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Home Filing System

If you've ever felt overwhelmed by document and paper clutter at home, you're not alone. It's easy to things pile up and with more people working remotely than ever before keeping the mess under control is more important than ever.

The key to greater organization can start with setting up a home filing system that's both effective and easy to use.

A view of filing folders for: personal, insurance, and finance paperwork.

Step 1: Gather the Right Supplies

Pick up a few supplies for your home office:

  • File folders in at least two colors
  • A filing cabinet, file box or expandable pocket files
  • Labels and a permanent marker
  • Binders or inbox trays
  • Fireproof box or safe

Depending on how much paperwork you have, you may want to consider investing in a paper shredder and a label maker, too.

Step 2: Collect Paperwork Into One Place

Start by gathering all of your documents into one spot. Check file cabinets, desk drawers, kitchen counters, dining room tables... anywhere that mail and paperwork tend to accumulate.

Once you've created your pile, find a large, empty space where you can spread out.

Step 3: Categorize and Organize

Sort each paper into one of the following categories:

  • Attention: Papers that require an action, such as a bill that needs to be paid
  • Active: Documents you reference or use regularly, such as manuals, recipes, address books, calendars, or coupons
  • Archive: Paperwork that you only access infrequently, such as tax returns, medical records, warranties, contracts and school records
  • Recycle: Papers you no longer need that don't contain sensitive information, such as newspapers or a magazine
  • Shred: Documents containing personal or sensitive information such as canceled checks, pay stubs, or bank statements

Which documents should you keep, and for how long? The IRS offers guidance for tax records, and this guide to shredding, recycling and saving documents can help you decide. Store important documents, such as passports, titles or Social Security Cards, in a fireproof box or safe.

Step 4: Create and Organize Files

Once you've recycled and shredded, start creating folders for each category of documents. Keep your Attention folder (or binder or in-box tray) in a visible spot, so you'll remember to deal with it daily.

Next, for your Active and Archive piles you might need additional folders for items such as taxes or insurance policies. To make it easy to distinguish files, use one color of folder for Active files and another color for Archive files. Your goal is to make documents easy to find.

Step 5: Stay on Track

Now that you've created a filing system, stay on track to help keep your home office clean and organized. Set aside a few minutes each day to sort and file all new papers that come into the house.

Setting up a household filing system requires an initial investment of time and effort. However, once it's up and running, maintaining an organized system will save time and hassle in the long run.

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