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Setting Up a Simple Home Filing System

A home filing system will help you control the paper clutter on your desk and make it easier to find the important papers when you need them.

What goes into your files is determined by what papers land on your desk. There is not one system that is magic and works for everyone.

As with any organizing project you want to know why filing is important. You want to start with a basic plan and adjust it to meet your needs.

A file system that is too complicated or hard to access will stop you from using it.

Start by sorting your papers into categories that you plan on filing. Make the categories broad enough so that you don’t have a file for each single paper but not so broad that you still can’t find what you need.

Purge your papers before you file. If there are papers that you just want to read but then don’t need to keep, put them in a reading basket. If you are hanging on to personal cards or theater programs, put them in a memorabilia box.

Before filing, ask yourself if you are really going to need to keep this piece of paper. Is it something you could get again if you needed it? The fewer papers in your files the easier it will be to find them when you need them.

Most people don’t file every day so when you get papers that you plan on filing, have a landing pad to put them. Then once a week or once a month schedule time to deal with the papers and file the ones you are keeping.

File Categories:

You may have categories like:

1. Finances

· Paid bills

· Banking statements

· Credit card statements

2. Medical

· By doctor

· By procedure

· By family member

3. Insurance

· Home

· Car

· Long term health

4. Home

· Repairs

· Mortgage or deed

· Warranties

5. Car

· Title

· Maintenance and repair

6. Vital records (many people store these separately in a locked fireproof file or at their bank)

· Birth certificate

· Marriage certificate

· Divorce decree

· Adoption papers

· Passport

· Power of attorney

7. Tax papers for this current year

While I prefer to file by categories, some people prefer to file alphabetically. If you do file alphabetically you need to remember if you filed your car papers under car, auto, Dodge, or Red Rooster (name of car).

Again, there is no one way. When clients ask me where to file a paper, I ask them where they would look for it.

File Containers:

There are many options for containing your files. Pick one that lines up with how many files you have, where you will place the container, and your budget.

Some desks have drawers that will hold hanging files. This makes the files easily accessible.

A free-standing file cabinet is another option. If you are buying a free-standing file cabinet, I suggest that you get one that will allow the drawers to extend fully.

A rolling file cabinet cart is another good option. These can roll into a closet and be pulled out when you are filing.

Another method is to use a filing box or boxes. This can be kept on your desk or on a shelf. Some of these come with lids which I suggest you don’t use. If there is a lid on the box, papers will tend to get stacked on top of the lid instead of being put into the files.


The whole point of having an organized filling system is to save time and diminish stress. The time you invest in setting up the system will pay for itself when you don’t have to frantically look for that one important paper that you need.

At least once a year schedule a time to update your files and remove what is no longer needed.

If you recognize that you are struggling with setting up your files or want some help or accountability in developing and working any other organizational home project, join Diane Quintana and me in our Clear Space for You virtual support group.

Jonda S. Beattie, Professional Organizer owner of Time Space Organization, and co-owner of Release, Repurpose, Reorganize. She is based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of four books as well as a retired special education teacher she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients.

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Janet Barclay
Janet Barclay
Sep 06, 2023

"Where would you look for it?" is absolutely the best way to answer "Where should I file this?" We're all wired a little differently, and retrieval is the whole point of filing, isn't it?


Julie Bestry
Julie Bestry
Sep 04, 2023

You're so right about lids. For some reason, the friction of having a lid supersedes any kind of activation energy you have going to actually file. Also, as I've gotten older, I've recognized that range of motion plays a role in filing that didn't when I was younger. I used to have file boxes on the floor, and filing as I went was no problem; now, I'm must more likely to file as I go if the file box or drawer is at waist-level, so that I need not bend. You've hit all of the essentials about filing reference papers. (I'm picky about separating action paperwork from reference paperwork, and sometimes reference from archival papers.) Too often, people start without any…


Linda Samuels
Linda Samuels
Sep 04, 2023

One of the most satisfying paper projects happened years ago. I helped a client set up a filing system. At the time she didn't have any system and all of her papers were pile jumbles in suitcases. She couldn't find anything and was overwhelmed. Once we sorted, edited, and arranged, I organized the papers into filing cabinets with color-coded hanging files. She loved being able to file and retrieve anything she needed.

Systems don't need to be elaborate, as you said. They need to work for the person using it with labels that make sense for how they process, think, and categorize.

Sep 04, 2023
Replying to

I love it when it all comes together. The look on their face when they know right where to put something and can easily retrieve it as well.

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