Tax season has just passed, and it’s a great time to organize your paperwork. If you don’t have a filing system, or if yours just needs a tune-up, here are some suggestions.
1. Get all of your paperwork in one place. It’s difficult to organize your files if you have boxes in several rooms.
2. Separate your paperwork into piles by subject. If you already have files set up, you may be able to use them for your new system. If you don’t have file folders, put documents in piles and use sticky notes to assign subjects. Broader subjects are better than very specific ones, so you avoid having only one piece of paper per folder and many folders. You can always go back and get more specific later.
3. Purge excess paperwork. Create piles for trash, recycling and shredding. Use a guide like Catherine Williams’ “How long to keep financial records” article from Bankrate.com to decide how long to keep certain documents. It’s usually seven years for tax returns and 45 days to seven years for credit card statements.
4. Make your file folders. Use the sticky notes as a guide. I suggest Pendaflex hanging file folders with removable plastic subject tabs. They make it convenient to change subject labels in the future. Place your documents in the labeled folders.
5. Assess your file storage. Now that you know how much paperwork you have, make sure you have file furniture to store it and to grow. Office supply stores have a wide selection of filing cabinets, as well as more “open” filing furniture and racks. Make your system your own, and it will be easier to find things.
6. Create a file index. Look at your file folders and write or type a list of the subjects on the tabs. Keep this list near your files. It will help you find the right file, before you even open your cabinet. It will help other members of your household as well.
7. Dedicate time to file regularly. Try to find a half hour a week to file. Keep on top of it and your “to file” pile won’t be quite as intimidating!