The right way to file your papers

Filing household documents and records wisely will save hours of searching later. Here's how to keep your files manageable.

The right way to file your papers

How to easily set up your filing system

All too quickly, books, mail and paperwork can pile up throughout your home; but with a good filing system, you can prevent the accumulation 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 paper that come into your household and designate places for them.

  • The papers you need somewhere safe. 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 every item you can when you sort. 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. Computerize files of important information and explore online banking options. Most banks have Internet-based systems that may work with your current Web browser.
  • 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.
  • Be sure to back up computer files on a separate disk.

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 sun is minimal.

Organization is key in creating a filing system that works. Consider these tips and spend less time searching through papers!

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