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 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:
- House and Auto
- Auto purchase
- Home Major Purchases
- Home Repair/Maintenance
- House inventory
- Financial (anything to do with money)
- Credit Cards
- Property Taxes
- Life Insurance
- Personal (anything to do with people or pets)
- Medical Benefits
- Medical History
- Medical Explanation of Benefits
- Medical Paid bills
- (Interests such as parenting, decorating, guns, etc.)
- Work history
- CV or resume
For office files, here are categories I include:
- HR or Employees
- Financials 20XX
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.
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.
- 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 Professional-Organizer.com
Certified Professional Organizer Ellen Delap launched Professional-Organizer.com 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