Creating a Filing System You Can Live With

Written by Kay Gallegos of Clutterbusters!!
Updated January 2, 2015
Paper file folders labeled by date.
It's crucial to go through your filing system on a regular basis and purge old items.
Photo by Eldon Lindsay

Organizing your paperwork is all about keeping it simple. The most common filing mistake: not getting rid of old items.

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I help a lot of people to organize their paperwork. Even though most people tell me they hate paper and try to purge as much as possible, it seems there is still an overabundance of paperwork in most people’s homes. Every day there is mail in the mailbox and paperwork sent home with the kids in their backpacks. If you don’t purge on a daily basis, it can quickly add up.

For a lot of people, even though they purge, they are still left with a lot of paperwork. The problem for most is they don’t have an effective filing system in place. Here is the simple system I use for my own filing system.

There are many different ways to set up and maintain a filing system. The important thing is to be consistent. (Photo courtesy of Simplified Living Solutions)

Getting started organizing files

I’ve set up a file in my computer called “File Labels.” It’s a Word document for address labels with the name of each file, along with the year.

I use address labels because they are more versatile and less expensive than file folder labels. Because I have a home-based business, I keep all of my household bills. I also keep all of our medical information and financial statements. Every January I pull out my files from the previous year and put them in a portable file box. I go into my computer and make sure that all of the file labels for the upcoming year are correct.

I change the year for each file label (done quickly by searching for the previous year and replacing with the current year). I then print out the labels and attach them to new file folders. My file system is now set up for the rest of the year.

What about last year’s files?

With the files from the previous year, I pull out the ones that I don’t need for tax purposes and put them in a box for shredding. If there are files I need to keep long-term (such as some medical records), then those go back into my current filing system. As I get tax-related documents in the mail, which are sent out before Jan. 31, those get placed in my “Taxes” file in the portable file box. When it is time to file taxes, I have all the information I need in one convenient and portable location.

After my taxes have been filed, my tax paperwork is filed in long-term storage (currently on a high shelf in my closet). I only keep seven years of tax paperwork (keep the actual return but purge the supporting documents) so I make sure to purge the oldest set when putting in the new set.

Why organizing files this way works

I like using this system because:

• It is a rotating system, so old files are being replaced with new ones on an annual basis.

• If I ever get audited, my files are in one convenient location and organized by year.

• My filing system takes up one file drawer and is never too full.

• It is quick and easy to set up and maintain.

Outside the paperwork box

This filing system takes care of paperwork that comes in on a regular, often monthly basis. What about the paperwork that needs to be kept indefinitely or isn’t needed for tax purposes? That paperwork can be kept in another drawer or in another location.

• I keep my important documents such as passports and birth certificates in a safe. I want them to be safe and protected, because they are not easily replaced.

• User guides and manuals go in a portable file box along with the receipts for the major purchases. I know some people like to keep their manuals with the actual product (washing machine manual in the laundry room, refrigerator manual in the kitchen, etc.) but I find it easier to have one central location to go to when I need the manual. This keeps paperwork out of areas where it doesn’t need to be.

Personalizing your file organizing system

There are many different ways to set up and maintain a filing system. The important thing when setting up a system is:

• Be consistent.

• Set up a system that makes sense to you.

• Go through your system on a regular basis and purge old items (This is the part of the system that usually falls apart.)

• Keep it simple.

• Be selective about what you keep — chances are you will almost never look at or need the information again.

This article originally appeared on the Clutterbusters!! website.


About this Experts Contributor: Kay Gallegos is a certified professional organizer and owner of Clutterbusters!! It provides organizing services in Fort Worth, Texas. She has been helping clients to save time and money by reducing clutter since 2007. Follow this contributor on Twitter and Google+.

As of January 2, 2015, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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