Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Filing System

Paper Clutter. My arch enemy. Filing papers....very closely related. Either way - yuck, right?

I've adapted my filing system over the years, and I believe I have one now that works really well for me.

When I first started really filing stuff, as a recent college grad with my first "real job", I pretty much just had a different file for every company that I paid bills to, as well as files for stuff like my student loans, my car loan, and my apartment lease & rent receipts. I continued filing the same way after Hubby and I were married.

Then one day I came across the FreedomFiler systems while browsing online. They are designed to be self-purging with different color-coded general categories for permanent files, files that have documents that are replaced when new documents arrive (like declaration pages for insurance policies, no need to keep any other than what's current), etc.  There was also a statements/bills folder for each month of the year, instead of an individual folder for each company. I studied the FreedomFiler system online, and created my own system loosely based in theirs, making many adjustments along the way.  I was so proud when I finished; everything was color-coded & organized.

Over time, though, I realized there was just too many files, and I felt overwhelmed by all of the categories I had created. That, and the only place in our house to store file cabinets is the basement. And to be honest, I just don't spend a lot of time down unfinished basement isn't an ideal place for small children to "play" while mommy works on stuff. So I just didn't file. Instead, I created piles of papers that needed to be filed, and occasionally carried them downstairs & put them on top of the filing cabinet. :)

After we had water in our basement last spring & quickly had to move everything of value off of the floor, I decided I really didn't want to store our files down there anyway; not only because it was inconvenient, but for their safety too. So I nabbed a large plastic file box that I had used in college, which I knew would fit in our front hall closet. I threw my whole filing system out the window (not literally, of course) and started from scratch. Simplicity was the key this time.

Now my file are simply alphabetical, no different categories. I was always confused about where to look for certain files when they were in different general categories (permanent vs. replace). The files really do go left to right across, I just removed a few files before taking the photo (for privacy's sake), so that's why there's a few gaps.

If you're interested in what specific categories I used (and can't see it well enough in the photo), here's a list:
Auto Records
Education Records
Home Records
Insurance, Auto
Insurance, Health
Insurance, Home
Insurance, Life
Loans, Auto
Loans, Student
Medical Expenses
Medical Records
Tax Info (current)

I kept the idea of the statement/receipt files. I think it's easier to do this than to have a separate file for each company that you have bills for. I did decided to pare down to quarters instead of a file for each month. We really don't have a gazillion bills each month, so if I need to find one, it's not a problem to look through 3 months worth at a time to locate the one I'm in search of. 

A few random notes:

I do still maintain my desktop filing box, with a folder called To File, so that I have a place to collect the "every day" sort of random papers, and then I file in the big plastic box when the folder gets full.

I also create new file folders as needed. When I'm filing & I don't know where to put a paper, I place it in a temporary pile and then go through that later & either decide where it should go, or create an entirely new file so it won't be a question next time. I actually have a pile of these that I haven't gotten around to since the last time I filed, so I need to do that soon.

The folder entitled Tax Info only contains only current stuff, like any papers we collect throughout the year that I know I'll be looking for at tax time, and our property tax statement. Our tax returns are still stored in the basement (high enough to not get wet), using a method that FreedomFiler uses: 10 folders, entitled Tax Year 0, Tax Year 1, Tax Year 2, etc.  The 2009 return is in Tax Year 9, 2010 return is in Tax Year 0, 2011 will be in Tax Year 1, and so on. You're supposed to keep returns for 10 years, so by the time you cycle around again, it's time to toss that return.

What kind of system do you use for filing?  Any great tips or tricks to pass on to my readers? Please share!


  1. Great post! I'm working on getting control of the paper clutter in my home. I file my monthly bills by the month, instead of by company. I hope to be able to get my files down to one box like you! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I just started filing myself. It's just me so it's not like I run a household or anything, but I realized over time there are a lot of important papers that I don't have access to simply because I don't know where they are! So in an effort to keep better track of things I got a expandable file that I think has 12 tabs in it and I store it underneath my "in basket" that I keep on top of my microwave. Basically anything that is in my hands when I walk through my door gets dumped in that basket.

    The biggest thing about paper clutter that I've realized recently is how much stuff I should be shredding. I was throwing out things that have a lot of personal information on them and not thinking twice about it, so when I did an overhaul I put a lot of those papers in a basket for when I can get around to buying a shredder.

    For someone like me it's kind of overwhelming to think of all the documents and papers that I should have but don't (past tax forms for example). I'm hoping my system is something I can keep going and build off of as time goes on. :)

  3. Great system! I found a book years ago "Home Filing Made Easy" that works very similarly. I love how it makes it easy to purge as you go rather than just letting all that paper pile up. TFS

  4. Thanks for the tips! I was wondering how you feel about keeping things like canceled check books, bank statements, etc? Especially for accounts that are no longer in existence? I have been given advice on both extremes, (keep for 7 years, shred & throw away) and I'm really not sure. I'm trying hard to get rid of anything I don't absolutely have to have! :)

  5. The best part of this post is that it highlights how you took a system and made it work for YOU.

    There is no such thing as a 'one size fits all' solution. Well done to modify it more toward your natural inclinations.

    I usually view most any organizing system solution as a 'suggestion'.

    Looks like you've created a super personalized system - Congrats!! :)


  6. I enjoyed reading this post and will take some of this to revise my own filing system, which is currently hodge-podge. Thanks!

  7. My filing system has gotten simplified and then simplified again. I do keep a few other things that you don't, mostly toy and owners manuals and warranty info on the like. I also have a foolder for addresses, so I am ready for Christmas card time. I have a craft and gift idea file too. Too many years of debate make it fun for me to file, but I have found that general categories make for a much more effective system. Thaks for the purging idea...i hadnt thought about all the things that are in my files that I dont need to keep anymore.

    Btw-I say save bank statements three years out and shred the rest for a business. There is really no reason to save personal stuff for more than a y out. We just got randomly audited and it was still true for all the papers the accountant needed.

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