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

Pop n’ Store for Paper Management

Sponsored Blog contributed by Christine Hampel from NAPO Corporate Associate Member, Samsill

One day I started noticing that I would put all my mail, paperwork, and “junk drawer” items in the same spot on my countertop, right next to my coffee pot. After a couple of weeks, the pile would become so large that I would be forced to go through it. Throw out what needed to be trashed or find that reminder of an upcoming bill. As soon as I would have the pile under control, a couple of weeks would go by again and I would be faced with the same problem. This growing pile of important papers and objects that I needed to organize just kept being pushed aside. It took until I had company coming over that I couldn’t delay finding a solution any longer.

I remember the “Sunday Basket” idea and I grabbed one of my Pop n’ Store boxes and placed it on my counter to use as a dropbox. “Why didn’t I do this sooner,” I thought to myself.

Right now, I think most of us can relate to the abundance of papers related to back to school. Is your counter-top getting more cluttered as the weeks roll on? School supply lists, vaccination paperwork, meet the teacher – the list goes on.  Whether your organization system works best for a drop off box or you need more of a filing system Pop n’ Store has the perfect box to fit your needs. We developed 5 different sizes with 6 different color options.

But we soon realized that we had room to grow within our storage box venture. So, we went back to the drawing board and came up with three new boxes. We showed these boxes for the first time while at NAPO’s conference in Pittsburgh.’all might have gotten to see these up close!)  The favorite (by far out of the three boxes) was our new file box! And w(hat better time for us to launch our new product than with back to school.

What we love about this box is that you can hide all your paperwork and still have everything right where you need it. No eyesore with Pop n’ Store.  For example, take all your paperwork that you have stacked somewhere. Start by sorting out all the paper by what stays and what can be thrown away. The information that stays, put into alike piles.

Designate a couple of files for school, extracurricular activities, and school checklists. Then you have other files that you can use for organizing bills, home maintenance projects, or recipes.
Find which box fits your needs the best. Maybe that’s having a document box on your countertop or having a file system in place.

Thank you to Christine Hampel, from NAPO Corporate Associate Member, Samsill.  Christine Hampel, part of the marketing team for Samsill and Pop n’ Store. Organizing is part of her job but has really spilled over to her personal life.  She loves finding new ways of using our products and helping others find the perfect item to organize their paperwork or help make a room flow more efficiently. 

This post originally appeared on the NAPO National blog at