I recently tackled a major home filing system overhaul. It was a big project (and it’s not quite done), but I’m so glad to have it completed.
Step One: Gather Papers
The first step for me of gathering all the papers I needed to file was actually super easy. At the beginning of last year, I knew my file system needed a major overhaul. We’d had a lot of life changes, and it just wasn’t working for me anymore. Therefore, instead of filing anything I just threw it into a bin until I got around to overhauling my files. It’s now over a YEAR later when I’m finally tackling the project! Therefore, I had a huge, scary stack of papers that needed filing (or purging), but at least they were all contained in one bin. Isn’t this picture just plain scary?
Step Two: Determine Your File Structure or Categories
This was by far the most difficult and painful part of the process for me. I knew that what I had really wasn’t working, but I felt stuck on how to proceed. What file categories do I need? How should I organize them (all in alphabetical order or by some sort of sections)? How specific or general should I be? Should my car info file be filed under “car” or “vehicle” or “auto” or what? It’s important to realize that there are no right or wrong answers to this. There’s no perfect way to name your files, so I would advise not to get caught up in trying to make it perfect.
Honestly, when I sat down to do this part, I just stared at my existing files for a few minutes. Then I opened an Excel sheet and saved the blank sheet with the title I wanted. Then I really “needed” a snack, so I ran off to get that. Then I “needed” a shower (even though I’d already had one that morning – yes I was truly that stressed about finding the perfect file structure), so I ran off to do that. Then I came back and stared at the files a little longer. Then I called my mom to
complain about how hard this task was see if she had discovered the absolute perfect filing system since I last talked to her. Then I FINALLY told myself it wasn’t going to be perfect, and I just had to get something done!
Here is exactly what I came up with, but I don’t think this would work for everyone. It’s important to find what works for you and the way you think. Also, it’s important to note that all my bills are already taken care of in my finance binder. You can see a detailed tour of my finance binder here.
The first category is Tax and Financial, and those labels are purple. This is pretty straight forward. For previous tax years, I’m lumping everything into one file folder (and this is how it is in my current files so it’s super easy to transfer). For the current tax year, I’m separating things out a little more. Once taxes are filed for this year, I will probably lump it all into one folder again and create more detailed folders for the current year. Also, all of my bank and credit card statements are online, so there’s not a lot that needs to go in those folders. Most of these folders will need to be kept for seven years, and then I can shred the contents.
My second category are items that need to be kept permanently or indefinitely. This includes our medical records, life insurance policy, marriage certificate, passports (although I realize I probably don’t need to keep my old passport once I get a new one but I do anyway), social security cards, and vehicle titles (although I realize these won’t be kept once the car is sold).
The third category is called “Not Permanent” which just means items that will be replaced when something new comes in. Furniture and jewelry are receipts and warranties only for nice jewelry and nice furniture. Most of my furniture is from IKEA or yard sales, so I don’t save those receipts for too long. I’ll throw out vehicle records when we sell the vehicle.
Step Three: Create Your File Labels
This is the fun part of the project especially for a label fanatic like myself!! I had a blast creating new file labels. I drew the design myself (on the computer – not on paper), printed it on an 8.5 by 11 sheet of Avery sticker paper, and then cut it with the Silhouette machine (using the print and cut feature).
I used the removable sticker paper, so that way I can just take the label off the folder and reuse the folder. Also, I like the removable adhesive because it’s a lot easier to apply. If it’s not on straight, you can just peel it off and stick it back on. I’ve used this kind of adhesive paper a lot and never had a problem with it coming off even though you can pull it off.
Step Four: Set Up Your Empty Files
Next, I took all the files out of my cabinet. Then I put the labels on new file folders and put them in the cabinet. From there, I took the old files and transferred over the contents to the new files. This only took about five minutes, since I kept a lot of the same files on purpose so I wouldn’t have to do much a shuffling around. Things I didn’t need I just stacked in a “to shred” pile.
Step Five: Fill your Files
Next, I took the huge stack of paper and started filling the file folders. Anything I didn’t need I just put in a “to shred” pile. If I really wasn’t sure what to do with something, I put it in a stack and dealt with it at the end, so I didn’t get completely bogged down. This is the part that's not completely finished yet.
A Few Notes
I already mentioned where all my bills are kept. I’m throwing away utility bills from previous years. I do have records of how much we paid each month which might be useful in the future if we sell our house. (Note: I’m not a financial or tax person, so I’m not saying this is what you should do! I’m just being completely honest about what I do.)
I don’t really save many receipts. I used to, and it was a little ridiculous to save every single receipt. I save receipts for things I might return and things we need for tax purposes.
I have all our home related papers in another spot. That includes everything we got at closing, our loan documents, and our homeowner’s insurance policy. This is in part because some of the documents are legal sized and don’t fit in the file cabinet. All those documents are in one spot in a decorative box, and I know right where they are if I ever need them (which is rare).
I don’t file manuals. I just keep those all in one bin. I’ve thought about creating a sophisticated organizing system for them, but I honestly almost never use them, so I think that would be way overkill. Home appliance warranties are in my house box, since we’d need them if we sell the house.
How do you organize you files? Did you stress about determining the categories as much as I did?