This is the time of year when everyone starts thinking about “finally” getting organized. We promise ourselves that this time, we will make it happen. This is the year we’ll stop letting the piles of paperwork get out of hand and baskets of unorganized receipts take up space and become the organized person we’ve always dreamed of being.
It sounds so easy, but why does it feel impossible once we try to do it?
I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s not impossible. It only feels that way when you don’t have a system in place that works for you. Coming up with a system is half the battle, so I have a few ideas to help you with that.
One of my least favorite tasks is filing paperwork. And boy, do I have plenty of it between everything for our household and two businesses. The system I’ve put in place helps me to efficiently handle it all without losing my mind. When it comes to setting up a home filing system, the key is to create one that YOU find easy to use. That way you won’t mind using it. If it’s too complicated or difficult to maintain, you’ll probably use it for a few days or weeks and then you’ll end up right back where you started.
Even though I go paperless for many bills, there’s still plenty of paperwork that needs to be filed. Today, I’m sharing 10 tips to help you set up a functional home filing system.
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Home Filing System Tips
1 First, we purge! Most people keep too many papers. On average, only 20% of the papers that are filed will ever be needed. So before you start putting away that pile of papers, go through it to eliminate anything you don’t need to keep. Then, clean out your current filing system by doing the same with any papers you’ve already filed.
2 I’m a big fan of color coding and I highly recommend it for a home filing system. Color coding helps you to recognize at a glance what a file is for even if you can’t read the label. This makes it easier to find what you’re looking for. To keep things simple, I recommend limiting the number of colors to 5.
Since I have to keep track of papers for our household as well as two businesses, I’ve divided everything into those three “groups”. I’m using the term “group” for clarity. It’s not a professional term. 😉 I use a different color for each group. When my parents were alive and I was handling their finances and paperwork, I also had a group for them. And when I homeschooled my daughter, that was another group.
Most people only have one or two groups, while some may have ten. This method is flexible and works well no matter how groups you have.
3 The simplest way to set up your home filing system is to file by category within each group, such as utilities, credit cards, insurance, etc. Using broad headings such as these for hanging folders will allow you to create subcategories within each one. For example, in the utilities category you can have a file folder for electric, phone, water, etc.
4 To determine what your categories are, make an outline of your records and how you want them organized. Don’t worry if you miss something or have too many categories. You can always tweak it later by adding new categories or combining several into one.
Here’s an example:
- Household (group)
- Utilities (category)
- Electric (subcategory)
- Phone (subcategory)
- Water (subcategory)
- Credit Cards (category)
- Card 1 (subcategory)
- Card 2 (subcategory)
- Card 3 (subcategory)
- Utilities (category)
5 Clearly label all hanging folders and files. On the file folder, you may want to include the category name along with the sub-category. For example, ELECTRIC – Utilities or WATER – Utilities. This will make re-filing easier. Try to avoid using “miscellaneous” as a label. If you feel it’s important enough to save, then it should fall into some type of category.
6 Where you place your hanging file labels is really a matter of personal preference. You can align them in a zigzag pattern going from left side to right side; stagger them left, middle and right; or place them all on the same side.
I prefer to place mine all on the far left side. That way if I add or take a way a folder, it doesn’t mess up my alignment. And place them on the front of the folder, so that you can still see them when the file is full.
7 Try to file on a regular basis, so your “file pile” doesn’t get out of hand. Depending on how much paperwork you have, this could be daily, weekly, monthly or even quarterly.
Use a basket or folder to hold items to be filed until you are ready to do so. This way everything is in one spot and ready when you are.
If you already have an overwhelming stack, spend about 15 minutes a day on it until it’s gone. It helps to set a timer when you do this.
8 When placing most recent documents in a folder, always put them in the front. This will keep them in reverse chronological order.
9 Create a “hot” file for items you access on a frequent basis. Keep them at the front of the file cabinet or within arm’s reach at your desk.
10 Go through your files and purge them of anything that’s no longer necessary. This could be done monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, or once a year according to what works best for you.
I hope these tips help you create a filing system that works for you. If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.
QUESTION: Do you have a special system you use for your home filing? What are some things that have worked for you? If so, please share them with us below!
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