There was once a time when my mother would ask me to get the mail, and I would bounce excitedly up to the mailbox and rummage through the papers, hoping that there would be something in there with my name on it. Getting mail was the coolest, most adult thing I could think of at the time, and I longed for the day when I would be important enough to have my own stuffed mailbox.
Now, I not only dread going to the mailbox, but I sometimes go so far as to avert my eyes when I walk up the stairs to my apartment....if I don't see it, it's not there, and if its not there, I don't have to open it and subject myself to the endless barrage of papers stuffed inside.
It's not the mail itself that I dislike, but the subsequent process of sorting, organizing, and filing whatever paperwork it includes (bank statements, insurance information, pay stubs, tax documents, advertisements, junk mail, etc.). Managing a household, even a single-person household, involves a lot of documentation, and keeping track of it all is a daunting task.
I use a filing bin (the one above is from Target) to keep papers organized by category. I did a lot of research before setting up my filing bin, and even then, I've continued to reorganize my filing system as my needs evolve. I started by breaking my life into broad categories, and color-coded the folders using dot labels.
Green = Finance (including bank statements, investments, and tax documents)
Orange = Auto (maintenance records, insurance, etc.)
Dark Blue = Medical (prescriptions, records, and health insurance
Yellow = Apartment (lease, maintenance records, renter's insurance)
Light Blue = Employment (contracts, pay stubs, resumes, self-employment documentation)
Red = Important Documents (copies of birth certificate, passport, credit cards, etc.)
Within each category, I have multiple separate file folders to further organize my documents. And within each folder I organize papers chronologically--oldest at the back and newest at the front.
In the past, I used a binder to keep track of all my important files, but I abandoned that for a couple of reasons:
It required also having easy access to a hole puncher
It was difficult to store small papers and booklets
My papers kept outgrowing the width of my binder rings
Here is the filing bin sitting on my bottom shelf:
Whatever system you choose, make sure to stick to it with integrity, in other words, once you've designated a folder for a specific purpose, do not allow yourself to put anything else into that folder!
Here are some tips for using a filing system:
1) It is OKAY if you let your papers pile up! Life happens, and sometimes there is not enough time in the day to each lunch, let alone organize files. It's okay to prioritize other tasks, as long as you commit to returning to those papers at a later time and date. Which leads to...
2) Be specific about when you are going to organize your files. Once a month? Once a week? Every other Saturday? If you are a to-do list person, add it to your list. If you are a planner person, put it on your calendar. Schedule it, write it down, and hold yourself accountable. Don't let the pile get too big.
3) Don't keep everything! If your folders start bulging, then you no longer have a filing cabinet....you have an organized junk drawer. An important part of staying organized is not just filing papers, but also regularly sorting through and discarding old or unnecessary files. Here are some suggested timelines for getting rid of old documents.
Things to never get rid of:
Social Security Cards
Passports and ID cards
Wills, living wills, power of attorney
Vehicle title and loan documents (for current vehicle)
House deed and mortgage documents
NOTE: if you keep any of the above documents in a safe or safety deposit box, I recommend making a photocopy to keep in your filing box for easy reference!
When to discard:
Tax records and receipts - 7 years
Home purchase, sale, or improvement documents - 6 years
Medical bills - 1 year after payment
Pay stubs and bank statements - 1 year
Medical records - until updated or next visit
Warranties and manuals - as long as you own the item in question
I keep most of the above documents in the filing bin, but I keep warranties and manuals in a separate binder for easy reference. (I also made a cover and spine label on Microsoft Word)
I divided the sections into categories (Appliances, Furniture, and Electronics) then put the manuals in alphabetical order by brand name. When I get rid of an old appliance, I also get rid of its manual/warranty info.