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Household filing systemFiling is a habit we hopefully start as early as primary/grade school, as we keep our homework, schoolwork and artwork organized.  Or, as often happens, we can somehow struggle through to adulthood without really having a system in place.

No matter how messy or non-existent your filing system is, if you really think about it, there probably is SOME kind of system going on, even if that is just a series of piles.  Yes, even dumping papers onto a pile that just stays there is a system of some sort.  You know that the newer stuff is probably on top, unless you’ve disturbed the pile by rummaging though it looking for something.

Getting a filing system in place can be a bit scary to contemplate for some, but really it’s just about categorizing.  You need lots of folders, and you need them now!  Keep spare ones on hand too.  Even if you have hanging suspension files, use folders inside them so you can remove the folder without the whole file, and you can see exactly where it goes back.

Folders are simple, magical and wonderful objects which are capable of creating order.  Their usefulness is often underestimated and they are often underused.  Folders can make keeping any kind of papers so much easier.

Filing is about creating categories, and having a habit of putting things away in the correct folder and maintaining those folders.

CATEGORIES

You don’t want too many, too few, or titles that you will forget you’ve got (and accidentally start another one the same with a slightly different name).  So it needs to be re-assessed once you get going and updated from time to time. 

If a folder is getting too fat, ask yourself if you’re keeping things for longer than you need to, or if that folder needs breaking up into further categories.

Household categories will be things like:

Vehicle (receipts and records of repairs and maintenance, registration, insurance..)
Household property and/or contents insurance
Warranties and guarantees
Instruction books (I have mine in two categories, computer and non-computer)
 
Financial categories:

Tax (folder for each year, with the date it can be disposed of written on the folder as well).
Bank statements
Credit card statements
Mortgage papers
Lease and anything related to that lease
Any personal or other loans or financial agreements
Tax related receipts
Non tax related receipts (consider what you actually need and don’t need and why)
Superannuation

Personal categories will be things like this, and there should be a folder for each family member for each item applicable to them:

Life insurance and wills
Health
Educational
Employment
Personal documents (birth certificate, citizenship, voting enrollment, passport…)

WHAT TO KEEP AND HOW LONG FOR

This is decision making, which is why it’s hard.  When you’ve thought about something properly, for example how far back your bank statements need to go, make sure you don’t have to make the same decision all over again.  Write it on the folder – for example:  to start of current financial year only.

As you add to each folder, see if there is anything you don’t need any more.  Use a shredder for items containing personal information.

If in doubt about what you really need to keep for legal reasons, ask your accountant and/or lawyer.  You may be keeping way too much or not enough.

USE YOUR SCANNER

Using a scanner can reduce the amount of paper filing you need to keep, but make sure your computer folders are backed up.  You don’t need a hard copy of everything!  You can also use a scanner to have a back up copy of important documents, or just to have easy access to things you often need a printed copy of but not the original.

DIFFERENT WAYS OF FILING FOR DIFFERENT ITEMS

You may need several ways of filing things, depending on how you use the items, how often, and how many need to be kept together.

For items where you keep a lot of items in the same category and need to look through them frequently, consider ring binders and a hole puncher.  The same rules apply about deciding for how long things need to be kept and writing it on the folder.

For items where hole punching is not practical, such as instruction books for your many household appliances and electronic devices, magazine files are worth considering.  You might need a few of them in different categories.

For folders that would go in your filing cabinet but are frequently used, consider keeping them at the front of the cabinet or within easy reach of your desk, in colour coded folders for easy identification.  The categories I use for these folders are:

Budget and bills – all incoming bills go in here until they are paid, and all receipts until they are recorded.
School notices – for each school and one for pre-school
Filing – to be done daily or weekly, depending how quickly it builds up
To Do – things that need attending to.
Pending – this is not a procrastination file, it’s things that are waiting for something, and a follow up date is recorded in your planner or diary or calendar.

INSIDE YOUR FILING CABINET

-Put the plastic tabs on the front of the file so that you know to put folders in behind it.
-Make sure each file is labelled clearly, and that the little cardboard tab is not going to fall out.
-Create sections, such as household in one drawer, personal in another drawer, business in another drawer.
-Always put the folders back when you have finished with them.  Sure, you’re going to use it again soon, but that will be easier if you can find it where it is supposed to be. 
-Colour code the labels into categories, like financial, house, personal, or for each family member.

YOUR FILING HABITS

It’s one thing to have a workable filing system set up, but if you don’t use it – well, you know what happens.  Piles!  Things stuffed in drawers.  Too many places where something COULD be. 

If you’ve got a real, serious problem with filing, just do this one thing for now, while you’re getting started:

Keep everything in one place only.  Somewhere near your desk or office or study.  Just one area, one room, and only one.  Get everything from your car, your bag, the kitchen drawers, the coffee table, the hall table, and where ever else you’ve been stashing it and put it together in one place.  This will give you a starting point and break that habit.

Now, when you’ve got your folders worked out, you need a daily or weekly habit of putting things where they go.  I find filing weekly is ok and tends to be things I’ve finished with that need to be kept.  If I could arrange my furniture differently so I didn’t have to get up from my chair to file, I probably wouldn’t even use the filing folder.

New papers coming into the house need filing daily though.  As you open your mail, bills go in the bill folder, things to do in that folder, school notices in that folder etc – straight away – not later.  These are the colour coded, frequently used folders, and you will be able to find those things instantly.

Dealing with your paperwork in an organized way is another topic, but if you’ve got a great filing system running, you’ll at least be able to put your hands on exactly what you’re looking for very quickly, and avoid stress caused by the sight of scary piles of paper.  Knowing what it is and where it is takes a lot of the sting out of it.

Sometimes the messiest people are very sensitive to disorder, and simple things like having a workspace clear of clutter and papers removes stress and distraction.  If the sight of your desk is freaking you out, just spend 5 minutes, using a timer if necessary, putting things away in labelled folders.  I promise it will make you feel better.

Get your kids off to a good start with organizing, and provide them with some folders and a basic idea about sorting their own papers into categories.  They usually enjoy it, and it contributes to their sense of responsibility.

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