If you’ve ever wondered what are simple filing categories, this article is for you. I’ve taught a one-hour home filing and paper management class for underserved populations for about a decade. Back when classes were in person, dozens of people sat in the room, handled file folders and labels, created a simple home filing system, and learned how to customize a file system. Now we do it all via Zoom, and it’s still simple enough to do in an hour. Setting up a home file system doesn’t get much easier than this.
Ideally, you’ll need just five filing supplies in front of you when you start:
- a file box or drawer
- hanging folders
- tabs for the hanging files
- a dark pen for labeling tabs
- manila files, also called interior folders
You might want to make your files pretty, but keep your file system simple at the start and then add on later. This is a core tenant of SORT and Succeed, explained in this starter article. Form over function. Make it work in Step 3, and then improve it in Step 4.
What Are Simple Filing Categories?
We all need these basic categories, no matter how much money you have (or don’t have). The more complex your health and financial situations, the more paperwork you’ll have, and you should definitely customize your files. Bottom line, your filing system can and should be simple and manageable, even if you are overwhelmed right now.
These categories (bolded below) are the labels for the hanging folders. Each bullet is a heading that might be its own sub-folder. Group the interior folders with the together in the hanging folders, to keep things simple. You’ll notice that the headings/hanging folders are alphabetized, but the interior folders don’t have to be, as long as you know what category they belong in. In larger file systems, we’ve assigned an entire file drawer to a main category, but let’s start with simple filing categories.
- Loans (keep only current loan documents)
- Credit Report (keep only the last one)
- Investment accounts
Bills & Receipts
- Monthly Bills to pay (Do not keep these inside a file box or cabinet. Keep these out until paid).
- Paid Bills & Receipts for this year that are not tax-related
- Paid Bills & Receipts for last year that are not tax-related
Children (one hanging folder per child)
- Daycare agreement and contacts
- School Records (official documents)
- Child Support documentation
- State Aid
- Welfare / W.I.C. / SNAP
- Veteran’s benefits
- Car annual policy
- Health policy and contacts
- Storage Locker
- Health Insurance Cards
- Immunization Records
- Dental plan
- Eye Care/Vision plan
- Personal health records for each family member
- Paid bills for the current year
- Paid bills for the previous year
- Greeting cards
- Photos (These should not be stored in the file cabinet. Use photo-safe storage apart from household files.)
- Children’s Artwork/Achievements
Tax Filing for each year
- W2, Payroll stubs, tax deductible receipts, all supporting documentation, and federal and sate tax forms filed. (Here’s how long to keep tax files.)
Work/ Job Search
- Resumes/disk or drive with recent drafts
- Jobs Applied For/Cover Letters
- Letters of Reference
- Awards, copy of high school diploma
What to do with the rest of your papers? Usually they feel random because they are delayed decisions, open loops, things you want to do. Sometimes you’ve got a paper or business card floating around because you’ve gotta call a guy about a thing, but you haven’t landed on who, when, how, or maybe even exactly why. These belong in your tickler system. To-do’s: reminders to do, to call, to research, to schedule, to write, to return, etc. These are projects in progress, and you’ll be able to act on them much better in a tickler system than in a pile.
Beyond Simple Filing Categories
What are simple filing categories? Yes, you can and probably will have more files than this, but keep filing categories as simple as you can, and your file system will be more likely to work for you. You really can take a very complex collection of papers and boil it down to a very simple system.
I already hear you saying, “But what about my special circumstance? What about that book I want to write? What if???” I promise, start with the system above, and you’ll have very few exceptions.
If you are really struggling with piles of papers and making sense of what to keep and what to file, please get in touch about getting personalized help from our team, or check out the very detailed Organizing Your Papers with SORT and Succeed online class here. Start right away, anytime.