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3 Ways to Organize Paperwork

Why is it so hard to organize paperwork? And by “paperwork,” I mean anything from bills, to statements, to tax documents, to receipts – you get the idea.

I’ve tried so many systems of organization to get my paper stacks under control. Filing cabinets, file boxes, pocket folders… and while all of them had their merits, I didn’t stick with any one system beyond the first month or two of trying it out. Why? They required too much time and work to keep up with.

Sounds silly, but it’s true. Sorting through papers is not an enjoyable task, and it’s not something I want to spend hours on each week. I had to come up with a more simple system for myself, and after using what I came up with consistently for the past six years, I think I can safely say I’ve found something that works.

organize paperwork

The title of this post is “three ways to organize paperwork” but the main no fuss, easy-to-use, quick, and simple system really just boils down to one tool –

A 13-pocket accordion folio.

That’s it.

organize paperwork

Every January, I head out to Staples and find their most affordable 13-pocket accordion folio and bring it home to hold all my paperwork for that year.

The first 12 pockets are assigned a month – one for each month in the year. As we go through each month, paying bills, receiving statements, etc… I simply drop the paper into the appropriate monthly pocket.

I save the 13th pocket for our completed tax papers for that year. Before we’ve filed our taxes, though, that 13th pocket holds all of the paperwork we will need when we file. I also will sometimes put other documents there, though, that I may want to reference each month.

You really can’t beat the simplicity of this system.

But what about other paperwork that shouldn’t be put away at the year’s end?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

When I implemented my system, I realized there were certain documents I wanted out at all times or there were things that we got too many of throughout the year that would have made the folio fill up way too quickly. These included things like insurance policies and cards, medical bills, veterinarian bills, car repair statements, and so on.

This is where the two remaining ways to organize paperwork come in. They are –

A desktop file box and a three-ring binder.

In our file box, I’ve made files for the following things (but your list may be different, depending on your family’s needs):

  • Medical bills
  • Car “stuff” – receipts for repairs, insurance policies, etc
  • Pets – each pet has their own file, and it contains their vet bills and other information
  • Kids – each child has their own file, and right now they’re mostly empty but will eventually contain school-related items, like statements for tuition, test scores, etc.
  • Furniture/Jewelry/Etc – this file is for receipts that I keep of major purchases we have made, like a couch, or a television, or a ring. It also has our personal articles insurance policy statement.

binders

The binder – which I call my “house binder” – contains the following things:

  • Mortgage statements
  • Home insurance policy
  • Home repair receipts
  • And a few other random things like, quotes for work on the house that we may be considering that year, paint chips with a note as to what room the paint went in, and closing papers from the purchase.

At least once a year, I go through the files and the binder and shred any outdated documents, or papers I know we don’t need anymore. Sometimes, I will file papers into the folio – in their appropriate monthly pocket – if I know I want to keep them, but I don’t really need them out anymore.

Why use a system like this?

My favorite thing about organizing paperwork this way is I always know where everything is. I know that every month’s pocket in my folio has bill stubs, statements, miscellaneous receipts, and so on. I know where all of our medical bills and statements are. I have quick access to all of our insurance policies.

I point all of this out only to say that the main reason it’s so invaluable to have this information is for when it’s time to file taxes. Filing our taxes has never been easier, because all of the tax documents are in the same place, corralled together, and any other information that may be needed (such as medical statements) is also quickly available. No more running around the house, sifting through piles of papers, hoping I find everything we need by the deadline.

I love this system so much that the year after I started using it, I went back and organized the previous four years of paperwork we had together as a married couple using this method. Glutton for punishment? Maybe. But when we bought our home, it sure was helpful having everything put together like that.

Hopefully this gives you some inspiration or an idea as to how you’d like to organize your own paperwork. If you have a tried and true system, let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading 🙂

4 Comments
  • March 17, 2016
    Janet

    Amanda, great suggestions! I have been struggling with all the paperwork as well. Any suggestions regarding investment documents? You know, all the monthly statements for each different type of investment. Stocks, IRAs, retirement plans.

  • March 17, 2016

    Love it! Paperwork is like a plague! It spreads around and ends up everywhere.

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