How to set up a proper filing system for important papers

July 27, 2015

Whether you've just finished your taxes, another school year or clutter is driving you crazy, it's important to organize your papers. Why? Filing household documents wisely will save you hours of searching next time you need them. Here's how to keep paperwork under control.

How to set up a proper filing system for important papers

How to easily set up your filing system

All too quickly, books, mail and paperwork can accumulate throughout your home; but with a good filing system you can prevent the pile-up of unmanageable stacks that collect dust, make you anxious and make it impossible to find the important piece of paper that you need.

To avoid this trap, think about how often you'll be referring to the various types of papers that come into your household and designate places for them.

  • Papers you need most should be within arm's length. Incoming mail, school flyers, catalogs and books you refer to frequently should be given a convenient location where they'll be easy to put away and retrieve.
  • Sort through papers and household files. Throw away any item you can when you sort. Remember, your first instinct of the value of something is probably right. If you're really not sure, put a note on the document about what you need to do to determine if it's worth keeping, and put that in your "to do" pile.
  • Use your computer to reduce paper documentation. Scan files of important information and explore online banking options.
  • Use file folders. It helps if you keep categories specific enough to make searching easy, but general enough to keep the number of files manageable. Always start file names with nouns. For example, "Letters, Personal," is better than "Personal Letters." Other headings you might use: Directions and Maps, Investments, Repairs, Medical Records, Insurance, Taxes and Warranties.
  • Colour code your files for easy identification. You may wish to use coloured folders: for example, green for investments or red for taxes. A cheaper, quicker method is to use coloured labels, coloured plastic tabs or to write file names with coloured markers.
  • Store folders in alphabetical order within an enclosed container or drawer. Visit a home store or office supply store to find your options, including cabinets, stackable file drawers, plastic file boxes and cardboard file cartons. Make an alphabetical list of your folders and tape it on the outside of the container or drawer.
  • Discard any items you no longer need. Each time you consult a folder, review all of its contents and do a cull of old, obsolete paperwork.

Rotate and update your files

Once you have set up your filing system for household papers, be sure to rotate current files into long-term storage as required. For example, once you have filed your annual tax return, put copies of all relevant documents in a separate permanent tax file for easy retrieval. Tax documents should be kept for a minimum of seven years. Then throw out all papers you don't need and start a new tax file for the current year.

  • Update health insurance files with new policy provisions.
  • Keep savings and investment files up to date with current balances and account numbers.
  • Back up computer files on a separate disk, flash drive or an external hard drive. Store them in a fire-resistant strong box stashed in another part of the house.

Archiving books and papers

Other books and paperwork can go in a less-frequently used spot, such as a bookcase under a stairway, in a hallway or on a stair landing.

  • Because light can damage books and papers in long-term storage, find a place for them where exposure to sunlight is minimal.

Organization is key to creating a filing system that works. Although it may seem like a lot of trouble to set up, you'll be glad you did the next time you need to dig through your neatly filed papers and not a chaotic mess.

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