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8 Easy Steps to an Effective Home Filing System

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A well-organized home filing system is essential for reducing clutter and making it easy to find what you’re looking for. It’s important to have a filing system that accommodates all the different types of paperwork we accumulate, so start by deciding which type will be most prevalent in your home office or workspace. You’ll also need an efficient way to dispose of unwanted papers, as keeping them around can make finding something much more difficult later down the line!

A functioning file cabinet allows us “to stay organized” because it houses our home filing system and makes it easy to retrieve a document, when necessary. I’ve found this helpful when there are piles sitting everywhere: my work desk at home becomes cluttered with half-finished projects; bills pile up and papers that probably need to be filed or disposed of. Can you relate?

You’ve been meaning to start sorting your papers and organize them, but you just don’t know how or where. It’s not as hard as it seems! This post will help walk you through the initial setup of a home filing system that is easy to follow and works seamlessly for anyone who puts in just a bit of effort towards it.

What You’ll Need to Get Started

  • Recycling bin
  • Shredder
  • Label maker or writing utensil
  • File folders
  • Filing cabinet, file box, or other storage space for file folders
  • Fireproof box or safe (optional)
  • Binder (optional)
  • Inbox tray (optional)

a woman's hands filing in a drawer and text that says 8 Easy Steps to an Effective Home Filing System

How To Set Up the Best Home Filing System and Actually Maintain It!

1.    Gather the Paperwork

The first step in setting up a home filing system is to corral all your paperwork so you can sort through it. The place where this should happen is the living room, kitchen table, or any other space that has enough surface area for papers and sorting containers. Take time when doing this initial sweep because not only will it help ensure no important documents are left behind but may also reveal something worth saving such as an old ticket stub from some concert years ago which now holds sentimental value!

Let’s get moving! Grab a pile of papers and start sorting through it. Make sure to find the important paperwork, too – such as bills or tax documents- that might be mixed in with other stuff like old grocery lists.

  1. Paper Purge

Now that we’ve gathered all of the paperwork, the next step is setting up a home filing system is to go through each and every paper in your home office and the entire house (you know, the ones that pile up on the kitchen counter or dining room table?) and place them in one of five piles:

  • Action: The papers you need to act on are the ones that will be discarded after one use. Don’t confuse these with documents in household, which have a long-term life, need to be retained in a file and should not be thrown away by mistake. Examples of action items include bills, invitations, parking tickets, appointment reminders etc.

  • Recyle: Papers to recycle include papers that don’t fall into any of the other categories and contain no personal information such as junk mail, newspapers, magazines, old homework (I only recently recycled my old college papers and I’m, ahem, that old) or used envelopes!

  • Shred it There quite a few types of papers that fall under this category. They can be anything from credit card offers, old bank statements or bills which contain personal information. Things that you don’t need to retain but don’t want your personal information susceptible to theft.

This is a very important topic so it’s crucial you know what not to dispose of if you want to protect yourself and others around you! When it comes to your financial information, you need to be careful. Your banking and credit history can help someone steal from you or ruin your reputation if they know your personal data. Sadly, more than 1 in 3 people have had their identity stolen because of a lost wallet or leaving sensitive information in the trash. which leaves them vulnerable for many years after the theft occurs.

How To Set Up an Effective Home Office Filing System:Sadly, more than 1 in 3 people have had their identity stolen because of a lost wallet or leaving sensitive information in the trash. which leaves them vulnerable for many years… Click To Tweet

  • File it: There are a number of papers that you need to keep in your home, for easy access if and when they’re needed. Examples include tax returns, medical records, or academic records among others.

  • Important household papers: These are essential papers that you need to be able to lay your hands on quickly: coupons, recipes, user manuals, receipts for this year’s taxes and documents for upcoming travel.

  1. Dump the trash

Now that you’ve divided your paperwork into the five categories, it’s time to get rid of all those papers cluttering up your table or workspace. Take out the recycling pile first – this should be easy; Just drop them in a recycling bin. Next, shred any sensitive documents, as described above. When you’re done with both these tasks, the only papers left will be ones that you need to keep, and we’ll dive into your home file organization next.

  1. Sort the File Pile

First, tackle your pile of essential papers – which could include very important documents like passports and social security cards! The best thing is to put these papers into fireproof containers so they’re safe from potential fires.

Next, create subcategories (or at least piles, for the time being) for more efficient organization, such as academic documents, car records, personal identification, health, insurance, real estate documents employment information and financial papers.

Use a labeled file folder for each of these categories. Then put those folders in the safe or fireproof box where you plan to keep them!

  1. Sort the Important Household Papers Pile

It’s time to deal with your household paperwork now. You can keep these papers in file folders stored in a filing cabinet or other accessible spot, but many people prefer keeping their paperwork all together on one binder, so it doesn’t take up precious space and is easily movable from room-to-room when needed.

For instance, you could create a binder with sections for coupons and vouchers; rewards cards and loyalty programs; receipts you may need to refer to, user manuals, etc. Divide all of these into categories that best fit how you live day-to-day: do not be afraid to tailor this according to what is most sensible for your own lifestyle!

  1. Set up your home filing system

The first task in this step is to set up your action folder. You can use a desktop inbox tray to store action paperwork, but it’s also helpful to have an accessible file folder that you put the papers in. A visual reminder for yourself is better than tucking them away into filing cabinets where they’ll get lost and forgotten.

If you’re like most people, your inbox is overflowing with unread messages and all the files on your desktop are begging for attention. You could divide these action items into different categories such as bills that need to be paid or letters from friends who want a response. But instead of filing them in separate folders it’s often easier just to toss everything together and take care of one stack at time when you have some spare time, so they don’t pile up too high before doing anything else!

Below, I’ll share an additional way to set up action items and papers.

Next, you’ll tackle the last part of your home file organizing.

You may choose to use a color-coded system. For example:

  • Red – medical
  • Green – financial
  • Blue – personal
  • Orange – insurance
  • Yellow – house
  • Pink – Bills (or use the method below)
  • White – taxes

You may have several folders in each category. Label them accordingly. For example, orange insurance folders may house car, house, property, medical, etc.

And my philosophy is if I need to have home filing organization, it might as well be pretty!

Consider creating a documents folder. In my home, this folder houses the original and copies of family members birth certificates, social security cards, passports, etc. Each person’s documents are clipped together with a binder clip and placed in the folder in order of age (youngest to oldest). When you need a copy of a birth certificate, for example, you know right where to find it. 

For the tax file, I label mine ____ (year) taxes and whenever I get a receipt that is tax deductible, I drop it in the file to make tax-time easier.

  1. Home filing system action files (Optional)

If you really want to make best use of your time management and home filing system skills, There are a few ways that you can do this. Since I work from home, my personal and work to-do list is often entwined. I used 31 hanging folders labeled 1-31. They are in the file cabinet next to my desk. When a piece of mail or other paper that needs action comes across my desk, I drop it in the file based on the day it needs to be done.

For example, if I know that I need to mail in an insurance form by the 10th, I drop it in the folder marked “10”. Each day, I check that day’s folder for what needs to be done.

If I have a bill due on the 15th, I drop it into the file marked “15” and will pay it on that day (I pay my bills online). If you mail in payments, you may want to drop it in the folder for a week prior to the due date.

In the front of these folders, I have a file marked “to file”. Once a week, I pull out everything in that file and drop it in the proper color-coded file of my home filing system.

8.    Create a mail station or system for handling mail

To maintain your home file organization, as soon as the mail comes, go through it. If it is a bill, drop it in the bill file or the file for the due date. If it requires action, drop it in the file for the day it must be done by (or earlier).

Have a designated place for mail for other family members. For example, my husband has a hanging basket over his desk. All his mail goes there. When my sons lived at home, they had bins on their bedroom doors where I placed their mail.

Designate a place for outgoing mail.

Create a place for mail supplies. In our main home office, the top left drawer has stamps, business, and personal sized envelopes, return address labels, a pen, a pencil, and whiteout. This way, when we need to mail something, everything is ready.

9.     Create a printing station.

While not technically part of a home filing system, it helps to have everything related handy. Near your home office printer, have extra ink cartridges and paper. I keep my printer on top of the file cabinet next to my desk. This way, it is close but not actually on my desk which gives me extra room to work. Printer supplies, go in the bottom file cabinet drawer.

What else would you add to this list for creating a home filing system?

If you are looking to simplify your life, our post on minimalism is perfect for you!


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4 Comments

  1. LOVE this! I’m a professional organizer and these are such amazing, practical tips to tackle household papers once and for all!
    Excited to check out the rest of your page!

  2. Nicely done and well explained! It has been so over whelming for me to start getting organized in my office, because I just wasn’t sure how to go about it. Now I do! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge & tips 🙂

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