Fay Wolf’s Filing Guide

Fay Wolf’s Filing Guide

Use organizing expert Fay Wolf’s simple solutions for organizing your paperwork.

Everyone has paper, and even the best organizing gurus struggle to keep it all organized. There’s no shame here. As with most things in life, the hardest part of organizing is just getting started.

Everyone can benefit from sorting through paperwork, simplifying their hanging file system and laying out a space to put everyday essentials.

Step 1:
The first thing to do when sorting your paperwork is to develop a temporary filing system, using hanging files, a file crate or file drawer and sticky notes. As you dig in, you’ll find “active” papers, “inactive” papers, and papers to be recycled or shredded.

Active papers: Active papers are things that require taking action, or relate to things that are currently going on in daily life. You can set these aside and later add the action items to a task list.

Inactive papers: Inactive papers are tax records, paid bills, etc. These are the papers you’ll make file categories for. The general rule is to keep your tax records for up to seven years, and keep the actual tax returns forever. Please check with your CPA or the IRS for final say. File older tax records in a box separate from your everyday filing cabinet because you’ll only reference those on rare occasions.

Other papers: For the remainder of the inactive paper, divide it into categories like child’s school, medical/dental, bills, maintenance, etc. — using category names that make sense to you. Use upside-down sticky notes as temporary labels while sorting within the hanging files.

Step 2:
When you’re finished sorting and purging your papers, and the temporary filing system is complete, you are ready to make properly labeled tabs for your hanging files using a straight-line tab system.


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Traditional filing systems incorporate left-center-right tabs, but with that system, there’s no rhyme or reason to labeling, and your eye doesn’t know where to look when you’re searching for something you need. This system also breaks down after time because life changes so fast. A few categories are added and some are taken away, and then all the files get out of whack. The great thing about a straight-line tab system is that your eye knows exactly where to go as soon as you open the drawer. This system is really easy to expand and will grow with you and your family.

Simply add or remove categories or subcategories as your needs change, and you won’t have to worry about lining up your tabs every time. You can either organize the files alphabetically or by category.

Tip: If you choose to do subcategories, then one option would be to put the major categories on one side and all the subcategories on the other side.

For the active paperwork you need daily, there are many options for storage including magazine files and desktop inbox trays.

Another fun option is to put the active papers on clipboards and hang the clipboards on a wall near your desk. This will leave your paperwork literally staring you in the face when you walk into your office. Label the clipboards so you know what you’re dealing with when you pick up each board. You’ll know exactly what to do when you sit down to work.

In addition to labeling the clipboards, spice them up with colored tape or other decorations to make them personalized and fit within the theme of your space.

Happy Filing!

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