Decluttering Paperwork – Tips to Keeping Files Organized

Paperwork organized into binders and stored neatly on shelves.

We tend to accumulate a never-ending pile of paperwork and files, and the struggle to organize it all is real. Too many papers can become overwhelming and take up a lot of space, so it’s important to keep them updated and organized.

Here are some suggestions on what to keep and how to organize it. Each person’s needs are different, so one organization solution won’t be ideal for everyone. Adapt and adjust different methods to find what works best for you.

What To Keep and For How Long

Keep your files organized by doing a monthly check on what you can get rid of. Here’s a quick guide on how long to keep different types of records:

how long to keep records

  • Make sure you toss anything that is expired or no longer valid right away. There’s no reason to take up space with irrelevant documents.
  • If you do everything electronically, take the time to save and archive important documents monthly, as well as a monthly clear out of anything that no longer needs to be kept.
  • Receipts can be scanned or inputted into a spreadsheet for those claiming business expenses or budgeting, allowing you to get rid of handfuls of paper receipts immediately.

Organizing Your Files

1. Separate Files Into Sections

a) Archived Files

Documents that you simply need to store for the specified number of years can be put into file boxes or a separate filing cabinet that can be stored in an area out of sight, such as the basement or a storage room in your home. Just makes sure to keep them stored in a cool, dry place.

b) Frequently Accessed

For files you constantly reference or add to, such as bills or statements, keep them close to your office for easy access.

c) Actionable Files

Keep any statements requiring action in a specially marked bin or folder so you know they need to be dealt with and don’t miss a payment.

2. Choose the Right Storage Method

Depending on the space you have, you can choose different options to keep your documents organized. You can use binders, or hanging folders in a cabinet, etc. Each has different advantages.

coloured binders

a. Binders

Binders are a great way to keep home and auto essentials organized. You can easily add statements and compare them month by month.

Divide each type of statement into a different binder and label the binder on the front and spine. You can even colour code the binders so you know which you need at a glance. Depending on how much you do electronically you might be able to have general binders with tabs, such as Auto, Home, Medical, etc. If you receive everything in paper format, you’ll likely need a separate binder for credit card statements, utility bills, telephone bills, etc. Make sure you don’t hole punch any documents that shouldn’t be; instead purchase inserts for the binder that will hold those documents. Keep in mind, binders will require shelf space to store them.

hanging file folders

b. Hanging File Folders

Using file folders within a filing cabinet is a great way to store records and actionable items, especially for priority files you access most. These are ideal for limited documents or documents you can’t hole punch, such as invoices, certificates, and initial documentation for opening bank accounts. Using file boxes with folders is also another solution you can use when you need to store records for a long time, as they can easily be transported.

Colour code your folders for different categories, then make sure to label each folder and alphabetize. Make sure to also organize by date within each folder.

keep personal and financial documents secure

3. Keep Important Personal and Financial Records Secure

Any policies, certificates, and financial statements that contain sensitive information should be kept in a fireproof safe. You want to make sure items like Social Insurance Cards, Birth Certificates, Mortgage Paperwork, Will and Power of Attorney, etc aren’t accessible to just anyone. These are the records you need to prove who you are and what you own.

keep receipts organized in a bin

4. Keep Receipts In One Spot

Receipts tend to end up everywhere: purses, wallets, the kitchen, office, pockets; wherever is easily accessible at the time. Save yourself the hassle of having to scramble to find a receipt by keeping them all in one spot. You might need to implement a two-step system but it’s better than having ten steps to find all your receipts.

Create a receipt deposit bin where you can quickly and easily place receipts. Once a week collect all the receipts and organize them into an accordion file folder. If you tend to hold on to receipts for consolidating expenses, organize by month. If you are diligent about getting rid of receipts each month, sort into categories.

If you own your own business, have a separate folder for business receipts.

If you want to get rid of paper receipts entirely, you can scan receipts and input the data into a spreadsheet on your computer. There are tons of great software programs you can use to make this quick and easy.

storage unit for file boxes

5. Use a Storage Unit to Avoid Tons of File Boxes In Your Home

If you don’t have space for all the files you need to keep for the appropriate amount of time, rent a storage unit. Storage units are a great place to keep your documents dry and safe without taking up every corner of your home.

Looking for more decluttering and organization tips? Check out our other blogs:

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