Papers! They seem to multiply creating piles everywhere. If I’m being honest, papers are one of the hardest things for me to stay on top of. There is just so many of them and trying to find the time to sort through everything before they become a cluttered pile can be exhausting. However, having a properly organized filing system can make a huge difference.
I think paper is a struggle for most people to keep organized. It used to be one of the hardest things for me to organize. I contribute this to a poor organizational system. If you don’t have a system that is working for you, change it. I went through several systems before I came to this one and each one had its pros and cons.
The system that I’m currently using is a self-cleansing system. There is very little maintenance (WIN!) and it’s super easy to transition into a new year. I’ve been successfully using this system for about 4 years and I have no plans to change it up anytime soon because it’s just working so well!
This filing system is based off the same principles used in the Freedom Filer system. When I set this up, I read about the Freedom Filer system and liked the concepts just not the price. So I tweaked a few things and created a DIY system that works for me and my family.
If you want to set up your own simple filing system to keep you organized for the new year, just follow the steps below!
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What you will need:
How to Create an Organized Filing System
#1 Find a Storage Location
You should try to store your files as close to where you sort through papers as possible. For us, it’s near our desk. You could use a plastic tub, milk crate, a small filing cabinet or a fancy one that matches your furniture! Whatever works for you. Just make sure it’s in the proper location or you will be less likely to actually use it.
#2 Purge Your Papers
Gather up all of the papers you want to organize and start purging. (Note: I’m not a financial advisor, accountant, or any other financial guru. I’m simply sharing what works for me and my family.)
We keep up to 2 years worth of bills, 7 years old tax records, and vehicle records for as long as we have the car. Insurance information is purged when new policies come in the mail and we only keep medical records for up to two years as well.
Sorting through your papers may take some time. Make sure to block off at least a few hours of your day and find a show you want to watch on Netflix or Amazon Prime! 🙂
So much of what we store can be found online if it is really needed. So my motto with paperwork is most often, if in doubt throw it out!
Once you’ve for purged, it’s time to sort through and put them into like categories. You can find the categories I use below. If you want even more help, you can find all of the individual folders I use on the cheat sheet you can snag at the bottom of this post!
You will want to grab the folders and add labels before you really sort. Make labels for files you know you will need to start out. You will most likely add more as you go throughout the process, but having at least a starting point will be very helpful.
If you find yourself cramming a bunch of papers into one folder, you may need to re-evaluate. Are you keeping too much? Could you separate that folder into multiple folders? The less you have in each folder, the easier it will be for you to actually find the paperwork when you need it.
How This System Works
This system works because it forces you to look at the papers you are storing at least once each year. You are keeping unnecessary paperwork for years on end.
I have created 7 categories and separated them into 7 colors. You may need more or less depending on the paperwork you are planning to store. Here are the categories I have:
#1 RED – Important
- Medical or Dental Records
- Vehicle Information
- Birth Certificates
#2 DARK BLUE – Insurance
- Car Insurance Policies
- Home Owner’s Insurance Policies
- Life Insurance Policies
#3 YELLOW – Monthly Bill Statements (Even Year)
- Electric Bill
- Satellite Bill
- Water Bill
#4 GREEN – Financial
- Bank Statements
- Credit Card Information
- Retirement Account Information
#5 LIGHT BLUE – Miscellaneous
- Pay Stubs
- Work Related Paperwork
- A File for Each Family Member
#6 ORANGE – Monthly Bill Statements (Odd Year)
- Electric Bill
- Satellite Bill
- Water Bill
#7 PURPLE – Tax Information
- A Folder for Each of the Past 7 Years of Tax Information
Each category is different and used in a different way. You should never have to sit down and “clean out” your filing cabinet from front to back again! Here’s what you do in each category:
- RED – Since this category is filled with important paperwork, most of it will stay. I generally go through this one category at the beginning of the year and shred anything that is older than one year. So in January 2017, I will shred anything from 2015. Obviously all birth certificates, marriage certificates, and the like will stay put. I keep all vehicle records until that vehicle is no longer in our possession so that file only changes when our vehicles change.
- DARK BLUE – This category is considered an in and out category. It should hold your insurance policies and that’s it! If you get a new policy, you simply recycle the old one.
- YELLOW & ORANGE – This category holds the bill statements from the even year. So right now it’s holding all of 2016 bills. I keep bills for up to 2 years just in case there are any discrepancies. In January, when the year rolls over to an odd year, I will switch the yellow, even year folders with the orange, odd year folders. Everything in the orange folders is currently from 2015. It will immediately be removed and shredded during the switch.
- GREEN – This folder holds any credit card information, retirement paperwork, investment account information. We are paperless for most things so these really just hold the main account information for each. If I ever receive anything new, I simply pull out the correct folder and make sure to shred any old, outdated information.
- LIGHT BLUE – To be honest, I really don’t like having a miscellaneous section. However, it was necessary with the folder’s left I needed to create. This section doesn’t hold a ton of useful stuff and I do have to sort through it every year or so just to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. We don’t file away papers in this folder very often so it usually stays pretty tidy.
- PURPLE – Our tax information is simply or state and federal taxes, W-2 forms, and any taxable right offs we had for the past 7 years. I keep 8 folders so that I have a folder for the current year as paperwork comes in as well as 7 years worth of tax information. So in January of 2017, I will take the paperwork out of the 2009 folder and shred it. Then I will turn that folder into the 2017 folder so that we have a place to put tax information throughout the year as it comes in. I’ve also kept years 2010-2016 as records just in case we ever needed them for IRS purposes.
Papers Coming Into Our House
We are pretty quick to toss out anything that is needed. There is a 2-file wall hanger that is stored in our pantry. The top file is for anything important that we may need to reference pertaining to our son’s school. This includes things like the lunch menu or any important notes. I generally pull out and purge through this folder once each month. The second folder contains coupons for different stores in our area that we receive in the mail (i.e. Kohls, Bath & Body Works, etc).
If we ever receive a bill that needs to be paid, we will either pay it right then or set it on our desk to be paid later that evening. We also try to file away any paperwork that belongs in our filing system as soon as it comes in. I have a small paper box on my printer where I place items that “need attention.” I try to deal with all of the paperwork at least once a week so it doesn’t get out of hand.
I really hope you have found some inspiration and encouragement to get your paper clutter under control! Paper clutter can be overwhelming at times. However, if you can get a good system in place that works for you, then you will be on your way to a more organizing filing system in no time!
You can grab a free printable cheat sheet that will show you all of the different files we use in our family below!
So what system is best for you?
While we love using this system for filing, it’s not for everyone. If you are just simply tired of the paper clutter and chaos in your home, I highly recommend considering going paperless. You can learn all about this method of filing in Donnie Lawson’s book The Paperless Home.
How do you keep your papers organized?
Filing System Cheat Sheet
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