Before we delve into the organization part of our Great Paper Challenge: From Piles to *almost* Paperless, let’s focus on the first step of getting prepared: Setting up a filing system.
Yes, a real filing system to store all that paper you wish you didn’t have. We’ll work on transitioning to paperless later in the series. But there will probably always be some paper documents that you need to keep organized so it’s a good idea go ahead and get the system in place now.
First Things First
If you don’t have a current filing system, you need to get one.
If you do have a filing system but it’s not working for you, then make changes until it does.
If you have a filing system that’s working for you, then by all means keep it. However, if you’re reading this series there’s a good chance you fall into one of the first two categories and not the latter!
Types of Filing Systems
The A-Z System: Filing Alphabetically
Setting up your filing system alphabetically is recommended by some incredibly smart and organized people because the system is simple, doesn’t take up much room, and there are minimal supplies to buy.
- 26 Hanging Folders (plus additional hanging folders to expand your files).
- 26 Tabs labeled A though Z
- Blank File Folders (all paperwork won’t be placed in a folder so the amount needed is up to you)
If you have minimal paperwork this system should work great for you. However, I’d also recommend adding 43 additional hanging folders to use as a tickler file and 12 others to use when filing monthly documents, bills, etc. if those documents are delivered electronically. We’ll discuss both of those in detail in the coming weeks.
Filing by Category or Subject
Setting up your filing system by category or subject is not as simple as filing alphabetical but it’s certainly more comprehensive.
The first step when using this method is to determine what categories to use.
Should each member in your household have their own category? If so, where will you put medical receipts and documents? Will they go in the person’s folder or in a household category for medical information?
Where will you put auto records? In the persons folder who drives the car, in a combined “vehicle” folder, or in the glove box?
When documents can be filed in 2 or more categories, which one should you choose and will you choose it every time? More importantly, will your spouse, children, or others know where to find the information in your absence?
As you can tell, choosing categories can make or break your filing system. Questions like these had me constantly tweaking my own personal filing system. When I needed to retrieve a document, I wasn’t sure where to look since I couldn’t remember the exact name of the file or which category I used. At the start of each new year I wasn’t sure if I should make new folders or just co-mingle with the years. I was completely overwhelmed when dealing with paperwork and almost gave up. That is, until I found the Freedom Filer.
Not to be too dramatic but the Freedom Filer seriously changed my life when it comes to household and business paperwork. Here’s why:
- There are 7 categories and each category is broken down into every conceivable subject. There are obvious files but there are also folders for random things I’ve never known what to do with like “ideas” for all those things you eventually want to do or “coupons” for those monthly fliers you get in the mail.
- The monthly and tax categories have 2 sets of labels…one for odd years and one for even years. Think about how brilliant this is for the transition period between the January 1 and April 15 tax season. After taxes are submitted there’s even a place to file documents for a decade…or forever if you’re more comfortable with that.
- An easy to use instruction guide is included to walk you through the process of setting up your files.
- A reference section is included to help you figure out where to put a document in case you forget or are deciding between 2 folders.
- 5 reference cards are available that can be used by you (or anyone else in your absence) to figure out where important documents are located.
- Freedom Filer sends monthly and yearly email reminders so you rotate and purge files regularly.
- The only thing not included is a file box or drawer, hanging files, and plastic file tabs.
Being a do-it-yourself, frugal kind of gal, I tried my hardest not to spend the $30-$40 needed for these labels. I used my precious time trying to find out the categories and labels in this system so I could replicate it instead of actually getting organized. I should have just bought the labels and moved on with my life.
Things to Consider When Setting Up a Filing system
Use standard, plain hanging files and file folders
Unless you go with the Freedom Filer way of filing paper, I wouldn’t suggest using multiple colors of hanging files or file folders. When most people first set up a filing system and they are all gung-ho on getting organized so it’s tempting to use filing supplies with pizazz that show off their personality. It makes it more fun and I totally get that!
Unfortunately, when it’s time to add to that file drawer or replace some of the folders you may not have those same colorful supplies on hand; they may even be out of stock at the store. Your only option will be to find a replacement that probably won’t fit the perfect look of your file drawer.
Even though it may not be as fun, the standard green hanging files and manila file folders will probably be your best bet in having…and more importantly, keeping…a well-organized filing system that you’ll consistently use. Those styles have been around forever so I don’t foresee them going away in the near future.
Action Items for Today
- Determine which filing system is best for you.
- Round up the supplies needed.
Later in the week we’ll continue this series by setting up our filing system and start making a dent in our paper clutter!
Let’s hear from you…
What kind of filing system do you currently have? Does it need to be changed?
Click here to read more about the Great Paper Challenge: From Piles to *almost* Paperless!
Affiliate links included because, as you can tell, I’m a big fan and asked how I could join. If you decide to use Freedom Filer yourself I’d appreciate you ordering though my FreedomFiler or Amazon affilate link so I can earn a few pennies to keep this site going! Thank you!