Download and print our customizable labels and folder fronts so they're ready to go when you start filing.
Step 1: Sort
First, grab a box, basket or even laundry bin and move around your home collecting paperwork from desks, entryway tables, the kitchen and other paper-ridden spots. Next, sit down and sort your paperwork by category. For example:
- Appliance manuals
- Employment (pay stubs, contracts)
- Home maintenance
- Legal (birth certificates, passports, wills)
- School (permission slips, college applications, supply lists)
- Vehicle (car repair receipts, insurance info)
Tip: Toss outdated and unneeded papers as you go — think manuals for appliances you no longer own and grocery receipts from over a year ago. Be sure to shred any documents containing personal information.
Step 2: Organize
After sorting your paperwork, assess the amount and select a system that fits your needs:
Expandable Folder: If you haven’t accumulated a lot of paperwork, a set of expandable file folders should suffice. Create one folder for each year; most have 10-20 pockets and are slim enough to fit inside a drawer when they aren’t in use. You can even decoupage yours and display it on a shelf or bookcase.
Filing Cabinet: When you have lots of papers, or anticipate having more in the near future, invest in a filing cabinet.
Binders: Do you own a home business, or supplement your income by selling handmade goods? In this case, binders are the best choice. Fill one with invoices, another with write-off receipts, and so on. Line them up on a shelf, go through them once a year, and transfer dated documents to a filing cabinet.
Step 3: Maintain
Now that you’ve set up a system, keeping files organized is simple. Whenever you’re done using a document, just file it away. Within the folders, order documents from newest to oldest. At the end of each year, review your files and get rid of anything that’s no longer relevant, or scan and save digital copies — back them up on an external hard drive, just like you would with photos.