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How to Set Up Your Home Filing System

Michelle Deo

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So, you're ready to revamp your filing system. . . There are so many different ways to manage paperwork that it would be completely impossible to cover them in such a short article. However, I will share with you one common filing system that will work for most people.

Before you begin tearing apart your current filing system, remind yourself that the main goal of an organized filing system is being able to find anything that you need in five minutes or less. So, if you can already find things quickly, your current system is obviously working for you. But, if it takes you an entire afternoon to find your child's immunization records, you will definitely want to revise your current filing system.

MATERIALS REQUIRED: manila file folders (left or right cut only), pen or pencil, lined paper, trash bags, shredder, memory box or plastic tote

OPTIONAL: hanging file folders or box-bottom folders, computer labels, label maker, colored standard and hanging folders (see below for color-coding ideas)


Take a look through your current filing system. Jot down (on a piece of lined paper) all the filing categories that you see. Then, brainstorm any additional categories that you need but do not currently exist in your filing system.

Next, group similar categories together into larger, more inclusive categories and jot these down, along with their respective subcategories, on a fresh piece of lined paper.

EXAMPLE: Life insurance, disability insurance, health insurance, home insurance, and auto insurance would be listed as subcategories under the INSURANCE category. For even easier accessibility, you may want to color-code your categories as well. Choose GREEN for FINANCIAL records, PURPLE for SCHOOL records, and so on.

Next, arrange your categories alphabetically. And, finally, label your file folders. Be sure to use simple, common, and consistent naming conventions for your folders so that everyone can find what they need when they need it.

EXAMPLE: In my family's home filing cabinet, all HEALTH records are grouped together. Each main category has its own BLACK hanging file folder, and each subcategory has its own standard RED file folder. In addition, all folders are labeled on the right-hand side.

SORTING Once you have the folders for your main categories and subcategories ready, start sorting your paperwork. TIPS: Any envelopes need to go straight into your trash bag. If you happened to be saving an envelope for the address, take a moment to jot down the address on your lined paper and then toss the envelope. Plus, to save space in your filing cabinet, be sure to unfold any folded papers.

Now, every piece of paper that you touch requires an immediate decision: keep, toss, or shred. Tip: Ask your accountant about record retention guidelines if you need help in your decision-making process. Finally, shred any documents that need to be tossed but happen to contain valuable personal information (i. e. , social security numbers).

If you come across any sentimental cards or letters, you need to carefully consider how valuable each item is to you. A handwritten note from your great-grandmother likely holds more value to you than the goofy Valentine's Day card that your husband gave you last year in which he scribbled “Love and Kisses from Your Hubby. " Toss the least important items into the trash. Save only the best.

FILING Any sentimental item that makes the cut goes into your memory box or plastic tote. That's the limit. Once that box is full, that's it! So, choose your items carefully. If you fill your box and are still finding things that you want to keep, you are not allowed to grab another box!

You'll need to go back through everything in your memory box and get even tougher with your standards. You should save only the things that are most important to you so that you can truly honor them.

File all other paperwork into the appropriate folders of your new-and-improved filing system. Now, don't forget to set aside time each week to file any new (and must keep) records that enter your home. Then, commit to purging your files at the start of each New Year to ensure that your files stay current.

Life is continually changing, so you definitely need to commit to regular maintenance of your filing system to keep up! Of course, if you find that your system is no longer working for you, change it! Now you know how!

MICHELLE DEO, mom, organizing expert, and speaker, helps moms-to-be, new moms, and busy women learn practical time- and space-saving ORGANIZING SOLUTIONS. Her goal is to help both homeowners and small business owners get real organized so they have the time, space, and energy to enjoy life to its fullest potential.

Request your FREE [real neat] ideas kit (featuring 35 home organizing solutions), sign up to receive your FREE monthly eNews (full of organizing hints and tips), or schedule your FREE no-obligation telephone consultation (including personalized organizing ideas) today at


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