In my last post I covered the basics of a filing system. That’s just one part of the story. You still need to pick and stick to a filing technique. I’ve been using a system for sometime now and it’s been working out pretty well. No more paper clutter.
The minute I get mail, it is neatly filed away without spending too much time doing it. You come home from work, the last thing you want to do is sit and spend half hour filing!
Start this activity on a weekend where you can allocate a few hours without distractions. Meanwhile, make sure you have everything you need to be clutter-free, at least when it comes to paper! I’m going to outline two simple ways to organize your files. The easy way and the frugal way. One will save you time, the other, money! Both achieve the same end result – taming the paper tiger!
Here’s what you’ll need:
Let’s get started. Turn on some good music, shut the door, free yourself from distractions.
- Separate permanent records. From your paper pile, separate those documents that are more permanent in nature. e.g., titles, deeds, social security card, passport. We’ll tend to these later!
- Get rid of junk. That should leave you with documents with a limited life span. Bills, statements, receipts etc. From this pile, get rid of junk like marketing flyers, expired coupons etc
- Pick an easily accessible filing container. Now, you want a filing container that is easy to get to. I chose a desktop filing container that is open. The idea is, from the time you pick up mail to getting it filed, there should be least amount of obstacles in the way! Lid opening counts!
- Open your mail! I’m sure you have some unopened mail. This is a good time to get to it! Never file unopened mail. Open the envelope, remove any junk from the mail (marketing flyers), staple the rest together. Discard the envelope
- Save time or money? Now comes the part on how to actually file. If you want the easy way, go with a filing kit like MyVitalFiles. If you are using MyVitalFiles, for each piece of mail, look up the reference sheet, place the mail in the appropriate folder. If you are going the frugal route, look up the reference sheet that MyVitalFiles provides as a free download, for inspiration, label your folder appropriately and file away! Coming up with appropriate categories is hard and MyVitalFiles has done an excellent job in that respect. I could find a category for almost every piece of mail I had.
- Finish the job. Once you are done, get back to the first pile of the archival kind. Same technique as above, but use a more permanent storage for your files like a filing cabinet or a file box or even a safe if you are the paranoid kind! You don’t want your grocery coupons along with your passport and social security cards! Long term or permanent files should be kept separate from short term files
- Mmm… beer! Once you are done, go get yourself a cold one!
And that’s it! It’s not that hard and is kinda fun. Now, this is most important. Everytime you get new mail, open it, staple the papers together and file it right away. Make this a habit. Don’t keep anything for later. That’s what got you into this mess in the first place!
A special note on MyVitalFiles
This post might seem like a pitch for MyVitalFiles. I’m in no way associated with MyVitalFiles. They don’t know I’m doing a review. I used it, liked it, now I blog about it. There are other pre-packaged filing systems that are available, but I haven’t used them and I will not do a review of products I haven’t used myself.
MyVitalFiles is a replacement for ordinary Manila file folders. It comes with a set of 80 pre-labeled folders, 10 blank folders, 44 additional preprinted labels and 22 blank labels with a template, and a filing reference guide. I found it pretty easy to categorize my mail using this system. They had thought of almost everything! Well, almost! I couldn’t find a category either in the pre-labeled folders or in the additional preprinted labels to store my rental agreement. So I used one of the blank folders and a blank label and created one.
Another caveat about using MyVitalFiles. Unlike regular Manila file folders, the tabs in MyVitalFolders are large, which is a good thing since you can easily get to your files, but if you are using a closed container like a standard filing cabinet or a file box, make sure it has at least 1 1/2 inches clearance on top. Otherwise when you close the container, it will bend the tabs.
To summarize filing tips
- Keep a stapler next to the filing container
- Staple all documents from each envelope together
- Discard junk right away, don’t keep it for later
- Keep a trashcan and a shredder close to the filing container
- Don’t file envelopes. The right place is the waste basket
- Don’t have a category called Miscellaneous