It's a new year, and around the globe people are making that age-old promise to themselves: this is the year I finally get organized. No more drowning in paperwork, no more dining table cluttered with bills and receipts—this year it all stops. Want to know something? It can be done. A simple, user-friendly filing system is something every home should have, and is easy to set up and maintain. Here's how:
Step 1: Reduce clutter at the source.
These days, we can choose to deal with much of our filing digitally, reducing the need for storage and the paperwork headache. Bank statements and bills can be viewed online and receipts can be saved on our hard drives or in our email archives. Reducing the number of hard copies in your home makes the task of dealing with them that much easier.
Step 2: Divide and conquer.
The remaining items, those you can't or don't want to banish to your computer, should be sorted into basic categories. There are many ways you can do this, but my choice is a simple divide: those things that have to do with your home, and those that have to do with you. From there, continue to sub-divide to your heart's content. Like this:
- warranties and manuals for electronics and appliances
- receipts for large-ticket items
- quotes and receipts for recent household repairs
- a copy of your lease, if you rent
- home insurance documents
- mortgage agreements
- utilities bills
- car documents
- certificates for birth, marriage, divorce, etc.
- pay stubs
- health insurance documents
- report cards for any children in the family
- education transcripts
- tax returns
- medical records
All of these documents should go into a dedicated and clearly labelled file folder—no sharing with other categories! I find that using different colors for the home and personal files helps, but you may simply opt to store them separately.
Step 3: Store it with sense.
This is where the fun (okay, shopping) starts. How much room you need for your filing system depends entirely on the size of your home and your family, as well as your lifestyle. I get by with a small plastic file box with ten or so compartments that gets thrown into a closet, while my parents have a two-drawer cabinet with hanging files in a home office. However you choose to go, make sure you give your system a little room to grow.
Step 4: Use it.
Seems obvious, but it's easy to forget you have a system when it's so neatly tucked out of sight. I find that putting all incoming paperwork into one place (even if it's just a kitchen drawer), and setting aside a block of time once a month or so to deal with it, works well. The point is to make the system work for you, not to be a slave to filing.
Step 5: Clean it out.
Now you've got the system, don't let it be the thing that attracts dust and takes up space. Make a annual date (January makes sense... just sayin') to review your files, and cull and update where applicable. Get rid of manuals for things you no longer own, ditch the last batch of bills or pay stubs, and make sure nothing important like insurance or passports are about to expire.
Do you have a home filing system? What are your best tips for creating and using one?