How to Organize Your Paperwork


Do you want to know how to deal with the paper clutter that is taking over your house? In order to organize your papers, the first thing you need to do is create a home for them! I'm going to show you how to create a paperwork system so you know what to keep and where to put them.

This is the second part in the Paperwork Bootcamp: Putting Paper in Its Place series! You can find part one here.

If you've done the suggestions in the first part of the series, you've corralled your papers into one or two places in your home.  We are going to focus on the (relatively) current paperwork in your home and build a "Current" paperwork filing system. I will say it again and again: Keep It Simple. No, not leave it where it lays simple, but up into a simple, easy system that everyone in your home can get understand and use.

I'm going to show you what I create for all of my clients who are dealing with paper clutter. I know it works because I've used myself with incredible success (and believe me, I would rather do just about anything than file my own paperwork).

I have seen clients go from I-never-file-anything-ever to clients who can find their bills, snag their kids immunization records and find that super important receipt for the tv that just died in under 5 minutes flat. 

Let's get started!

What you'll need:

1. A relatively cute filing box that can (and will!) be living on a counter top or piece of furniture that is in the main hub of your house. It NEEDS to be at LEAST 12 inches deep. For the love of all things, PLEASE don't buy a skinny little box. It will get filled up in a month and then you'll stop using it. It needs to be deep and roomy. Something like this. Letter size only. Legal size is too wide for most household paperwork.

2. A box of fresh new manila folders. No ratty, mismatched files. Fresh. New. Go to the store. If you want colored ones, go for it.

3. A box of fresh new hanging folders. Pretty colors are encouraged but certainly not necessary. Just make them match. Make them attractive. Go to the store.

4. If you have nice handwriting, hand label them. If you want them to look super polished, pick up a label maker. I use one similar to this one.

(My philosophy about creating a new system like this one is to invest in the best tools upfront. Pick what you really want. Don't settle. You're going to be using this thing for years and year. Make it awesome. )

This is my personal filing box. It's an older picture but it still looks the same, just with 2016 files in it!

I have my monthly files in the front (Part A) and then color coordinated sections for the bulk of my filing (Part B).

  • Red - Household (bills, big purchase receipts such as washers, electronics, jewelry etc., repairs, automotive papers, insurance, etc.)

  • Yellow - Medical (files for each person in the family and extra ones for ongoing medical situations)

  • Green - Financial (banking, investments, retirement, loans, debt)

  • Blue - Taxes

  • Purple - Each member of the house gets their own file(s) here. Examples would be School, Hobbies, Church, Extracurricular, etc.)

You absolutely do NOT have to color coordinate it like I did. I just happen to love color. If one color makes more sense to you than do that!

In the back I have stand up folders. In librarian terms, this is my "Ready Reference" section. Information that I pull out over and over and need easy access to. 

One has my kids paperwork--lunch calendars, teacher information, school information etc. and the other holds my stamps, return address labels and a few other often referred to papers.

Let's Build One for You!

Part A:

This is really the hub of the system. In it there are 12 files, each labeled as a month. They are used throughout the year and aren’t married to a particular year so they remain evergreen. The current month is always in the front. At the end of the month, the papers are processed and the folder is moved to the back of the group. They are held in two hanging folders. Six months in each so they don't get too stuffed.

Each month holds only papers that pertain to that particular month or will be needed/used in the future, beginning in that particular month.

Examples are:

  • Coupons (restaurants/automotive/grocery store etc.)

  • Bills that need to be paid that month

  • Theatre/sports/movie/tickets of any kind to be redeemed in that month

  • Invoices that need to be paid

  • Invoices that need to be processed

  • Gift cards

  • Paperwork that needs to be followed up on

  • Medical bills that are waiting on insurance claims

  • Receipts for current purchases

So say you go grab your mail and the current month is August. You take it to your filing system and start opening it.

  • In it you have a coupon for an oil change that expires 8/31

  • a credit card bill due 9/14

  • your electricity bill due 8/27

  • the opera tickets performance date: 10/3

  • a bill that you know you paid but the billing agency is saying you still owe them a balance

Where do they go?

  • the coupon for the oil change that expires goes in the August file

  • the credit card bill goes in the September file

  • the electricity bill goes in the August file

  • the theater tickets go in the October file

  • the disputed bill is an immediate action. If you don’t have time/energy to deal with it right then and there, put it on your to do list and schedule it on your calendar. The bill stays in your current month’s file until it is dealt with.

*If there is a large amount of medical filings, a separate medical pending file will be in this area of the system.

Ok, pretty straightforward, right?

So at the end of month (put this on your calendar each month) go through the month’s file and discard anything that has expired, has been dealt with or isn’t going to get done and push anything that is leftover to the following month’s file.

Put anything that you need to get done on your to do list and on your calendar!

Part B:

This is the general area of the filing system and is pretty self explanatory. There is a section heading for Household which will include all large household purchases receipts, major repairs (new roof, plumbing etc.), household maintenance records and contracts (bug guy, lawn care, etc.). Car care is included in the household section.

The Personal section is for each member of the house. Under each individual there are files for business/career, medical, school, hobbies and any other category that is relevant to that person.

If the medical files are too large for the Personal Section a Medical category can be created and the medical files for each family member can be moved there.

The Financial/Taxes section holds yearly tax receipts (tax papers from previous years go in the archive box), active loans, investments, mortgage papers, insurance coverage (car, home and medical) etc..

The key to this system is that it is flexible and can be categorized in a way that makes most sense to the user. It will evolve over time.

There should be an archive sister system that mirrors how you have filed your current papers. So if you have filed your mortgage papers under household in the current files that’s where they would filed in the archives. Archives are papers that are needed for record keeping purposes but are not used regularly. The current system should be culled yearly (again, get this on your calendar) and papers should be discarded or archived. This process only takes an hour or two once a year.