Out of all the things we have to organize in our lives, paperwork is one area that most people struggle with or just hate to deal with altogether. There are several factors that might contribute to this difficulty.
First, you have to create a system for your papers. If you do not have a system in place, you will have papers disorganized and likely all over the place. To create a system, you first need to set up your categories. Think about what types of paper you come across. Then begin to label file folders with these categories.
My personal home filing system includes the following categories:
- Residence (mortgage/lease)
- Important documents (copy of birth certificate, marriage license)
- Previous tax returns
- Bank information/statements
- Credit cards (agreements, statements)
- Work (paystubs, receipts, write-offs)
- Retirement plans
- Insurance (life, disability, renters)
- Medical (insurance, receipts, bills)
- Contact information
- Interests and activities
- Restaurant menus
These folders can be put in order of importance or alphabetical order when they are in your filing cabinet. You might also have to file some items in places other than a filing cabinet.
For example, I have a box where I put more sentimental materials such as cards and letters and a box for photos. I always suggest having a memory box where these items, that you may not need immediate access to, can be stored together safely.
You will also want to have a place on your desk or counter for current “to-dos.” Have a designated location for bills that need to be paid or paperwork that needs to be acted on.
Another area to consider is how long paper needs to be kept. If we keep all paper, sooner or later your filing cabinet with be stuffed. This means every 3-4 months you should go through your files and purge what you no longer need.
Since so many things are tracked electronically now, we can get rid of a lot of paper once we check for accuracy. This means we can throw away credit card statements and receipts for minor purchases on a regular basis.
The most difficult part for most people is to maintain the system.
Basically, every time paper enters your house, it should go to its designated file folder, long-term storage box, or desktop. Then the most important information will be right on your desk ready for you to handle and all other information will be easy to find when you need it.
The problem comes when the filing system is not used on a regular basis and the piles get higher and higher, making it very hard to find what we need to find. Again, we also have to do some clean-outs in order to get rid of the stuff that is outdated and no longer needed.