Filing Techniques

February 4, 2023

There is no better time to talk about filing techniques than during tax season! Paper can quickly get out of control, but we have some tips for you. If you are looking for some guidance in creating a filing system or sprucing up your current filing system, look no further. Keeping your documents organized involves utilizing a filing system that works for you. While there is no “one size fits all” for organizing paperwork, we have some great filing techniques to help you with organizing your documents.

Where to even start…

The methods for filing systems are abundant. Just do a Google or Pinterest search, and you will quickly be overwhelmed by the amount of techniques you find. Our biggest piece of advice is to start small – and then build upon it. Don’t go all out with a color-coded labeled system if you are not sure that it will work for you. The first thing that you need to do is figure out what paper you have, and of that paper, what can go and what needs to stay. This process will involve lots of sorting and you should envision lots of piles of paper…piles…and maybe even more piles depending on how much paperwork you have. The goal here is to make quick decisions and stay focused on sorting. We recommend using sticky notes to keep each pile labeled and organized. You can get more detailed later with your labeling if you decide, but now is not the time to get too bogged down with details. Stay focused on getting through all of your paper.

A list for general guidelines…

Here is our list of file label suggestions. Use these as general guidelines and then add or subtract as you see fit. Remember, just add more folders if you need a more detailed approach. Initially, you can just use these as general guidelines for sorting your paper into piles: 

  • Medical – EOB’s, Medical Bills, Prescriptions, test results, Insurance, etc.
  • Home – home insurance, mortgage, rent, receipts for home repairs, etc.
  • Utilities – gas, water, electricity, trash, etc.
  • Auto – car payment, car insurance, car title, etc.
  • Banking/Credit Cards – bills, statements,
  • School – homework, IEP’s, contacts, etc. and/or student loans, financial aid, college applications, etc.
  • Vital Files – passports, marriage license, birth certificates, etc.
  • Investments/Retirement – statements
  • Tax – W2’s, personal property tax, financial aid statements, end-of-year statements for investment/retirement, childcare receipts, donation receipts, etc.
  • User manuals/User Guides/Warranties – small kitchen appliances, lawn care equipment, etc.
  • Memorabilia – cards, handwritten notes, photos, ticket stubs, etc.

Ready…set…sort!

Here are some steps for taking that big plunge and starting to sort through all your documents:

  1. Find a table, floor space, desk, bed, or a combination of any of those with lots and lots of surface area. Ideally, this will be in a location of your home that can stay this way for a couple days (sorting paperwork can sometimes take longer than you expect!).
  2. Grab two containers and label one “trash” and the other “shred”. These are for all the pieces of paper that can be let go or need to be put through a shredder.
  3. You can prepare for sorting through your paperwork ahead of time by using sticky notes to label different parts of your surface area so you can quickly sort your paper into the assigned piles.
  4. Create a special area and label it with a sticky note that says “action”. Any piece of paper you find that needs attention ASAP will go in this pile. Then, when you have a break, you can do the needed action. This will keep you from losing anything you need to give attention to or getting sidetracked by doing tasks instead of sorting through documents.
  5. Now you can start your sort. Grab all your documents and start sorting and creating piles. Put medical papers with medical papers, bills with bills, magazines with magazines and so forth. Get rid of any unneeded documents by discarding them into the trash or shred containers. For even more tips on organizing your documents, read this blog post.

Okay…all the paperwork is sorted into piles…now what?

When you get to this point you have literally done the hardest part. You have just made a million decisions and should be so proud of yourself! It’s all downhill from here. Now it’s time to think through how you would like to store your files. What kind of filing system would you like to have – a general approach, or a more detailed approachYou don’t have to sort any further or overcomplicate the filing system. You can keep those broad categories and go ahead and create and label folders using the piles you already created. There may be some categories you do not need and others that we have not recommended. If you want a more detailed approach for filing, you can keep sorting your paperwork further. For example, instead of just having a folder for utilities, you can create a folder for each utility type. School can be further sorted by child and so forth. If you are a very detailed person, use different colored hanging folders for different categories. For example, all financial documents you may want to assign to green folders and all medical documents you may want to assign to blue folders, etc.

Time for it all to come together!

Once you decide on your filing technique, here are some of our favorite products which can make it all come together! Choosing between organizing products really depends on the space of your area, how much paper you have to store, and what you think will work best for you. These are our favorites:

You can always write out the labels for file folders, but we absolutely love using a label maker. Use clear label tape on your file tabs for a clean look. You can choose a fancy font to really customize your system, too!

Check out our Abundance Declutter Facebook Group for more support and inspiration. How are you doing on our 16 Day Declutter Challenge? We are loving the progress we are seeing from all of you in the group!