The start of 2019, marked my fourth year with my simple filing system. It is a simple system that takes about 15-20 minute to set up at the beginning of each year and then a minute or less a day the rest of the year. Papers and mail used to be a real challenge. I experimented with and tried out many different systems, but they were either too time-consuming, cumbersome or complicated to keep up. If you are looking to reduce paper clutter with a quick and easy filing system that doesn’t take a lot of time to upkeep, keep reading.
Reduce Clutter – Nothing is Irreplaceable!
Never say never, but I do think that in most cases, nothing is irreplaceable and I do treat my paperwork accordingly. (But having said that, it can be really useful to have certain files handy, see my Notes below.) Before I found my current system, I would buy beautiful color-coordinated folders and print my labels. At first, I loved to go to my file cabinet, admiring the crisp neat lines of folders as I would file my paperwork. But inevitably I would get an invoice or receipt that didn’t fit into any of my existing folders. However, because of the effort to set up new matching folders was perceived to be more than I could spare at that moment, the systems were quickly abandoned, becoming a reminder of another failed attempt at organization. Instead, paperwork would pile up on all flat surfaces, adding clutter and guilt. Now I toss/shred/recycle liberally and then use my simple filing system to organize what is left.
Time Commitment to declutter: Less than 1 minute per day
This simple system organizes my paperwork and fits my style (quick to implement, quick to utilize). Even the best systems do not work if you cannot stick with them. It’s like the perfect exercise plan or diet, they only work if you can put in the required work 🙂 That’s why I love this system of organizing my papers – most days it takes less time to process the paperwork and file it than the trip to the mailbox.
Why my plan works for me
I only need to spend 1 minute a day on processing my paperwork. Even if I have a bad week, I can be caught up in under 10 minutes. Even the year-end archiving and setup only takes about 15-20 minutes. I am willing and able to invest that much time in streamlining my paperwork – and keeping it off my counters and tables.
Setup & Required Materials
First year Supplies:
- 12 manila file folders (labeled with the 12 months)
- 4 hanging folders (labeled Quarter 1, Quarter 2, Quarter 3, and Quarter 4)
- 1 file box
- Sharpie (or labeler)
Second/Subsequent Year Supplies:
- 4 expanding folders
- File storage box (I’ve found cardboard file storage box packs at my local dollar store that I use)
- Paper clips or binder clips
First Year Setup:
In the box, hand the hanging folders and place the corresponding month manila folders in each quarter.
- Quarter 1 – January, February, March
- Quarter 2 – April, May, June
- Quarter 3 – July, August, September
- Quarter 4 – October, November, December
Whenever a piece of paper that needs to be kept enters your home, place it in the back of the current month’s folder. If it doesn’t need to be kept, recycle or shred it.
At the end of the year, label the expanding folders with the Quarter # and year (Q1 2018, Q2 2018, …). Then paperclip the papers from each month and place into the correct Quarter’s expanding folder. And that’s all to file out the yearly paper clutter.
- I like to keep the current year’s folders and the last year in the same hanging file box. I always find papers that belong in the prior year tucked under a book or in a bag, so having quick access to those files is important. Also, if I need to go back to look up something in older files, 95% of the time I only need to go back 12 months.
- Some papers are not sorted into this system and I keep them in separate binders – tax-related documents, health-care, and report cards.
- This system is so simple, it’s now easy to get my husband to help file papers.
Have you found ways to tame the paperwork at your house? Any tips or tricks that have made your life more organized and kept paperwork piles off the counter?
If you are looking for other easy habits to bring into your life, check out 7 Bathroom Cleaning Hacks to keep your bathroom looking clean and tidy (even when it actually isn’t).