File Papers like a Beast
Updated: Apr 23, 2019
LeeeeEEEEET'S GET READY TO FIIIIIIILLLLLLEEEEE!
*cue Jock Jams*
While most people have at least a little experience filing papers, I find that it's the process before the actual filing which needs tending to most. Now, let's go on a magical journey of paper prep!
Be diligent about processing papers Decide what you actually need to keep, and make these decisions about incoming mail once a week, at least. This section could actually be an entire blog post, but for now I will direct you to this link to suggest approximately how long you should keep personal documents. This link sends you over to irs.gov where you can make friends with Government employees who need a hug, and also find how long you should keep your tax documents.
Everyone has different levels of comfort when purging documents, so just trust your gut once you know the facts. Be sure to take all paper out of envelopes and folders so you can actually read the content and sort it.
Everything that can be accessed online or found via other resources needs to be recycled/shredded
It's almost too easy to go paperless. If you check your bank accounts online (I really hope you do) you can easily select "go paperless"somewhere in your profile. Most importantly, let's save some trees. The power is yours! #captainplanet
Ask yourself "is this something I can find online?". If the answer is yes, get rid of it.
Take a picture of it if you need to ensure you'll have it for future reference. Upload that picture to a photo saving app like Google Photos or Amazon photos in a folder labeled as you would have looked for it in your files. (read more on this in the "T" section later!)
Shred anything with private information like your social security number. If you don't have a shredder or access to one at work, keep a small bag or bin by your files/mail for collection. Check out shredding services at places like UPS or Staples.
Assess the space you'll need for paper storage and plan accordingly
It's a good idea to think about how much space you realistically have to store your documents. One you've assessed, use this checklist to consider storage. - File Box (I like this one from The Container Store)
- Hanging Files - one for each main category plus a few more for room to grow
- File Folders - one for each subcategory plus a few more for room to grow
- Label Maker (or Post-Its) to print clear labels for tabs
- Label Holders - One label holder per hanging file
Sort papers into folders/files by the way you would think to look for them in the future
Sort the papers based on how you would look for them. This is by far the most flexible section, as people think very differently about what qualifies under certain categories. If you associate banking statements with taxes, then go ahead and sort the documents with the matching tax year. Some people would make a Finance folder or a Banking folder, but you have to do what clicks with your instincts.
Hanging File and Folder System
I love a good analogy, so let's compare the hanging file system to making a Taco. Think of your hanging file as your tortilla and the folders within as your veggies, meat, cheese, etc. Your hanging file (tortilla) is the main category file and the folders (taco contents) are the subcategories within that file.
Tortilla = Taxes
Taco Contents = 2017, 2018, 2019, etc.
Tortilla = 2017 Taxes
Taco Contents = Itemized Receipts, Donation Letters, etc.
Got it? Cool. Now I want Tacos.
Tag your digital documents and label your physical files
If you've decided to scan in digital files, be sure you upload them to an app or software that allows you to tag keywords to the document. Save your digital document into a folder named exactly as you would've named your physical file/folder. For an itemized receipt in your Tax/2019 file, tag it under "Itemized Tax 2019". If you associate your taxes folder with the thought: "That's It, I'm Going To Burn Down The Building.' - Milton"from Office Space, then go ahead and label that shit! It'll make you laugh when you save documents, too.
As long as it makes sense to you and it's clearly labeled - have at it! If you can't seem to find papers later down the road, don't beat yourself up. It's pretty common to have files evolve or absorb other files. Just try to shift some things around so it makes sense.
If you have the time, make your folder tabs alternate within the hanging file so you can easily see all the subcategories at a glance.
I love alphabetizing the hanging files so there's never any confusion about the order of files. If that isn't' how your brain works, try filling like-categories together. Insurance, Housing and Automotive folders can live near each other, for example. Do what works best for you! I also like it when all of the hanging file tabs are located in the same position on each individual file (see picture above).
As always, change what doesn't work for you. Systems evolve and your needs will do the same. Just remember that at some point down the road, someone else will may need to access these files. Label. Label. Label.