There’s no getting around the fact that this is by no means a fun or sexy topic to write about. I’ve been challenging myself the past few weeks to do more outlining and writing, and after a few days of focused apartment cleaning this is one of the ideas I thought could be helpful. In this post I’ll give some information about what I use to keep my documents and bills organized, details on how to set up your own file box, and tips for how to keep a system that helps reduces stress and clutter.
WHY SHOULD I SET UP A FILE BOX?
After I graduated from college my mom got me a little filing tub for Christmas—nothing says welcome to adulthood like a gift that gives you a place to store incoming bills and credit card statements. No surprise that my mom knew that the sad, dark, plastic box should include colorful files and a few ways to give the inside a little personality. I am not a huge fan of clutter and it is easy for me to make piles of things to be organized or held onto just in case. Having a system in place makes it very easy to store things so they are easy to find when you need them—tax season, budget maintenance, financial awareness, bank applications, insurance benefits, and so much more.
Think about some of the experiences you have had over the last three years. Have you:
- Changed jobs?
- Applied, been enrolled, or graduated from a school?
- Moved, applied for apartments, or made changes to your residence?
- Expected or paid a bill from a healthcare provider?
- Applied for a loan, credit card, or financial assistance?
- Spent more than 10 minutes trying to find an important document?
There are hundreds of reasons to have some kind of system in place at home to make organizing your paper trail as quick and easy as possible. Knowing confidently that your bills are up to date, the exact location of your passport, and where you keep stamps will change your life for the better. You might not have the space of need for a home office, so having a closed box that is portable and easy to store will offer exactly what you need.
HOW CAN I SET UP MY OWN FILE BOX?
To get started, you’ll need a few materials. These are what I consider the bare essentials, although it is pretty hard to make this more difficult.
- A file box (duh). This one on Amazon is similar to what I use, my favorite feature being the storage on top, the built in hang-file, the handle, and the snap lid.
- Hanging file folders, colorful or not. AmazonBasics has the colors I like to use available, although you are more than empowered to choose something more bland. The custom tabs on the files are key!
- Envelops, or paper folders. I like to use letter envelopes for cash and folders like this for everything else.
- Basic office tools! Pencils, pens, a few paper clips, a notepad, and scratch paper always help. If these tools aren’t house closed to where the file box lives at home, consider keeping these things in a hang folder at the front of the box with extra labels and such.
The Set Up
Setting it up is quite straightforward, too.
- Start by collecting all of the mail, statements and other documents that you want to include in your box. Organize everything by company or account if it is not already done.
- For each company or account, make a label to add to the hanging folders. I organize my colored folders by Money/Banking, Tax Forms, Health and Insurance, Household/Car, and Processing. In the next section, I’ll explain the Processing section, so focus now on the first four categories, adding or removing what is necessary. For example, Students may consider adding a section for old syllabi or assignments if they are not digital.
- After you’ve labeled your hanging files, fill them up! Before you toss everything in, make a strategy to make the file as lean as possible. Since I pay most of my bills online, I immediately toss any extra envelopes of ads and only file the statement when I get something in the mail.
- Use envelopes to group together like items. For example, my bank sends statements in paper for each account I have, so I group statements together by account and file them chronologically. Additionally, I collect my pay stubs from work chronologically in one envelope and I keep other envelopes with the pay stubs from years before.
- Shred the leftovers! Take this opportunity to dive into what needs to be filed and what is being held onto because it doesn’t have a home. If it feels miscellaneous, consider the situations when you might need to have a paper copy available. Should it be scanned and saved on your computer instead? Need to keep the paper copy? Check out the next section
The Processing File
This section is my favorite because it is what brings the whole system together. Having a filing system is one thing, but being able to regularly check on it or easily put things away is key for implementing good organizational habits. The processing files are five files that require action or need to be accessed in a quick second. The five I have are:
- To Be Paid: Bills, statements, insurance claims and the like. . . but make sure you have a date picked to pay these on a regular basis to not get yourself in even more trouble- To Be Filed: Paid bills, new accounts, letters from providers. If you don’t have time in the moment to put it away, this is where it should go.
- Materials: Pen, pencil, labels, paper clips, checks, etc. Have materials here so it is easy to process items without having to search your apartment each time.
- Important Documents: Birth Certificate, Social Security Card, Passport, and anything else that really should belong in one place.
- Shred: Anything with personal names and numbers should probably get shredded, not thrown away or recycle. Protect yourself!
Any time I check my mail, I make sure to open it immediately. I’ll recycle what I don’t need, and everything else gets put into these files. Electric bill? Needs to be paid! Confirmation of a new car loan? Congrats on the new car—I bet you need to make a new file (materials) and file that note! Need an easy place to keep your passport, some emergency cash, and your social security card? Sounds important to me! Keep it simple!
Most important if you decide to store things that need to be paid and filed is actually paying and filing them. Best practice is to pay and file everything in the moment, but sometimes that just can’t happen if payday is next week or if you’re on the way out the door for an appointment. Enjoy the freedom to put things off, and remember that the luxury of these processing files only happens if you clean it out often.
TRY IT OUT!
Nothing written today should be too far out of reach if you have used some kind of organizational system before. Understanding the foundation of this process makes it possible to build and develop specific tools and methods to make it fit your needs. Thank you always for taking the time to flip through this page, and feel encouraged to write to me with questions, feedback, or success stories!