Clutter Challenge: The Files

Hello Readers!  Well, it’s time to face the facts: the paper trail follows us everywhere we go, and it can be quite a headache!  Every time you open your mailbox, there are ads and credit card offers, bills, and cards from loved ones.  But where do you keep it all, and how do you keep it all manageable?  Easy: the Files.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I have recently let my own filing system go by the wayside since my son was born.  But, I have found a system that works for me and for my household, and it takes very little effort to maintain!  This system takes very few supplies to set up and keep together, so let’s get started!  First of all, you will need the following:

  • 1 container/file box to contain all files- I have chosen this file cube from Thirty-One Gifts in Flower Pop that I purchased a couple of years ago when my sister sold their products
  • 1-2 packages of Manila File Folders, in Letter or Legal size, depending on the box size-I have chosen Letter size based on my box; the Legal size are an inch or two longer.
  • 1 Sharpie or pen-to write down the months of the year, the file contents, etc.
  • (Optional) File dividers- Again, I purchased these two dividers in Black Plaid from Thirty-One Gifts when my sister sold their products
  • (Optional) Paper/Document Shredder- I highly recommend purchasing one of these to shred old documents, credit card offers, and anything that contains your personal information.  But, they can run for as low as $20 for a simple one, or you can search your area for a service or company that shreds documents.  For example, the UPS Store in my area offers this service for a fee, though I don’t know how much it costs.  It might be worth it to check out your local office supply store for a light document shredder if you plan to shred your own documents.

Lastly, you need to gather up all old mail, letters, thank you cards, ads, etc. in your home.

To get started, decide how you want to sort your documents.  For my household, we have one manila folder for each month of the year in order to contain our monthly bills and other debt notices when they arrive.  I also keep all statements for my student loans in the files for easy access.  I have a separate manila folder for our bank statements and investments (such as Ryan’s 401K/IRA statements) for the current year, another manila folder for our medical expenses and statements for the current year, and a manila folder for our tax paperwork for the current year.  All of these manila folders are kept in one of my dividers, and each month I file away the most current statements, documents, and paperwork according to the topic.  As I’m doing this, I pull out the previous year’s billing statements and shred them with our document shredder.  For example, when I file July 2016’s electricity and gas bill from our service provider, I’ll pull out the July 2015 bill for the same provider and shred the statement.  After a year, it is no longer necessary to keep your paid utility bills.

Now, m

Files pic.jpg
In this photo is my file cube and one file divider (the other is in the cube), both from Thirty One Gifts, and my files with sorted papers within.

y second file divider I use to keep more important documents together.  We keep copies of our past taxes, for the last seven years, copies of our legal documents—our marriage license, birth certificates, etc.—our banking documents, our leasing information, and other important paperwork.  These are all documents that we need to keep in case there are any issues that need to be resolved.

After deciding how to sort your documents and files, label your manila files and set them aside.  Then, sort through your documents and papers.  This is the toughest part, but gets easier as you go through this process.  After a few minutes of sorting them, you get into a rhythm of what to toss and what to keep.  For starters, I would sort your documents into just those two piles: toss and keep.  Once you have everything sorted into the two piles, organize your keep documents by date and keep only the current year’s bills.  Then, place them in the files according to their type and file them into your box.  Put it away for safe keeping and breathe easy that this part of the task is done.

Now for the messy part: shredding.  Gather up your documents to toss—the credit card offers, the spam mail, the out-dated statements, and whatnot.  Make sure that personal letters and cards are kept separate as well (which we’ll discuss in just a moment). With your toss pile, fire up your document shredder and get to shredding.  If you don’t want to do this part and want to pay for a service provider to complete this step, then just gather it all up and take it to a document shredder.  This step is important because it will cut down on identity theft threats or fraud, and you can recycle the shredding—either for uses around your house, such as an animal cage or for a craft project or you can turn it into a recycling center.

By now, you should have just one stack of paper left: the letters and cards.  If you’re like me, you might have house plans left as well.  For these, decide if you want to keep the personal letters.  These are typically letters from friends and family, which is a dying art.  If you keep them, make sure you place them in a safe place.  I keep my letters from my friends and family in my bedside table, bound in a silk scarf my grandmother gave me from her collection ages ago.  As for the cards, I usually weed through them accordingly: photo cards (such as Christmas family photo cards), useful cards, keepsakes, and tossers.

During the winter holidays, I will receive family photo cards from different family members.  I keep these in an old photo album, again in my bedside table.  The keepsake cards are ones that hold special memories, like the letters.  For instance, I have every card from Sean’s baby shower in his keepsake box—along with his homecoming outfit when we brought him home.  I will one day give him the box with the cards of well wishes from loved ones so that he knows how much he is loved.  I also kept the cards from our wedding, which I have stored in my wedding box in our master closet with our guest book, my dress, and other wedding items.  Now, as for the rest of the cards, I often receive thank you cards, holiday cards for various occasions, birthday cards with different pictures, and whatnot.  Often, I will think of various scrapbooking and art projects I could do with the pictures on the cards, or I find myself drawn to the pictures on the cards and will want to keep them for future use.  These cards I call my useful cards as they can still serve a use as decoration or inspiration, and I’ll store them in my crafts drawers until such time as I can use them.  Finally, there are the tossers.  These are the cards that no longer serve any purpose.  They are thank you notes that you have received in the past or holiday cards that are not needed.  I typically keep all cards for six months and then look through them to decide if I see potential in them or not.  If they don’t serve a purpose beyond then, I toss them.  If I find another reason to keep them, in the trash they go.

Now that the last tosser card has made its way to the recycle bin, your filing system is done, the papers are put away neatly, and your place is looking better.  After taking a deep breath, give yourself a pat on the back for your work.  And tell me, readers, how do you sort your filing system?  Do you find other uses for your old documents, and what are they?

Until next time,

-BBM

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