Organized Treasure: Blog
Katie McAllister, Professional Organizer
One of the places I consider myself to be "well-organized" is in my filing - I have always had a great system and kept good track of my paperwork. HOWEVER, I began to realize it had become an overly onerous task - as society becomes more and more "paperless", my system needed to catch up and get with the times. Although Generation X, I still receive most of my bills on paper when available - especially bills that vary month to month, that I want to read over and confirm everything is above board - credit card bills, bank statements, even my electric and gas bills where I compare month to month and usage compared to last year.
So, two problems: My "to file" box would pile up, and then, because the stack was looking fat, would pile up some more, until I would spend an hours-long marathon catching up and filing months of papers. Secondly, the files themselves get FAT, and needed culled - another marathon job - amid so many decisions (how many years of each item would I keep? What could be disposed from each file?). Although I LOVE creating order from chaos, this recurring, time-consuming task was no longer something I wanted to invest hours in!
Then I found Freedom Filer. Freedom Filer markets itself as "self-purging", and once I truly embraced the system, I will say, no more marathon purging sessions! Their website www.Freedomfiler.com is a great resource for the "how to" of your system - and you absolutely could build your own with the information they provide! But their color-coded, ready made tabs look great and were worth it to me!
Here are the basics: Green tabs are for rotating, monthly files - There is a tab for each month "Even Year" and "Odd Year". It is November 2018, so I have a big paperclip on that file right now, to make it even easier to locate, because every paper that needs temporarily retained drops straight in there this month - credit card bills, doctor visit paperwork, "silly" warranty info (to the under $70 items that, honestly, are not worth calling in the warranty terms unless they fail in the first few months), large receipts, maybe cards or other items that are not quite ready for the trash. These will be retained until November 2020 when that file goes "live" again. Then, I will discard it all (I peek through and get a little memory, personally - oh my, how hard November 2016 was with Jeremy's surgery and all that my dad was going through!). In December, I will discard 2016 and start filling with this year.
Blue tabs are for taxes (I think Freedom Filer breaks this down a little too far) - we are up to 3 tax files now: Current Year Taxes, Business Income and Expense Receipts, and Medical (This comes and goes, as some years we have HSA/FSAs that in theory we have to have records for... if it would ever be questioned). If you just have one Current Year Tax File, I think that is good enough for most families!! And most years, it will sit empty until January save for an itemized Charitable Contribution here and there! It also files by "Year ending" 0-9, so you are keeping one decade of tax forms. I opted that when it is time to discard the 10 year old, I discard all of the supporting paperwork and just keep the actual IRS forms for reference - this is just about 5 sheets of paper most years, in a "Second Decade" file. Anything older than TWENTY years, I am definitely free to discard each year!
Red is for permanent - Freedom Filer made me much more picky about what is "permanent" - IMPORTANT medical records, school and employment records, the most personal cards, "real" warranties (with receipts), etc.
Orange is for "current contracts" and these papers get swapped out when the new one comes in - so, your insurance documents for the current year (discard prior year), apartment rental agreement, your SS Statement, even your will might fit into this category - only keep the current version!
Purple is for resource references - use sparingly! Maybe that vacation file or another file of accumulated research. Your family's ancestry documents or DNA tests. Most resource items anymore beg the question, "could you just look this up on the internet if you needed this information later?" But we all have those items we want at our fingertips, physically written right there in front of us when we need it!
Freedom Filer recommends HANGING FILES - I can't tell you how HUGELY transformative this part was for me. I was using the manila file folders. You adjust the metal bracket to the size of your files, but at first there is sliding room, and the files are leaning a little. As they fill up, you can't really stuff another page in without removing files or risking papercuts! So, you move the bracket, and they are slipping and sliding again. Hanging files hang straight and tall all the time! They slide easily, always staying upright - you open them, slip in pages and slide the door closed. If you already use hanging files you either understand my joy or are just thinking everyone knows it is the superior product. If you don't use them, they are WELL worth your investment. They can all be the cheapest green office color. They do not need to be color coded, but spend $10 on a drawer worth and decide if I'm wrong!! Seriously!
The combo of hanging file folders and rotating months means I do not have a to file box - items that I might need in the next 2 years get EASILY tossed in the current month's file - no fuss, no muss, no sorting type of bill or date, no removing an entire file so that I can force one page into a tight drawer. And it has eliminated the worst step: the purge step - bills and temporary items get discarded every 2 years. Taxes are automatically downsized or discarded each year.
Honestly, these are two items I recommend to every paperwork client who is struggling to keep up with filing or becoming overwhelmed! I think there are few who would struggle with the system. If you need help catching up on paperwork, or implementing a new system, reach out! It is a small time investment that will remove a huge weight from your shoulders!
Embracing my love for organizing and the joy of encouraging others as we journey through the ups and downs together!
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