Posts Tagged 'files'

Paper Management, Part 5

File Tips, Tricks and Ideas

As I recommended in Part 4, Developing a Simple and Effective Household Filing System:

  • Make your system as simple as possible. You are much more likely to keep up with it.
  • Start from scratch. You will find it is much easier than trying to revamp your previous system. I don’t recommend purchasing a pre-designed filing system. It WON’T be simple. At least not for you. You will have to spend time fitting your categories into their categories. It is much easier to create your own categories, with titles that make sense to you.
  • Opt for a system based on subjects rather than filling alphabetically.  Filing alphabetically is way too much to remember. Is my VW Bug filed under V for Volkswagon, B for Bug, A for Auto or C for Car? It’s way too much for this pee brain to remember! If on the other hand, my filing system is separated into the 3 main subjects of Family, Personal, and Possessions and Finances, my car will be very easy to locate. Within the subject section Possessions, I will have a hanging file titled Automobiles. Within this hanging file I will have a manila folder for each of my Automobiles. Simple and easy to find!
  • Locate your filing system in a place that is both convenient to use and located away from the hub of the home.
  • Color–coding of your broad categories can reduce miss filing and stimulate your thinking. Again choose categories and colors that make sense to you!
  • Straight-line filing, with the tabs one behind the other, is not only easier on the eye, but also simpler to maintain than alternating tab positions.
  • After you complete your new filing system, make an outline or list of your system and use it until you are comfortable with it.

Purchase Basic Supplies

Invest in a sturdy filing cabinet.  Check out any office supply store.  The choices are limitless. Consider where you will be doing your filing.  Will you be in a home office where aesthetics are not an issue, or will your files be located in your family room for all to see? Will you need to roll it into a closet after use, or will it be a permanent fixture in your home?  You can purchase a mobile file unit that can rolled into a closet or a basic 2 drawer metal cabinet for as little as $50. Or, you can purchase a furniture grade cabinet for as much as $500. You can even purchase individual file boxes, which can be stored on open shelving. Ultimately you need to remember that if they are not easy to access, they won’t be, and your filing won’t get done.
Make sure you have plenty of uniform, sturdy hanging files and manila folders.

A Work In Progress.......

As you are developing a new system, use post-it notes as labels until you have your entire system complete. Use 2 different colors; one representing your hanging files and the second representing your manila folders. This enables you to quickly and easily change category titles, and subject titles as your system evolves.

When your filing system is complete, take the time to clearly and neatly label your files.

To label your hanging files, you can use the clear vinyl tabs included with them. I generally use 3 1/2 inch plastic tabs and label them with my brother label machine. This makes for easy to read and uniform labels. Alternatively, you can simply use a thin black marker to label your inserts.

To label manila folders, I generally use inkjet/laser file folder labels, and print them from my computer. Again, this makes for easy to read and uniform labels. Alternatively, you can simply use a thin black marker to write on your file folder labels and then stick them on the manila folder or you can write directly on the folder.

Remember, your filing system is dynamic and ever changing. Your interests, responsibilities and possessions will change, and so should your filing system. Don’t be afraid to drop and add categories as your needs change. Set aside time each week or month to actually do your filing. Then set aside time each year to purge and revamp your system. Don’t forget to use a Document Retention Guide, available online, and check with your attorney and/or accountant while purging.

A Job Well Done

Yes, setting up and maintaining a filing system takes a bit of work on the front end, but you will save yourself many hours of searching and much frustration in the long run. That, my friend, is priceless!

Happy Filing!


Paper Management, Part 4

Developing a Simple and Effective Household Filing System

Managing the piles of paper and multitude of important documents in our “information age”  is a major home organization challenge for most people. It’s time to tackle that challenge and your Basic Household Filing System. It’s time to change your thinking a bit, get organized, and simplify. Does it sound like a daunting task? It doesn’t have to be!

You should be able to retrieve any paper or important document in less than one minute—if that’s not the case, it may be time to revamp that old system and start anew. Unless you already have a system that’s at least 75 percent effective, I recommend starting from scratch. Then incorporate your old files into your new system.

If you can retrieve any paper in less than a minute, you have an organized and effective filing system and you can stop reading. Congratulations!

The first step in developing an effective household filing system is to understand both what it is and what it is not. These files are different than your Quick Access Files, which hold information that you need to access often and quickly. Many times, quick access files are used for a season and then discarded or updated. Occasionally, if they contain documents or information that you will want to keep in your permanent files, they can be transferred to your basic household filing system. Some examples of information found in your Quick Access Files are invitations, schedules, announcements, appointment reminders, and take out menus. You need to access these files daily and quickly, and for that reason, they should be kept in the hub of the home. Check out part 2 of my Paper Management series,  “Quick Access Files: Don’t Live an Organized Life Without Them!”

Your Household Filing System, on the other hand, does not need to be accessed as often. These files are your basic household working files, which hold current, important documents and records used for routine activities like bill paying, tax and financial statement documentation, medical information, and home maintenance. They need to be accessible, but not located in the hub of the home. Generally, when you are writing bills or dealing with your household paperwork, you need a bit of quiet. For this reason, consider finding space in your home office, or even a quiet corner of your bedroom.

The secret to a good filing system is to keep it simple. Whatever system you use should make it easy to find what you need, be easy to maintain, and make sense to everyone who may need to use it. If it isn’t simple and effective, it won’t get used.

Filing is not about storage, but rather it is about finding what you need when you need it. Instead of trying to figure out what you can toss, determine what you need to keep. There is a huge difference! 80% of the papers that we file away will never get looked at again. If you aren’t sure what to save, ask yourself the following questions – if you don’t answer yes, toss it.

  • Are there tax/legal reasons to keep it?
  • Will it help me complete a project I’m working on right now?
  • Do I have time to do anything with this piece of paper in the future?
  • If I ever needed it again, would it be hard to get from someone else?
  • Is the information up-to-date?
  • Would my work/life change if I didn’t have it?
  • Is the same information easily accessible online?

Document Retention guides are available online. Just google household document retention guides, and you will find a number of them to choose from.  Use them as a guideline, and be sure to check with your accountant or lawyer to get advice about a particular situation or document.

“Man’s best friend, aside from the dog, is the wastebasket”.      Business Week

Remember this truth and always have your friend with you when dealing with paperwork!

With these tips in mind, let’s begin!

First, separate your filing system into 3-5 basic subjects: I generally use 3 Main subjects: 1. Family and Personal, 2. Possessions, and 3. Finances. You can separate each category by placing them in separate drawers, by using separate color hanging files for each subject area, or by simply staggering the location of your filing tabs (Family and Personal to the left, Possessions in the center, and Finances to the right).

Your next step is to assign broad categories within each subject, and place each broad category in it’s own hanging file.

Family and Personal – Create Broad Categories for: Each Person in your family, Medical Insurance, Each Pet or Animal in your family, and Each Organization that you are associated with.

For example: Within the subject of “Family and Personal”, I may have hanging folders for the following broad categories:

  • Family Members (1 hanging file for each family member)
  • Pets (1 hanging file for each pet)
  • Relatives and/or Contacts
  • Memberships
  • Insurance
  • Church/Ministry
  • Volunteer Organizations

Possessions– Include anything you OWN – Create Broad Categories for Automobiles, Home Purchases, Home Improvements, Large Appliances, Small Appliances, Large Electronics, Small Electronics, Your Current Home, Home Utilities, Home Services

Finances – Include anything having to do with your finances – Create Broad Categories for Bank Accounts, Credit Accounts, Investments, and College Savings Plan

Finally, assign specific categories within each broad category and place each specific category in it’s own manila folder in the hanging folder. For example: Within the broad category of each family member, I place 3-4 manila folders labeled; Personal, Health, Education, and Employment. The Personal file will hold birth certificate, social security card, passport, and other important certificates. The Health file will hold important health records, dental records and immunization records. The Education file will house permanent test results, transcripts, degrees, letters of recommendations, awards, and any other permanent records. Finally, the Employment file will hold resumes, contracts, benefits, retirement information, and social security records.

Of course your family filing system will change as your life changes. You won’t have an Education or Employment file for your newborn, but can add those as the need arises in the years to come. Likewise, you may have additional files for the family member(s) who are in the workforce for a long period of time. You may have categories of Employment, Past Employment, Future Employment Goals etc. The beauty of creating your own, personalized filing system is the ability to tailor it to your own needs.

For this reason, I do not recommend purchasing a pre-designed filing system. It WON’T be simple. At least not for you. You will have to spend time fitting your categories into their categories. It is much easier to create your own categories, with titles that make sense to you so that you will be able to remember them. I also don’t recommend filing alphabetically. It’s way too much to remember for my pee brain! Is my VW Bug filed under V for VW, B for Bug, A for Auto, or C for Car?

It takes a bit of work on the front end, but your efforts in developing a household filing system will save you countless hours and frustration in the long run.

Happy Filing!


Quick Access Files…….Don’t Live an Organized Life Without Them!

Last time in “Help, My Kitchen is My File Cabinet”, I referred to the universal problem of overwhelming amounts of paperwork, and the resulting piles that usually end up in the kitchen. Part of the solution to this problem is the creation of Quick Access Files.

Quick Access Files are just that– files that you need to access often and quickly. Don’t let the word “file” in “Quick Access Files” throw you. These are files containing different information than we generally keep in our regular “Filing Cabinet”.

My Personal Quick Access Files

  My Personal Quick Access Files


To create “Quick Access Files”, gather up all the bits of information lying around and plastered to your kitchen. Then separate them into logical categories. Because each of our lives and habits are different, so too will be each of our Quick Access Files.

You may end up with:

  • A file for each school, which will hold current phone lists, school calendars, announcements, and newsletters
  • A file for every sports team or club
  • A file for volunteer organizations, which will hold current phone lists, announcements, schedules and newsletters
  • Or, you may choose to create a file for each family member in which you can place all the information from each school, club or organization
  • A “doctor/dentist” file with contact information, directions and appointment cards (which you will drop in the file AFTER you write it on the calendar)
  • A file for prescriptions which can hold patient information for any current prescriptions that your family members are using
  • A file for take out menus
  • A file for parties and invitations (which you drop in AFTER you write on the calendar)
  • A file for coupons and gift cards

For many of these categories you will also have a file in your regular file cabinet. For instance, each child will have an “Education” file in your regular files in which you will put all their permanent records, report cards and testing information. Each family member will have a “Medical” file, which will hold immunization records, surgery, allergy and all permanent medical records.

These papers, invitations, schedules, announcements, appointment reminders and take out menus in your Quick Access File will generally be  used for a season and then discarded or updated. At the end of a school year or sports season, for example, most of the contents of the Quick Access File will be discarded. Any important information or documents, however, will be added to your regular long term filing system, and your Quick Access Files are ready for a new season!

Several of my clients have been hesitant to create a Quick Access File because their spouses didn’t like the idea of a file box setting out in the kitchen or family room. You may kindly suggest, to these well meaning spouses, that a small, nice looking file box (think compact and attractive) looks much nicer than a pile of papers in disarray!

Check out some of these links for ideas.  Be creative!

Happy and Organized Days!



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