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How to create a home filing system that works

by respaced on August 10, 2010

Organizing your file cabinet is a drag. Let’s admit it. It can be so tedious going through each piece of paper one at a time, and it can be downright difficult coming up with a filing system that works. Yet, if you don’t take the time to go through your filing cabinet(s) at least once a year, you will be left with a much bigger chore someday in the future. Here are the steps you can take to sort through the dreaded filing cabinet:

1. Get a friend to help you. This person’s job is to keep you on task, shred any papers you hand him or her and label temporary file folders.

2. As you go through each piece of paper in a file, decide whether to keep it, recycle it or shred it. I have spoken with a computer network security expert who assures me that you do not need to bother shredding any piece of paper with your name and address on it. If a thief really wants to steal your identity, that info is readily available from other public sources. Do shred anything with your social security number, credit card number, bank account number or other sensitive number on it.

3. If you decide to keep the piece of paper, either put it back in the file folder if you think the folder has an appropriate name or create a temporary file folder with the name you want and file the paper in it. Store the folder upright in an empty filing box until you are done sorting.

4. When you have sorted all of your papers, you will be left with an empty filing cabinet and a full filing box. Analyze the folder names in the box. Are there any duplicates? Any folders with similar names that could be consolidated? Are the names too specific (ie. you have only one piece of paper in it) or too broad (no folders named miscellaneous allowed!) Rename temporary folders as needed.

5. Next, see if you can categorize your folders into 4-6 broad categories. For most home offices, the categories will be something like finance, health, personal, household, education, etc. Assign each category a color.

6. Purchase file folders in colors and create permanent files accordingly. For example, you might decide to put all of the finance-related files in green file folders. Transfer all of the finance files out of those temporary folders you made and label the new green folder with the same name as the temporary folder name.

7. You will have a rainbow of folders now, which can go back in the filing cabinet. Remember to create a key so you can remember what each color category means. I do this by labeling the inside edge of the filing cabinet.

8. You’re done! Now it will be a snap to retrieve items from your filing cabinet. You probably will not have to create new files for a long time. It’s time to celebrate! Be sure to treat yourself well for enduring the drudgery of sorting your filing cabinet.

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