Saturday, January 8, 2011

Filing System

The morning of January 1, 2009 my bleary eyed husband found me sitting in the floor of our den (which was kind of an empty room at that point) surrounded by stacks of papers- filing them. I don't know how many of you choose to spend your holidays filing- but I think if you do or don't you'll like this post.
Has anyone else noted that adulthood comes with an awful lot of paperwork? Leases, a car loan, titles, utilities, bills, licenses, insurance paperwork, resumes, job applications...we'd had all that since we got married. Now we had home loan paperwork, homeowners insurance paperwork, manuals on appliances, was multiplying at an alarming rate. And somehow when you own the home, the paperwork seems that much more valuable. It seemed like whenever we needed something we couldn't find it. I would spend hours going through it and then a couple of months later we still had stacks of paper sitting around we didn't have a place for. Needless to say I was overwhelmed. It had gotten to the point that checking the mail stressed me out. I "resolved" to find a solution, so I googled filing systems. I found this one, loved it, but didn't think I really needed to pay all that money for it. So, I'm sharing my adaptation. We've had this for two years now, and it has been all that it promised in the beginning. I found all my supplies at either Wal-Mart or Office Max.

You will need:
A file drawer or filing boxes.
Hanging file folders:
24 green
About 5 yellow
9 Blue
About 10 Red
(If you can't find different colored file folders you could just use different colored labels)

1. Label your green folders by month- and even and odd year. (January Even Year, February Even Year so on through December and then January odd year and February odd year and so on.) 2010 is an even year, 2011 is an odd year. These are your "Non-permanent files". The green folders hold any paperwork that comes into your home in the month listed on the file. Bills, receipts, quotes, school papers, bank statements etc. Unless the paperwork fits into another file- which we'll discuss later. You file it and forget it. If you need it, you go back and find it- but you should have a good idea where it should be. After you've had the system for two years, these folders will all be full. (I just got to this point.) This is the beauty of this system. If at any time, you have to go back and get papers from one of these folders, move those papers to the folder of the month you are in at the time you needed them. Then, when you get to January Odd year for the second time, all those papers in that folder you will not have used or needed in the past two years. It's pretty safe to say you don't need them anymore. So, you throw them out and now January Odd year is ready to use. Easy as that!
Because of this system- you will always have things from the past two years, giving you time to figure out if certain papers are important or not, and cleaning out the files is a cinch!
File any existing papers that fit into these folders as appropriate.

2. Label your yellow folders based on your needs. The yellow folders are your "Important but not permanent files" that you probably rotate out on a yearly basis. The labels I have on mine are "Benefits," "Auto Insurance," "Homeowners Insurance," "Retirement," and "Utility Contracts." If you change health insurance, auto insurance, homeowners insurance- just rotate the papers out.
File any papers you have that fit into these categories as appropriate.

3. Label the Blue folders as follows: "Taxes Even Year," "Taxes Odd Year," "Tax Year 1," through "Tax Year 7."

File any tax paperwork for this year (2011) in "Taxes Even Year"- because it is related to Taxes for 2010. The tax paperwork you used to file last year would go in "Taxes Odd Year" because it related to 2009. Any tax paperwork you have from years before that file into "Tax Year 1-7" as appropriate. Our tax paperwork from 2008 is now in the "Tax year 1" folder. 2007 is in "Tax year 2" and so on and so forth. They rotate back as the years progress. Every year you can get rid of your "Tax year seven" folder with confidence because the IRS can't audit you past seven years. (And it's really nine years, because you have the most recent two years in Taxes Even and Odd Year folders.) If you would feel more comfortable, you could always extend your number of years out to ten if needed. That's a personal preference.
Any tax paperwork you get in the mail file in the "Taxes Even Year" folder, and pull it out when you're ready to file. It's all in one place. And you know where to find any from years back!

4. Label your red files as you need for "Permanent" files. There is a file labeled "Home," I have a file named "Natalie," Aaron has a file named "Aaron", each of our cars has a file and our cats both have files. We keep health information, tune up records, vet visits, voter cards, my nursing license information, etc in those files. File papers into those files as appropriate.
We also have an additional file box labeled "Manuals"- and it's where we keep the manuals on computers, phones, appliances, electronics etc. If you throw out an appliance or get rid of electronics, just go through the files and pull out what goes with whatever you're getting rid of. The labels I have are: "Small Appliances," "Large appliances," "Computers and Accessories," "Phones," and "TV and video."

Finally, the number one rule for a successful filing system:
Touch each piece of paper that comes into the house only once. Immediately either throw it out, file it, or put it in a "To Do" bin. Don't let too much time go by before cleaning out your "To Do" bin.

I hope this helps you conquer your paper anxieties! Happy Filing!

(My white file boxes were about $12.00 apiece at Wal-Mart. They are stored on this.)

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