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Setting up a home filing system can be a pain, but seeing a pile of documents crowding your workspace is an even bigger pain.
Sloppy filing systems — or, worse yet, no system at all — can distract you and ruin your productivity.
The reality is that you’re better off dealing with these types of messes as soon as they start bothering you (if not before).
It’s time to deal with it, once and for all.
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Setting Goals for Your Home Filing System
Let’s put it all together to create a powerful system for successfully organizing your files.
#1: Gather All Your Files Together
The very first step in the process is gathering all your files together.
As in the KonMari method, retrieve your files from anywhere you might have them: your bedroom, living room, bags, kitchen, laundry room, that dusty box in the attic, and so on.
This is important because you don’t want to be distracted by other projects. You want to have everything you need at hand.
Additionally, by gathering everything together at once, you won’t have to redo the organizing process a few weeks later simply because you forgot to include some errant tax forms.
#2: Separate Your Papers Into Categorized Piles
Elizabeth Larkin suggests making five piles, sorting your paper into action, archive, house, recycle, and shred.
Your action pile will include papers you need to take action on that can be discarded after use, such as that parking ticket you still haven’t paid, homework, or event invites.
Your archive pile will include documents that you should keep but don’t need to review regularly, such as old tax forms, house deeds, and medical and academic records.
Your house pile will include any papers you use to keep your household running smoothly, such as user manuals, travel documents, coupons, and tax receipts.
Your recycle pile is fun because it’s really all about decluttering your life.
Basically, this category includes papers that don’t fall into the above categories and contain no identifying/sensitive personal data. They can be put aside to be recycled. This is the pile for junk mail, periodicals, old homework, and used envelopes.
Of course, if there’s nothing written on the back of some of those papers, you can use them as scratch paper for printing or jotting notes — reusing is always better than going straight for recycling.
Your shred pile is for those papers that could be recycled but contain sensitive or personal information, such as credit card and bank statements and bills.
The first of the five piles you should deal with is the recycling pile because it’ll feel like an easy win by allowing you to clear out a large chunk of clutter. Next is the shred pile.
Once you’ve got your paid bills shredded and your recycling is taken out, consider going digital as you move forward. This will allow you to reduce wastefulness around unnecessary paper usage.
The easiest way to go paperless is by switching to online billing. You can do this for phone bills, credit card bills, utilities, and bank statements.
Another aspect of going digital is scanning copies of essential files. Make use of apps such as Scanbot and Camscanner, which allow you to take photos of documents and then enhance, annotate, crop, and collate them into a single file to be kept digitally. These files can be shared via email or social media — or saved on your computer, laptop, or cloud storage.
I personally like storing the most important things I need access to in Evernote as part of my own filing system. This system involves the use of various notepads and tags to help me resurface relevant notes when I need them.
Some of my major Evernote categories for going paperless include: