How to make a simpler filing system

I've had many requests for a post on filing. Paperwork seems to be the nemesis to a simplified life.  Summer is the perfect time to tackle your filing system. The days are longer, there aren't the physical demands on your schedule such as holiday events, and it just makes sense when you are feeling good. It's a lot harder to make myself do these types of things when it is cold and dreary outside.

Before we begin with label printer in hand and sharpies, it's important to streamline what needs to be filed in the first place. By this I mean, the incoming mail; the hoard of catalogs, junk mail and bills that we receive on a daily basis. I have worked to get our name off just about every catalog, solicited and unsolicited, that I can. For me, looking at catalogs just reminds me of more items that I don't own and stirs up discontentment; in our house, we are better off without them. Next, it's important to sign up for electronic billing for all of your accounts to help reduce the amount of time spent filing (and conserve landfills). I can honestly say that once I adapted our file cabinet to the system made below, it literally takes seconds to open the mail and file it quickly. Note: we use a two-drawer filing cabinet simply because that is what we have. I would prefer a single acrylic file box, but my husband likes the cabinet and well you know, some battles are better fought elsewhere. :) So, be flexible if you are in the same boat as me. Now, let's get started.

Step 1 - go paperless for as many bills and accounts that you possibly can. We prefer to receive the actual bank statements for our checking account but all other documents we receive electronically, when given the option.

The system below is one that I created for our home. It utilizes the alphabet for quick memory and filing. If you know the ABC's, then filing is very quick and you won't have to stop and think, "where do I put this receipt for a donation?" That's easy - it goes in the "D" file for deductions. The deductions file is going to house everything you need come tax time. I have created 7 categories. You may need more. So, adjust as needed.

Here are the 7 categories:
(A)ccounts - bank statements, investment reports
(B)ills - utilities, receipts...
(C)hildren - parenting resources, paperwork, crafts from school with hand prints
(D)eductions - charitable contributions, medical receipts, childcare bills, W2s, business expenses
(E)nvironment - closing documents, lease agreement, warranties
(F)amily legacy - legacy drawer
(G)eneral - miscellaneous, family budget, coupons, article torn out of a magazine

There is no one wrong or right way to build a filing system. The point is to just do it and do it consistently. When we don't file paper as soon as it enters the home, then it just piles up and becomes a big headache to deal with later on creating a clutter hot spot. By making a habit of checking the mail every day, opening and filing it immediately, then when you need to locate a specific document, it's easy to find.

The system above is based on our needs. Seven files may not be enough for your household. You may need to add additional categories. Don't get stuck on trying to fit everything into that number if you can't. The point of this exercise is to consider your situation and what fits best for your family and household. Let my example above be a starting point for you. Let's dig in together and purpose to reduce the amount of paper coming into our homes and the clutter it creates.

Are you implementing a simpler filing system? I would love to hear about it. 

**update: As I was finishing this post, I heard the postman at our mailbox and thought how appropriate that I stop to go check the mail and immediately file it. We had one piece and it was a mailer from a well-known company with coupons for baby formula. I immediately located a number on the back of the mailer to remove my name from their list and called. It took two seconds and just saved me the future hassle of taking something to the recycling bin, saved the company money, and conserved the environment. I call that a win-win.