How to Organize a Household Paper Filing System

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Whether you are running a home office or just need to keep the family documents and bills in order, you can always use a good filing system. Keeping your papers organized in an efficient and tidy manner makes it easier to find documents when you need them, and you'll know where to put papers when they aren't needed immediately, but should be held onto. Take an afternoon now to organize a paper filing system that works for your home or business, and in the future, filing and finding documents will be a breeze.

Things You'll Need

  • File cabinet
  • Hanging file folders
  • Determine what will work best for you based on the type of papers you are filing. While some people find the standard alphabetical order to be easiest, you may want to sort your papers by month. There are, however, several other methods, such as separating papers by biller, client, project, family member, invoice or subject. Also, depending on your work or home-office environment, you may need to keep time-sensitive documents at the forefront by filing them based on their deadline.

  • Divide up your papers once you have chosen your method. If you make stacks or piles of your papers, it will be easier and quicker to sort through all that you have to organize. Depending on how much loose paper or unfiled papers you have, this can take a while to sort through. Have someone else help you if you have a large amount to go through.

  • Label your hanging file tabs with the appropriate titles once you have your papers sorted. Use clear and legible lettering or type the labels if you are unsure of your own handwriting. When adding the tabs to the folders themselves, stagger their insertion points to create an easy-to-read cascading or stair-like system for when the files are hanging in the drawer.

  • Transfer your stacks and piles of paper into the correctly labeled folder. If you find you have too much of on thing, consider whether you need to purge some unnecessary papers, or if a set of sub-labels are in order for this category. For example, a file for credit card bills may be too full, but separate labels for American Express or Capital One can make it easier to find the bill you are looking for.

  • Keep your file cabinet in a protected location away from wide temperature fluctuations or ranges of humidity. The file cabinet, because of the nature of its job, should be easy to get to and utilize frequently. If your cabinet is tucked away in a location where documents can be neglected, take some time to consider if you are really using the right system for you or your business. If necessary, start over at Step 1 and reconsider how you are organizing your papers.

Tips & Warnings

  • Try using hanging file folders that are different colors to break down your paperwork visually. Often, individual colors can alert you when files or deadlines need attention. For example, if you have medical bills, that's one file, but you can use a red folder for bills that are overdue and need payment. When an item is paid, it can come out of the red file, but until then, you have a visual reminder of what is most urgent in your cabinet at all times. Keep efficiency in mind as you devise your label categories. While it may seem easy to create a dozen different sub-labels, this may be adding an unnecessary step to the process. Don't overdo it, but do break down a category when the need seems obvious.
  • Fully plan how you are going to organize your filing system before you begin. If you don't put enough thought into your plan now, you may find yourself having to reorganize everything in a few months if your system is not working.

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