Thursday, January 5, 2017

Setting up a Filing System

Setting up an organized and functional household filing system has been the subject of numerous books, magazine articles and blog posts. There are almost as many ways to do it as there are numbers of people in the world. To say there is one method that works best for everyone and their individual circumstances is completely false and quite silly actually.  So much of how and what you file depends on YOU and your family circumstances, needs and desires.

But that doesn't mean there aren't principles involved in setting up and using a filing system.
In an effort to keep it SIMPLE (which it really and truly should be), I've narrowed it down to just two basic principles:

First Principle of Filing:
Don't file just to file. In other words, don't keep papers just because they are there and you have a filing cabinet drawer you "could" put them in. If you haven't noticed already, one paper here and one paper there adds up very quickly. Every one of them that is kept should be questioned, quite harshly in fact, to see if it really is "keep worthy."

Second Principle of Filing
Once a paper is filed, it doesn't automatically stay forever. In fact, very few papers should EVER stay FOREVER. Birth certificates? ok, yes. Those can stay. Vehicle titles? yes.  Credit card statements? absolutely not. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to go through your filing cabinet at least once a year and CLEAN OUT. I find this works the best during Christmas break, when a new year is about to start. It's always amazing to see what papers I kept and how irrelevant a lot of them are even 6-12 months later.

As far as setting up a filing system, as I mentioned earlier there are a LOT of different ideas and "plans" out there. The only thing I can do here on this blog is show and tell you about what I have done and what works for me and my family.  So here you go:

I have found that there are basically 4 general categories of things that need to be filed and so I have one in each file drawer of a standard file cabinet.

1- Household Business (that is papers having to do with banking, mortgages, cars, insurance, etc.)
These are papers that, if your family was a business -- which, in reality, it kind of is-- what papers do you need to keep in order to keep the family finances organized and efficient and family activities and commitments taken care of? That is what you would keep in this file drawer.

Something else about this file drawer...remember my post about marriage and being married to a "keep everything person?" (If not, you can read about it here). Well, the same principles I talked about in that blog post obviously extend to papers as well. Can you see the first half of this file drawer? These are the papers that my wonderful husband regularly stacks on TOP of the file cabinet. I, of course, can't stand things PILED anywhere but especially not in prime spaces like that. So, we compromise. He stacks and I gently place them in no particular order in the front of this drawer. Then, when he is looking for something he has a great idea where it might be AND I don't have to look at it. It's called compromise and it's a truly wonderful thing. I highly recommend it. :)

2- Subject Filing (the Pinterest of your Filing system) These are the "ideas" papers that aren't household business related but you still want to keep to refer to. Because this drawer is the "Pinterest" of today, I might seem old-fashioned by having it still. But there are still articles in magazines or handouts I receive in a class that I like to keep. Do I clean this drawer out as well? Absolutely. Like most areas in my house, one thing that happens is periodically I have a little bit of extra time and I happen to be using something in this drawer and think "I probably don't really need that anymore," and then toss it.

3- Instruction Manuals and Warranties
I know some people toss these kinds of things and assume they can get online and look up any kind of information they need to. And that is true usually. You have to remember that, relatively speaking, I am OLD. And I remember when there was no such thing as the internet and I have been keeping instruction manuals and warranties since 1989. SO, since I have an available drawer and do occasionally like to have the information on hand, I keep and file them. Truthfully, if I had something else that needed to take over the third drawer in my file cabinet, these would probably be the first things to go.
AND, does this drawer need to be cleaned out sometimes too? Do gadgets, tools, toys and appliances come and go? YES. So their instruction manuals and warranty info do too!

4- Keepsakes
What do I mean by "keepsakes?" You can see here that I have a file for each one of my children and also one for myself and then my husband. It really is true that through the years certain papers come along that are special and important in that person's life and should be kept. They might be a little different for each person but I keep things in there like: report cards, special awards/certificates received, special letters they either received or a copy of one they wrote to someone, newsletters or newspapers where they are mentioned, talks or presentations they have given, etc etc. Hope that makes sense?

 Do I ever clean these out? Of course. Periodically things start looking full or as I go through a file to find a certain thing and see that something really doesn't seem as relevant or important anymore.

5- Household Records/Pictures
This set of really important papers and pictures I keep in this fireproof safe. There is a file for birth certificates and social security numbers. There is a file for vehicle titles. There is a file for school transcripts and diplomas. And, as you can see, there are closed files (three sides are closed) for pictures--one for snapshots and one for professional portraits.

As a side note, pictures are a REALLY hard thing to deal with and have a system for. So if you feel that way, you are not alone. Over 20 years ago I embraced the hobby of scrapbooking and truly love it. So a lot of my pictures are scrapbooked and journaled in binders (see the pictures below). However, I found early on that there are quite a few instances where non-scrapbooked pictures should be kept on hand for other activities (i.e. your child is "student of the week" in their 2nd grade class and needs to bring 20 pictures of himself to share.) So, I keep copies of my most favorite pictures of my kids in a separate file for such an occasion.

Lastly, when they turn 18, I make a "Childhood Poster" of my most favorite pictures (also shown below), because I love to see the pictures and can pretty much assume that they won't be needing constant access to them as much anymore once they leave the house (which has been accurate so far.)

Scrapbooking, in varying different styles and requiring different levels of time and amounts of supplies, is one way you could "journal" for your family and enjoy memories.

"God gave us memories so we can have roses in winter."

That's what scrapbooks do for me.
They give me roses in winter...and remind me of the many, many good times we have had.

And here are a few of the "Childhood Posters" I have made. We keep them hanging in a "gallery" down the stairs into our basement.

I hope some of these ideas will help you in your quest to get control of the many, many papers, pictures, and keepsakes that come into your life. 

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