Family Filing—As easy as (eating) pie

Posted on: November 6th, 2007 by Julie Bestry | No Comments

“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

~William James


I’m sure you’ll be scandalized to hear this, but even professional organizers procrastinate. As much as I love organizing papers and files for my clients and am Johnny-on-the-spot with my business files, I’ve been known to delay filing my personal papers. On Sunday, unwilling to let the To File box taunt me any longer, I decided I’d start the Month of Gratitude by being thankful the papers were put away. If you’re worried about clearing the paper clutter before the holidays, read on…

These loose papers were the same kind you have: credit card and utility statements, insurance company explanations of benefits, an automobile club renewal confirmation, thank-you letters from charities and the odd magazine clipping profiling a dream vacation. And while I procrastinated on three months’ worth of filing (in the same way I find every excuse to avoid emptying the dishwasher), I was happy in the knowledge that it would be a completely painless task.

How long did it take me to file away three months’ worth of papers?

42 minutes. It took the entirety of Face the Nation (Bob Schieffer is my silver-haired imaginary TV Newsman Boyfriend) plus a dozen minutes of SpongeBobSquarePants. (Hey, how can a girl resist a guy who lives in a pineapple under the sea?)

Why was it such a quick and easy job?

Certainly not due to any miraculous Professional Organizer genes. But I’ve got a great system. Just as we can empty the dishwasher seemingly by rote because we know exactly where everything goes, filing away personal papers can be a snap if each item has a home.

And it wasn’t quick and easy because I have some fancy filing cabinet that fills me with aesthetic delight–I don’t! I keep my personal files in a plastic milk-crate style filing box, which I bought for $6.99. A large family with complex financial or legal dealings might want multiple file crates, or might want to invest in a filing cabinet or lockable file box, but it’s easiest to start small.

To get your personal/family files in order, you just need these basics:

1) A container that holds hanging folders
Choose as simple or as fancy as you like, from a cardboard bankers box to a plastic crate to a metal or wood filing cabinet. If you’re often mobile, you can even try a portable file box on wheels.

2) Hanging folders
Choose the standard (ugly) green, enjoy multi-colored versions even if you don’t plan to color-code, or pick something high-falutin’ for inspiration. Hanging folders divide the major sections or categories, but if colors and patterns increase your motivation, go for it!

3) Interior folders
Again, it doesn’t matter if you stick with plain vanilla manila, or go for pretty and fancy, as long as you use the folders to separate the sub-categories of your life-on-paper.

4) A labelmaker
This can be your hand-held thick Sharpie, or you can opt for something a little higher tech.

5) Trust in yourself that the piles of papers will soon be conquered.

In the coming posts, Paper Doll is going to help you transform your filing system (or lack thereof) into a simple structure.  It’ll be sensible and as easy as (eating) pie to get your reference papers off the dining table and filed away so they’ll be easily retrievable in the future.

There are many filing systems out there to fit every personality. Filing merely seems difficult because there are so many options. Clients ask me—should everything be alphabetical? Should I separate files for my kids from my own? Should I use a numerical system like Paper Tiger for my household papers? Maybe you have no filing system or maybe you have a complex one that frustrates you. It doesn’t matter how you’ve dealt with papers in the past—this month is a clean slate.

There are no hard and fast rules regarding where you have to keep documents–the home office or the kitchen, upstairs or downstairs; the point is that papers must be kept where you can retrieve them quickly and logically. This includes labeling folders clearly so that they make sense to you.

In Paper Doll World, simplicity and ease of access is key, and that starts with keeping related things together, rather than necessarily alphabetizing or assigning arbitrary numbers. Family (or, if you’re a singleton like me, personal) files are based on just five MAIN categories:

  • Financial—money in, money out, money you’ll get when you’re Bob Schieffer’s age, taxes and your financial history
  • Legal—the VIPs (very important papers) and contracts that keep you protected
  • Medical—your personal medical history (but not the medial bills)
  • Household—everything to keep your household running, from product manuals to remodeling plans
  • Personal—your educational and career history, plus all your personal interests.

That’s it! Absolutely every personal or family reference paper will fit one of these categories–there’s no need for the stress-inducing “miscellaneous” category. In the next few posts, I’ll be talking about the specifics of what belongs in each of these areas. For now, just collect your essentials, pull all your loose reference papers (i.e., the stuff for which the only To Do is “to file”) in one stack, and I’ll meet you back here next Tuesday…without delay!


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