Once you’ve worked on your paperwork, paid the bills, read the reports, you may be faced with a huge stack of documents.
It seems like a daunting task, but organizing your paperwork is easier than you think.
Here’s our easy system.
Supplies | Rules | Categories | FAQ
The supplies are pretty basic. You’ll need:
- Hanging folders or colored file folders
- A folder box or plastic storage container
- Your pile of paperwork
The Six Rules
Before starting to organize your paperwork, there are six rules you’ll need to follow. Don’t worry, they’re pretty simple.
- When I keep a piece of paper, I know why I’m keeping it. This is not a default option, just because I wasn’t willing to throw it away or haven’t decided yet what to do with it.
- Each paper has a single possible location, and only one. Yes, it’s scary when it’s said like that. But stay with me; it’s easier than it sounds.
- There will be no generic headings, like: “Miscellaneous”, “I do not know”, “Other”, or “I’ll check that later” (especially without knowing when “later” is).
- Each folder must have a name. I won’t rely solely on its color.
- The folder’s name is exactly describing what it contains. I won’t hesitate to clarify it completely. There is no character limits.
- If I have enough folders within a same category, I’ll place them in a magazine holder/rack with a proper label that will list all the folders it contains.
Your paperwork’s categories need to respect your own logic. If you have a significant other, you’ll need to agree with he/she so that everyone can classify and retrieve documents independently.
Here are a few examples of umbrella categories:
Inside it, you could find file folders with the following names:
- Lease (contract/receipts)
- Maintenance (chimney sweeping, condo, garden, boiler, etc.)
Take a file folder for every person, and place the sub-folders (flexible) below, depending on the age and activities of the family members:
- ID (copies of identity documents)
- Health (receipts, prescriptions, etc.)
- School (transcripts of the year, etc.)
- Work (employment contracts, pay slips, etc.)
- Hobbies (membership clubs, subscriptions, etc.)
Usually, these are small enough folders that they can be independent (instead of combined in a holder or rack).
- Car (maintenance records, etc.)
- Public Transportation (monthly/yearly subscription)
It’s up to you to create other categories based on your life.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most common issues regarding this paperwork classification system.
Q1 – I’m not sure that my ranking is the best. For example, should car insurance be in the “transportation” or “insurance” folder?
It depends on your logic and situation.
If you have your entire insurance policy portfolio with the same company (residential, car, etc.), it is best to create a single “insurance” folder with every insurance receipt and snail mail you’ll receive.
However, if you have contracts with multiple companies, it may be best to classify car insurance in the “transportation/car” folder, and your home insurance in the “home” one.
Q2 – I have no problem with the generic paperwork. I have more problems with the “emotional/personal” ones, that I do not know where to put (or find).
You just need to ask yourself: “When will I need it?”
If we take the example of drawings made by your youngest, do you need a folder literally titled “drawings by my youngest”? Probably not.
Create a folder named “Drawings for me”. You’ll put inside it all drawings he/she created specifically for you, the ones that moved you the most.
Create another folder named “Drawings for him/her”. Whenever he/she will leave the house, you can give the folder. It’s up to him/her to decide if he/she wants to keep them to show future children.
Q3 – What about documents that inspire me, or that I find beautiful?
Once again, it comes down to the simple question of “what is this for?”
Are they for a personal inspiration in your hobby? Perhaps you can create a folder entitled “Inspirations for my paintings.”
If it for a specific pet project? Maybe a folder named “Bathroom Decoration Ideas”.
The goal is always the same. Each document needs to belong to the folder whose title matches it best.
Q4 – What if I have documents that could help me in learning things or prepping presentations or projects?
You’ll need to be very selective. To keep that kind of document, you need to be sure it’s exceptional. In our day and age, you can find a ton of great information online, so, generally speaking, that kind of paperwork can be found digitally.
If the document fits the bill, then it’s all about be inventive enough. You have to create an explicit title that you’ll be able to “get” six to twelve months down the line.
Q5 – What if my folders become their own folders within folders, within folders, and so forth?
You may be too much of a perfectionist. It’s simple: to know if you have done too much, count the number of movements it takes to organize or take out a document. Is it more than, say, five? It’s way too much. No one has the courage to maintain that kind of discipline.
In my experience, three “storage levels” is more than enough. Here’s an example:
- Level 1 – Home
- Level 2 – Maintenance
- Level 3 – Boiler Maintenance
You have to be specific, but don’t go overboard.
They key to organizing paperwork is to be consistent with it. Every time you have a new document, once you’ve worked on it, you’ll need to place it in its appropriate folder.
It will only get faster with time.