a digital age, people still have LOTS of paper. It does help that we can scan or find things (like interesting topical articles) on the internet. However, we still get overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of the papers that enter our homes and offices. You’ve broken things done in such a clear way that you’ve just about taken the overwhelm away. Go Ellen!

  2. Seana Turner
    Seana Turner says:

    I love the simplicity of this system! I use similar buckets for paper filing, and I think they are also helpful for digital files. Under the personal category, I suggest that each child have a file as well (if there are children in the home) where you can stash sports schedules, registration information and the like.

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