My filing system

So I have a confession to make and I’ll only tell you if you promise not to tell my mother.  It’s a biggie.  Are you ready?  Here goes:

I didn’t file one time last year!  Not once. My mom will be horrified but we aren’t telling her so it will be fine.  Except she reads my blog so I’m pretty sure I’m going to hear about it :)

The reason I put the filing cabinet first on the monthly round-up list was because mine really needed to be done.  Here’s my “to file” basket that normally resides on top of my filing cabinet:

That is a years worth of filing.  The basket is only 4.5 inches deep.  Not too bad if I do say so myself.   I had to check my blog to find out exactly when it was I had filed last and believe it or not it was Nov 2007.  You can read that post and find out a little more about my system here.  In a nutshell, I put my paper filing into the basket and when the basket is full I file it away.  Because I don’t hang onto a lot of paper it takes awhile for the basket to fill up hence the once a year filing :)

Last night I sat down on the floor in the living room with my basket, turned on my taped Regis and Kelly, and tackled the pile.  First I sort it into subjects…like with like….all the phone bills together, all the bank statements together, etc.  It took me exactly 20 minutes to do the sort, I know this because Regis and Kelly’s Host Chat was just finishing up when I was done :)  Then the filing is the easy part really.  It simply consists of pulling what’s in the cabinet and replacing it with the new information. In most cases (bills and statements particularly) I only keep a years worth of information.**

I’m not advocating this once a year filing for everyone.  In fact I’m going to try and set a goal to do it at least twice a year from now on.  This just happens to be a system that is working for me, so I don’t want to mess with it too much.  Using baskets to set boundaries and limits is an ongoing theme in my life so why would this area of my life be any different.

Now I thought I’d give you a run down of the way I have my filing cabinet set up.  My filing cabinet is two drawers but I only use the bottom one.  The top one is my husbands and I don’t even open that one…it’s a little scary :)

I have eleven main categories identified by a main tab and in hanging file folders and then each of the sub categories are divided with manila file folders that are clearly labeled.

So my categories (I’ve listed the sub categories in brackets) look like this:

House (Purchase Info, Mtg Info, Assessments/Property Tax)
Taxes (sub divided by year)
Bank Statements (Chequing, Savings, Credit Line)
Investments (RSPs, RESPs)
Bills (Phone, Gas, Hydro, Cable)
Credit Cards
Van (Purchase Info, Repairs)
Insurance (House, Van, Medical)
Employment (Resume, Contracts, Paystubs)
Misc (Subscriptions, Aeroplan, Airmiles, Medic Alert, etc.)
Travel (sub divided by location)

Note: my product manuals are filed separately using this system.

Check out my filing cabinet makeover.

That’s about it. Again, this is just one way of doing it. I’m hoping over the next couple of weeks to introduce other great filing systems to you in order to give you some ideas to help you come up with the system that is just right for you.

I don’t want to end this post without forgetting to tell you what our very first prize of the year will be.  I’m very excited to tell you that if you participate in January’s Filing Cabinet Round-Up at the end of the month, you will be eligible to win a great product called Scanalog.  You may even remember this product from a giveaway I did last year.  In case you aren’t familiar with it here is a little more about it.

SCANALOG is a CD-ROM software system you can use to store, catalog and retrieve your favorite articles from your favorite magazines. There are eleven Master Categories in Scanalog that cover a range of women’s interests, from Home Decoration to Gardening to My Spirit.  Basically it means you scan in all those magazine clippings you have lying around and categorize them to be able to find what you need whenever you need it with a simple click of the mouse.  Fantastic!

Interested in joining the challenge, more information is here.

Don’t forget to take a picture of your paper piles before you get started and have a great weekend!

** Please be sure to follow the appropriate government guidelines in your area for how long to keep documents.
Filed under: Monthly Round-up, Office


46 Responses to My filing system

  1. 2
    Fiona @ Feebeez says

    My filing system is similar to yours (and my basket of things to file is overflowing).

    In addition to the system you describe, I have a system for ‘active’ papers, which will require some action. I use two files which I call the ‘current month’ file and the ‘future months file’.

    – The file for the current month has 31 sections, numbered from 1 to 31. They represent each day of the month.

    – The file for the ‘future months’ has 13 sections, labeled with each month. The 13th section is for the following year.

    How it works: When paper comes in that needs to be actioned it gets file in either the ‘current month’ or ‘future months’ file in the correct slot. THEN each evening I retrieve paperwork for the following day from my ‘current month file’ and place the paperwork in my ‘To Do’ tray.

    In addition, at the end of each month you need to retrieve paperwork from the ‘future months’ file and distribute it into the ‘current month’ file.

    The system works well as long as you remember to retrieve your paperwork each evening, and as long as you empty your ToDo tray each day. I’m still working on this!!

  2. 3
    Elaine H says

    I need to do my filing at least once a month so that it doesn’t get out of hand, you can see what I mean when I post the pictures next Tuesday. Unfortunately it winds up being only 2-4 times a year that I file. It would help if I had a place like your basket to put all the paper work so that it would be in just one place and not 5-6 different ones.

  3. 4
    mrstwiddle says

    I like this idea a lot! It would work for me until I needed to find something :)

  4. 5
    Janeen says

    I have to file once a month too. I let it go for 5-6 months and piled everything up on the floor next to the filing cabinet and had the most aweful nasty piles (I’m big on piles) of mess. We just get so much paperwork! The investment statements alone are huge.
    My filing cabinet is set up like yours but I use both drawers. One is for the current year and the other is for the year before. Then I have 7 years worth in bankers boxes (for tax purposes – you never know when the IRS wants to audit).
    I used to use the basket on top but got away from that. I’ll have to dig it out and go back to it.

  5. 6
    Niki says

    hey, I have a home manual per say that I keep all info on the home, car and ins. Honestly I throw out all bills and statement once I confirm they are paid. I do have a spot in the manual for tax info but other than that I toss stuff. We don’t claim any house stuff so no need to keep it….maybe I should seeing is everyone else does. I am joining the challenge although I admit I don’t have paper lying around, if it does the kids take it and hide it.

  6. 7
    Corrie says

    I know I need to hang out here often because if I had taken a picture of what has not been filed for a year the shame would be monstrous. As would be the pile of paper. I am always striving to be more organized, but the desk and paper monster seems to be one area that I have no problem ignoring!
    No More. I have been inspired.

  7. 8
    Kristina says

    My filing system is… non-existant. I have a filing cabinet and the last time I cleaned the office, I tried to organize it but well, stuff since then is just everywhere. This will definitely give me the push to setup a system that I can work with. I can’t wait to see pictures of what everyone did!

  8. 9
    Annie says

    I like your filing system…it is simple and something that is doable for everyone.

    Because of you I have a basket on my file cabinet that I put things in to be filed and do my filing probably as often as you!!

    It goes to show that you don’t need something that is too complicated to have your paperwork organized!!

  9. 10
    Rena says

    I have a filing system, but not the nice basket on top of my filing cabinet. A simple and much more attractive idea than the pile of papers on my desk. Why haven’t I ever thought of that?

  10. 12
    Andrea says

    I have my 2-drawer filing cabinet right beside my computer desk. Last year I finally made it to where I file immediately because it’s right here. As soon as I pay a bill or receive something in the mail for filing, I do it! This has been a huge stress relief to know that if I ever need a document, boom-there it is!! Plus this system is soooo easy(instant) once the habit is made.

    I really recommend this. I can’t imagine doing my filing annually. (Dec. 30th each year I take a manilla envelope and put all my bills, docs, from filing cabinet- everything but the taxes for the NewYear and write “2008” on the front in sharpie. Then this envelope goes in a box with my other 6 years previous envelopes & into the office closet. It’s that easy. I keep 7 years so Dec.30 I add an envelope to the box and then take the oldest(2001-this time)go through it quick & shred.
    New Year starts off fresh, and filing cabinet files are empty, ready & waiting.
    ***If I had a basket as gorgeous as that though, I’d be tempted too. : )

  11. 13
    Susanne says

    It is my goal this year to get a filing cabinet! Right now we’ve got accordian files and cardboard boxes. I’ve been lamenting for too long that I want one. This month I’m just going to go get one.

  12. 14
    Mercy says


    How do you not have papers out your ears????

    Maybe it’s because I homeschool. Or, maybe it’s because I journal – A LOT. Or maybe it’s because I’m a packrat…

    But, whatever this issue – my brain cannot comprehend that is ALL you have for the entire YEAR. I have been asking my husband for ANOTHER big 4 drawer cabinet. (The BIG office type ones) I figure that should do it.

    Really though…my jaw is still wide open.

  13. 15
    indigobabs says

    What I use… a calendar! I have used a File-It calendar for about 4 years now. It is the perfect lazy way to file monthly bills and keep other papers in order. If I get invitations or by ticket for an even, I write it on the calendar and put the paperwork in the file. This way I always know where tickets, direction cards, or RSVP envelopes are when I need them. Follow link below.

  14. 16
    thewholegang-Diane says

    Wow, I have that much filing in week. If I only had that much I would only file once a year too. Wait until you see my mess from just less than 2 months. I really don’t want to start but I just saw the prize and so now I have to enter. Here goes….

  15. 17
    Adrian says

    Your filing system sounds like mine – keep as little as possible and file as rarely as you can get away with. Here is my post on the subject –

    One question – why do you keep the phone bills, gas bills, etc. Have you ever had occasion to refer back to them? I shred mine every month because I figure it’s a whole pile of paper I don’t need to keep. I guess I’d keep them if I have to itemize them for taxes or something, but otherwise, you could probably get that information on-line or over the phone with the vendor if you really needed it. I think I just hate paper!

    I don’t keep bank statements any more either. I used to have huge piles of them. Now I have the bank store them on-line for me. They keep 7 years worth and I can view them at will. MUCH better than diving through my filing system to find a particular month!

  16. 18
    Sandy says

    i can’t believe i actually have some more organized than you – hee hee! great post and very helpful, friend!

  17. 19
    Assertagirl says

    I have those exact same baskets which I sometimes use for the exact same purpose! I love them. Too much.

  18. 20
    Laura says

    Adrian, I have had to refer back to the bills for interest sake but really for no other reason. I just keep them for a year to coordinate with some of the other things I keep.

  19. 21
    Erin says

    I file once a month on a pretty similar system. I have a crate with my hanging folders in it which sits in the bottom of my closet (I have a small apartment). :) I put all of my monthly bills into a pile whenever they come in the mail. Once a month, I sit down and write checks for everything or set up the online bill pay. At that time, everything immediately gets filed away. At the end of the year I pull everything out (except specific product information) within that year and start fresh.

  20. 22
    Cathy says

    Oh my gosh a whole year!!! Just a question for you why do you not keep your manuals in your filing cabinet? I have one drawer for all my manuals and warranties (stapled on the front of the manuals with the date)filed alphabetically. Why have another box that you have to store somewhere else?

    Love ya

  21. 23
    Laura says

    Because my husband won’t give up his drawer!

    Love you.
    Your daughter,

  22. 24
    Creative Triplet Mom says

    Not file for a year, really? Oh, filing last year was a pain in the tush! I would pile up my stuff on top of my filing box and it would stack and stack until I actually filed it away. This year I decided to revamp my filing and so far it has been working but of course it’s been only one week since I changed my system. Will post to my blog what I did.

  23. 25
    Forgetfulone says

    I would be forever filing if I only did it once a year. Maybe my system is too complicated? Maybe we get too much paper? We did go paperless on quite a few things. Actually, I have all the “important” stuff in one drawer and it all fits except the investments. Those are the files I most need to look at. And perhaps the insurance files (life, health, dental, vision, etc.). But it’s not gonna happen this weekend. Too much else going on. (Bad grammar)

  24. 26
    Tara says

    I broke down and purchased a filing system that I love. It was a little pricy, but all the labels were made and ready to go. The system calls for you to file bills etc, by month, not by name. Way easier. I thought it would make me crazy, but I love it! Way easier to file, it only takes a second after paying them all to stick them in together, and I can still find by month when I need to look something up.

  25. 27
    Cassie says

    I hate filing with a passion! I work from home so I have to keep receipts for work related stuff that I write off so I have a ton of paperwork that needs to be filed. I always put it off as long as possible!

    I just re-did my filing system tonight and am so glad! It looks so much more organized and neat. Tomorrow I’m going to buy some containters to store all of my old stuff from years past in the basement but other than that I am done!

    I will make a post on my site about it soon :)

  26. 28
    Kim says

    This looks like a great system! I need to weed out the amount of paperwork I keep, which is waaay too much. I use a monthly system for most of my filing. I have 12 files for the regular bills and receipts, a folder for my credit card and a folder for DH’s credit card, then a separate drawer for the long term stuff, which I really need to weed out. House stuff is in another drawer, too. Sometime in January I pull the files from the previous year and put them in large envelopes and put those in a file box I keep in the home office, accessible in case I need them. The files from the year before that go to the attic. Where I’m overflowing is the warranty drawer and that permanent file! I hope I can meet the challenge and tackle those drawers this month. :)

    I love the 12 month system; it makes filing so quick and easy. When I get done paying the bills for the month I plop them all in one folder and I’m done. I’ve never had difficulty finding anything, so it’s working for me!

  27. 29
    Lynn says

    How do you decide what to keep and what to throw away? Also, do you keep articles from magazines and newspapers? If so, how do you keep them organized.

    Kids’schoolwork, personal letters, etc. I keep everything and it is chaos!

  28. 31
    Krisi says

    If I only had that for a year I would be in heaven — ours looks like that for oh… a month! Plus 90% of our bills I don’t see! I scan all my stuff in and then shred the originals. Now i have a mess in the computer… but I am working on fixing that too! Can’t wait to clean out the cabinet more for this months challenge — and scan what I need to in.

  29. 32
    c.c. says

    Ahhhh! First time visitor to your site and I think I’ll be back!!

    I love organization! I love how everything looks organized and just love how I feel when something is organized. A lot of stuff in my life is not organized, but still I’d consider organizing a hobby of mine!!! Rushing to read your blog now!!

  30. 33
    Barb says

    My problem isn’t that I don’t keep up with the filing. It’s that I NEVER clean out the files. I’ve got files of paid utility bills from three houses ago.


  31. 34
    Kristi Graham says

    I love your filing system. I am ready to make my own- using your wonderful system and my guide. Thanks for sharing.

  32. 35
    amy says

    very helpful post. I have a 3 year pile upstairs. YIKES…before i do any computer stuff I”m going to start from scratch on the hard drive!

  33. 36
    Gina says

    I don’t feel so bad then! I too have a basket with a few months worth of stuff to file that I do every few months. I am very clean, but I am not the most organized person so I love your site!

  34. 37
    Laurie says

    I too tend to leave this task until it’s very piled up. Until recently. I took an online organizing class and they suggested a basket with nicely decorated files (srapbook paper) from Jan – Dec and then a few additions.. ie bills to pay, each of your children, sports etc that you put on your counter. So once the month is done it goes away in the filing cabinet. I LOVE this system as I feel caught up after every month. Might be something else to consider…

  35. 38
    dana says

    I use the staple method.
    I staple all my bills for the month together.
    I write on each bill when and how much was paid (online bill pay) and then they go in a wall mounted shoe storage thing from IKEA. (works great for papers!)

    When it’s full, I fill it away.

    Everything is sorted by month, not type. I learned that I willput off sorting if it’s too complicated so I had to make it very simple.

  36. 39
    Rona says

    I try to sort weekly.

  37. 40
    Rebecca says

    Do you put your larger categories into big hanging folders and the subcategories into manila folders? That sounds like a good idea. I also like the idea of the basket for the to-be-filed stuff.

    My office/filing is a MESS because my son is currently living in my office while my hubby works on his room. So I have 5 minutes at a time to go up there and dump bills/papers that need to be filed and then they get shoved around with all his school papers… so I think I really need to do the filing challenge.

    My file cabinet could use some reorganizing as well (re-ordering is more like it) but otherwise it’s not too bad. We purge old receipts/bills after a while, but sometimes it’s amazing what you need to keep if you have to file government paperwork, for example.

  38. 41
    Multi-Tasking Mommy says

    I organized my filing system almost the same way that you did a couple of years ago. I thought if it was organized, I would be more inclined to file items frequently.


    I have a basket that sits on top of the filing system and I go down and file once every couple of months.

    I like the idea of the Rubbermaid one with a LID though…my files collect dust.

  39. 42
    Michelle says

    I have a basket for bank statements…is that bad? I finally changed all my accounts so that they’ll stop mailing them to me. I have notebooks set up for them, but it seemed like at one time the statements were coming in every other day…probably an exaggeration. I’m glad to know others make the basket system work too.

  40. 43
    Emma says

    That would drive me bonkers. A whole year? How do you keep on top of anything?
    I finally have my system back where it should be for me after a year of piles of paper for the first time since we bought our house.
    I have my shredder and paper recycling underneath my new corner desk tucked away, my filing cabinet to the side of me, with detailed categories.
    I have a letter rack with two slots on the side of my desk.
    Each letter that comes in gets opened every day, envelope discarded in the recycling or throught the shredder.
    Anything that just wants examining and filing gets put away immediately. Anything that needs actioning goes in one slot of the letter rack and birthday cards/letters to go out go into the other slot with pens in an incorporsated drawer and the address book in the slot.


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