Attacking your filing cabinet can be daunting, especially if you have never filed anything before. When I started my filing cabinet, I was dealing with huge stacks of paper. I had four different file folders containing varying degrees of important paperwork. In short, I had all of my important documents in one place, but it took forever to find what I was looking for.
My first filing cabinet contained two drawers and I sorted alphabetically. That system seemed to work for a while, but over time many of my important files ended up at the back of their respective drawers. That is when I learned that a filing cabinet is a forever morphing being. Don’t get stuck on one way of filing! Major life changes: marriage, purchasing a house, having children, losing a loved one – can all drastically change the layout of your files. The important thing is to get started!
It can be daunting to turn a pile of papers into organized files, but start with the basics. As with all organizing, group like items together. Some good basic categories to have are: IDs, insurance, home, manuals, medical, memberships, receipts, taxes, vehicles, and work.
Let’s get a few logistical items out of the way now. I like categories to have their own colors. The hanging folders represent the category and the file folders inside of a category should be the same color as that hanging folder. Additionally, I hate sticking those little pieces of paper into the plastic tabs that go onto the hanging folder. Instead, I use a label maker and stick the label right onto the plastic tab. If it needs to be changed, a new label can be stuck right on top of it!
Because breaking all of your papers into groups can require a large physical space, it is best to dedicate a large amount of time and space to this task. I recommend using sticky notes to label each pile by category. Once you have divided everything into categories, you have two options. If you plan to devote the day to creating a filing system, continue into creating sub-folders. If you need to break the filing up into a multi-day project, collect your categories in their respective groups and start working on one category at a time as your schedule allows.
Within each category, you want to create sub-folders that break the group up further. The important thing to remember with the sub-folders is that you want them to be useful, but not too specific. For example, with manuals, breaking them up by what room the object is in can be helpful. You want to be sure that when you get a new addition to the category, it can easily slide into a sub-folder. If the sub-folders are too specific, causing you to create a new folder every time you want to add something to the filing cabinet, you will likely not take the time to do so and will accumulate a stack of papers that needs to be filed later on.
Use your filing system for a few months to determine how it is working for you. After that time, you may find that your filing cabinet needs a complete overhaul, that’s okay! You are learning what works for your family and that is important. With files, there is not a one size fits all system of organization, every family has a different amount of papers in each category and every person has a different way that they visualize their files. For me, my initial redo came when I decided I wanted easier access to the important files. I put everything I used commonly into the top drawer of the filing cabinet. The bottom drawer is used for the items I don’t need to access regularly, for me that is tax documents, manuals and filing supplies.
Redoing your filing cabinet could be as easy as rewording a few labels or it may be as intensive as taking almost everything out and starting over. The important thing to remember is that a few hours spent filing now can save you a ton of time and frustration in the future!