Organize your filing cabinet

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that every home needs a filing system.  Whether you are single, married with or without kids, you have paper! You need a place to put all those bills, important documents and other household effects of the paper variety. Well I finally got mine together.  In the process I learned a few things.

Here are the supplies you will need:

1.  The right equipment. I had a filing system, sort of, but it was so disorganized it was ineffective. My cabinet was an old metal 4-drawer thingy-doohickie that I had purchased from craigslist when we first moved to Ohio.  It was hideously ugly and had seen better days.  It was metal but painted brown to look like wood grain *yikes!*  Unfortunately,  I’m (or was) one of those suckers who can’t say no once I arrive to buy from a craigslister. And hey, she was only asking $10, and I figured I could remake it to look nice. (Note: certain things just reach the end of their life and should go to the dumpster.) I painted the ugliness…what else…my favorite color Orange!   The metal sliders stuck, so it didn’t really hold my folders well. I organized it the best I could and used it for about 3 years. In the past year I had been looking to switch to a 2 drawer wooden one.  I found this one at a yard sale for $7, and it was barely used!  The drawers don’t slide, they glide! I downsized to a 2-drawer because I didn’t need that much space, but your mileage may vary.

2. Filing Supplies.  I now had the right cabinet, but I still needed the innards, the heart of your system.  I had previously used the ugly army-green hanging jackets with the equally ugly manila folders.  I found that my papers would poke out of the open sides of the hanging jackets.  Also it was sometimes hard to move the hanging jackets smoothly, especially as they fill up.  I found jackets with closed sides that sit in the drawers instead of hang by the metal pieces on the ends! Awesomeness ensues!  No more papers poking out of the sides or papers spilling everywhere, as you lift out the hanging jackets! (Can you tell I really hate hanging jackets?). The best part? These folders are super cute and coordinate!  I found these at wal-mart. The ‘jacket’: $4.88/12, the folders: $4.88/24.  Doesn’t get better than that!

3. Labeling Labeling your jackets and folders is crucial, for how will you know what the contents are? For now I have handwritten labels.  I plan to make the labels on the computer and print onto label paper.  I would love to do labels like these with my silhouette machine, but that would just be taking it too far!  You could also use one of those label printers like dymo or brother.  I find that to be unnecessarily tedious though.

So I mentioned I learned a few things along the way. Here they are:

1.  Don’t be too detailed. In my old cabinet/system, I broke each jacket into the most minute details.  I ended up with too many categories, and too many folders! The system overwhelmed me so much I gave up on it.  I got so tired of searching for each folder that I would sometimes just shove the paper in the front of the cabinet.  Eventually the cabinet became jumbled. The idea is to know where to go when looking for a particular piece of paper.

2. Don’t file too many things. Not everything needs to be filed.  There are some papers you will not need to reference regularly.  Those papers should be filed in a plastic box and put away. If you file every single piece of paper, your cabinet will overwhelm you.

3. Have one jacket for each member of the family. There are just some papers that pertain to only one person and may defy being filed elsewhere.  For instance, I may have received a form for a school physical for my son that I don’t need until he goes to the doctor for his checkup. I put this in his folder so that when it’s time to go to the doctor, I know exactly where to find it: in his jacket.

4. Purge Regularly. I purge about twice a year.  Any more will be too much for me. Any less and your papers accumulate.

5. Control what comes in. Okay, so now you’ve got your filing system all set up, now what? How do you keep from going back to that dark place of disorganization? You have to control what comes in! Say it with me: Clutter is delayed decision making. Make a decision right then and there for each piece of paper you receive.  Act on it and put it where it belongs.  Deposit junk mail directly in the trash.  File away a new bill. Decide if you will accept that credit card offer or not, right then and there. Do not let it sit on the counter! I know how hard this can be.  Mr. AfroMartha, for reasons I will never understand, deposits all the mail, junk and all, on the counter.  You can’t make someone else follow your plan, so simply control the clutter before it develops into a pile.

Here are some suggestions for grouping your contents based on what’s in my cabinet:

1. Bills: This can be split into 2 or more folders. One for regular household bills, and the other for other bills that are not recurrent. Or any other way you want to split this jacket up

2. Receipts: I usually only save receipts for big ticket items or anything that I may want to return. Grocery receipts I usually toss. I just toss in the receipts directly into this jacket, I don’t even have folders.

3. Vital Records: *Note: The contents of this jacket really should go into a fire-proof safe or something more secure than a filing cabinet* However, if you keep them in the filing cabinet, this jacket would contain a folder for Marriage certificate and a folder labeled with each person’s name which would hold birth certificates and social security cards and any other vitally important document.

4. Household Services: This is where I keep papers pertaining to my phone service, lawn care or anything else dealing with the household.

5. Appliances: Manuals for appliances large and small, and the computer

6. Insurance: Any kind of papers for your insurance such as medical, home, auto etc

7. Taxes: The all important tax info! Keep the last 7 years in case you get audited, then toss after 7 years. Each folder in this jacket is labeled with the year and contains w-2’s, 1099’s, and paper returns and anything else that pertains to your taxes.

8. Banking and investments: anything pertaining to your bank accounts and investments.

9. Auto & Home: You could store your deed and title here but it really belongs in a fireproof safe. I keep anything related to these two here, such as repair estimates.  Auto & Home should be in separate (labeled) folders.

10. Individual family members: This jacket contains each person’s personal documents For instance, my husband’s jacket contains a folder for his child support payments, a folder his schooling, and a folder for work.  Mine contains a folder for letters from my brother, a folder for courses I’m interested in taking, etc.  You get the idea.

I hope I have given you something to think about here. To be clear, there are many more ways to accomplish this task.  This is just my method.  You may find a better one that works for you, but I hope that this post has at least given you some ideas.  Please feel free to chime in below with your method so that I may learn something new!

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