Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Files Are Fun...

...or something like that.

I understand that most people don't get quite as excited as I do when it comes to alphabetical order and everything having it's own place and label. And if I'm really honest here, I can admit that even with all the labeling and alphabetizing and cute file folders, I really dread anything that has to do with filing cabinets. With all the sorting and upkeep, it's always one of those things that I don't like doing, but am really glad to see the end result.

Chances are, most of you feel the same way. So, I thought I'd share my system for file upkeep. It's taken me a few years to get a hold on the best and easiest way to take care of all the papers, but I'm really pleased with what I've come up with. If you choose to adopt all or some of these ideas, you should know that it can take a little time to get it all set up, but it will be worth it in the end.

Even though I try to add new papers to their appropriate files about once a month, I only clean out and really organize my filing cabinet once a year (in January). In case I don't have time, or simply choose not to (which is usually the case!), I keep a couple of file folders on my desk labeled "Needs A File" (for papers that don't already have a corresponding folder in the cabinet and "Items To Be Filed" (for papers that already have a folder and just need to be filed).

You'll want to gather your supplies: hanging file folders, paper clips, binder clips, post-it notes, pen or marker, stapler and label maker.

It seems that I always have a pile of papers that need to be filed, so I start by sorting them. No fancy pants way to do this...I usually end up on the floor with the piles all around me.

All of our files are in alphabetical order. This makes them easy to find and takes the guesswork out of returning a file to the filing cabinet.

In each individual file, I have the papers in chronological order (oldest in the front, newest in the back so that when I take a stack of papers out, they are in order of bill date or appointment). Also, I have each year clipped together (either with a binder clip or paper clip). On the top paper in each year (usually the paper associated with January), I've attached a Post-It Note that contains the following information: The year of that stack's contents and the year that it can be destroyed. For example, in our electric bill folder, I know that I like to keep bills only from the past year (we don't need them for tax purposes). The Post-It Note says: "2009" and then "keep until January 2011".

Even though it takes some time, I try to go through every single file. When I take out a file, I see automatically if items are ready to be destroyed. When I do a clean out, I also make sure that the current year's files have been clipped together and labeled appropriately.

I can never remember how long I should keep things, but found this handy chart in an organizing magazine (I recommend making a copy or typing the information and placing it in the front of the filing cabinet for easy access.).

*TAX RECORDS: Copies of returns-forever; Supporting tax documents-at least 4 years.
*CHECKING ACCOUNT STATEMENTS: 1 month or until checks clear; Keep statements that support tax deductions with your tax records for the year.
*UTILITY BILLS: 1 month (unless you deduct for home office expenses; file with tax records).
*CREDIT CARD STATEMENTS: 1-2 months or until charges are reconciled;Keep statements that support tax deductions with your tax records for the year.
*MORTGAGE INFORMATION: For as long as you own the property, plus 4 years for tax purposes.
*RECORDS FOR HOME IMPROVEMENTS, SALE OR PURCHASE OF PROPERTY: 4 years after the sale of the home or property.
*MEDICAL RECORDS: 4 or more years.
*INSURANCE POLICIES AND BILLS: Keep current policies and bills; discard canceled policies.
*INVESTMENT RECORDS: Keep initial purchase and year-end reports indefinitely.
*RECEIPTS FOR PURCHASES: 1 month, except for big-ticket items requiring proof-of-purchase for insurance.

After I've finished sorting through all the old files, I clean out that "Needs A File" folder from my desktop. I make labels for the new files needed and organize them alphabetically.

The last step is always my favorite: put on a great movie or your favorite TV show to watch while I shred the old documents :)

There are countless options for ways to organize files, and this is just one of them. Do you have a system that works for you? We'd love to hear about it! Leave a comment and share your ideas!

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