HOW TO CREATE FILING CATEGORIES THAT WORK
Two weeks ago, I told you about the R.A.F.T. system, a simple, effective way to quickly sort through paper clutter (read it here). Today, I’m discussing using the 4 sorted piles of papers to create filing categories that work for you.
3 Things To Know Before Beginning
First, this step takes time. I suggest tackling the piles on separate days to avoid fatigue. Playing your favourite music helps too! Second, there is no one correct way to organize your files. Every family’s needs are different. A successful, long-term system must have categories that reflect your family’s unique needs. Finally, the simpler the system, the better. The key is having as few places as possible to look for what you need. I recommend 3-8 broad categories that are “parents” to more specific sub-categories.
Using Your “File” Pile To Determine Categories That Will Work For You
To make retrieval of information fast and easy (the goal of a filing system), categories and sub-categories should be based on how you would intuitively look for the information. To figure this out, grab post-it notes and a pen, set up in an area with lots of space and go through each document in your “file” pile. As you look at each paper, write the first thing that comes to your mind on a post-it and stick it on the paper. That is probably what it should be labelled. Make separate piles for each label you come up with.
As you go through this process, categories and sub-categories will start to emerge. If you have categories or sub-categories with just a couple of pieces of paper each, consider if they can be consolidated under a broader category or sub-category. If you have ones that seem to have too much, consider if they can be broken down into further categories or sub-categories. While the aim is fewer categories and sub-categories, they need to be specific enough that you know where to look for information when you need it later.
Categories & Subcategories I Use
I use the following categories and sub-categories for my family’s personal filing:
- Home: mortgage, insurance, property taxes, utilities, alarm company, pool, work done, purchases etc.
- Auto: leases, claims, insurance etc.
- Finances: credit card and banking, investments, pensions, etc.
- Taxes: current year and last 7 years
- Important Documents: Marriage licence, wills, life insurance documents etc.
- Health: benefits coverage, insurance information, claims and a file for each family member.
- Personal: a file for each family member for personal items, for education, for work and a file for vacation information.
- Properties: purchase and sale information for current and prior homes.
This works for us, but perhaps you would prefer a parent category of Insurance with sub-categories of home, car and life insurances. The important thing is it makes sense to you.
I note this system is for papers we don’t access regularly. For papers we refer to daily or weekly like school and extracurricular information, home maintenance and important contact numbers, we use a Home Management Binder. Read here how it keeps these papers organized. For now, put papers you access regularly in a separate pile and find a temporary home for all the piles you have created. In three weeks, I will talk about finding permanent homes.
What To Do With Yout “To-Do” Pile
Deal first with items that can be done quickly; an RSVP you can do, a bill you can pay, an event you can put in your schedule. Then move those papers to the appropriate “toss”, “file” or “regular access” pile. If you have loose papers with miscellaneous notes, consolidate them on a single paper.
For items that require more time or can’t be done yet, set aside specific times in your schedule to deal with them. Then return the papers to your “to do” file and find them a temporary home until we discuss permanent homes in three weeks
What To Do With Your “Read” Pile
Look at each document and decide whether you are realistically going to read it. I don’t doubt your intentions, but there are only so many hours in the day. If it’s been sitting unread for months, you probably can toss it. If you truly believe you’ll read it, keep it and find a temporary home for this pile too.
What To Do With Your “Toss” Pile
“Toss” means recycle and shred. Determine which papers to recycle and which to shred. Identity theft is big business and some junk mail, old resumes and even extra copies of birth announcements put you at risk. As a general rule, shred everything with any personal and/or financial information. For a detailed list of papers to shred, check out this page of the Washington State Office of the Attorney General and this article from Reader’s Digest. Check with your local recycling program for acceptable packaging of shredded paper.
Although this step takes time, I promise it’s worth it! Your papers will be organized in categories and sub-categories that make sense to you, laying the foundation for a lasting paper management system. Let me know in the comments below how creating your categories went. And remember to check back in three weeks to learn about finding the right permanent file storage system for you.