My least favorite “chore” is filing paperwork. And I have plenty of it between everything for our household, my business, and managing my parents finances. I’ve set-up a home filing system that helps me to efficiently handle it all. It’s important to set up a system that makes it easy to find things and is easy to maintain. Here are 10 tips to help you set up a functional home filing system. And since pictures of files aren’t usually very interesting, I’ve included more photos of inspiring home offices.
Home Filing System Tips
1 Most people keep too many papers on file. On average, only 20% of the papers that are filed will ever be needed. So before you start filing that pile, go through it to eliminate anything you don’t need to keep. Suzie Orman put together an easy-to-follow list of what to keep and for how long. There’s also some good information at MSN Money.
2 Try to file on a regular basis, so your “file pile” doesn’t get out of hand. Depending on how much paperwork you have, this could be daily, weekly, monthly or even quarterly. Use a basket or folder to hold items to be filed until you are ready to do so. This way everything is in one spot and ready when you are. If you already have an overwhelming stack, spend about 15 minutes a day on it until it’s gone. It helps to set a timer when you do this.
3 The first step in setting up a home filing system is to make an outline of your records and how you want them organized. Don’t worry if you miss something or have too many categories. You can always tweak it later by adding new categories you need or combing several into one. To start, decide on your major groups or categories. For example, you may have household, school and business files. These would be your major groups. Decide within each group what the categories are and any sub-categories. Here’s an example:
I. Household (major group)
A. Utilities (category)
1. Electric (subcategory)
2. Phone (subcategory)
3. Water (subcategory)
4 I’m a big fan of color coding and I highly recommend it for a home filing system. Color coding helps you to recognize at a glance what a file is for even if you can’t read the label. This makes it easier to find what you’re looking for. To keep things simple, limit the colors to a minimum of 5. Use a different color for each of your major groups or categories.
5 The simplest way to set up your home filing system is to file by subject, such as utilities, credit cards, insurance, etc. Using broad headings such as these for hanging folders will allow you to create subcategories within each one. For example, in the utilities hanging file you can have a file folder for electric, phone, water, etc. as shown in tip #3.
6 Clearly label all hanging folders and files. On the file folder, you may want to include the category name along with the sub-category. For example, ELECTRIC - Utilities or WATER – Utilities. This will make re-filing easier. Try to avoid using “miscellaneous” as a label. If you feel it’s important enough to save, then it should fall into some type of category.
7 Where you place your hanging file labels is really a matter of personal preference. You can align them in a zigzag pattern going from left side to right side; stagger them left, middle and right; or place them all on the same side. I prefer to place mine all on the far left side. That way if I add or take a way a folder, it doesn’t mess up my alignment. And place them on the front of the folder, so that you can still see them when the file is full.
8 When placing most recent documents in a folder, always put them in the front. This will keep them in reverse chronological order.
9 Create a “hot” file for items you access on a frequent basis. Keep them at the front of the file cabinet or within arm’s reach at your desk.
10 Once a year, go through your files and purge them of anything that’s no longer necessary.
The most important thing about setting up a home filing system is to create one that you find easy to use. That way you won’t mind using it. Do you have a special system you use for your home filing?