After struggling for the 257th time to close my filing cabinet drawers, I finally broke down.
It was time—time to not only declutter all the paperwork stuffed inside, sticking haphazardly out of file folders at odd angles like morning bedhead. But also because warped drawers made my filing cabinet a barely functional piece of furniture, and nowhere near an efficient organization system!
Not everyone would lament the purchase of a new filing cabinet, but I loved my old one.
I had spent so much time researching how to turn this previously ugly black piece of furniture to grey. It perfectly complimented the color scheme of my new home office—and spray painting all the nooks and crannies—and I hated to see it go!
But I needed a new filing cabinet—and a good declutter session too!
This was as good an excuse as any to purge old Kmart pay stubs (from 11+ years ago) and ripped-out magazine pages I was saving for blog post ideas (but never looked at). I was looking forward to having a filing system that I didn't have to yank on to open and shove to close.
Here's the two-step process I used to wrangle my overflowing filing cabinet into submission.
Step 1: Decide what to keep and what to toss
I'll admit it: The absolute hardest and most time-consuming part was figuring out what to do with all that paper clutter. There was so much to sort through!
To make this part easier, schedule a 2-3 hour block of your evening or Saturday, play some music, and reward yourself afterward with something fun (and maybe these cookies!). Don't be afraid to ask for help, too! Know a friend who's also been bemoaning the state of her filing system? Make a party of it.
I enlisted Joseph; I sorted and he shredded, thus cutting our time investment in half!
I found this to be surprisingly true and maybe you will, too: I needed to hang on to WAY less paper than I thought. So much of what I had previously filed could either be electronically kept in Evernote or shredded.
- Most credit card and bank statements are already stored electronically. (For example, Chase keeps them up to 7 years.) So why was I hanging onto all those print-outs? TOSS!
- Pay stubs from over a decade ago were already documented on my year-end W-2's & taxes. TOSS!
- Old medical bills and expired insurance policies had no use. I'll never need to reference them again. TOSS!
So I shredded…with abandon.
I got rid of SO much paperwork that our shredder overheated. Twice.
By the end, I filled up only one drawer of my new two-drawer filing cabinet! Psst…this one is from IKEA, but here's a similar one on Amazon.
Wish you had a cheat sheet so you could be sure how long you should keep certain financial documents?
I did too…so I created one. Download my easy-to-use printable below to help guide you through the process of purging your paper clutter!
Conquer Your Filing Cabinet
Step 2. Organize the Paperwork That's Left
The second step is just as important: what should I keep where?
Obviously, my remaining documents had more than enough room inside my new filing cabinet. But I also wanted to use Evernote (my favorite digital tool!) to help me eliminate as many physical copies as possible, while still offering a searchable way to reference them if needed.
For me, organizing paperwork digitally meant including things like vet receipts.
I like seeing not just how much we spend at the vet each year, but I also want to know what procedures were done when or what medications have been prescribed in the past. But I'll never need that physical paper again. So I scanned it right into the Evernote app!
How to Easily Organize Paperwork in Evernote:
One of Evernote's best features is the scanning ability on the smartphone app. This made filing things away electronically a breeze! I could just open up the app, snap a photo, tag and file my note and archive it inside the proper “notebook.”
Here's an example of how I filed paperwork electronically, using the vet receipt example I mentioned earlier:
- After uploading the receipt, I added it to my “Personal Library” notebook.
- Then I added three tags: “receipt”, “vet”, and “cinder.” This references the TYPE of document it was, WHAT it was for, and WHO it related to.
- So now when I run an Evernote search for Cinder's vet receipts, all of them will show up in the left hand column!
How to Organize Physical Paperwork:
I decided to keep in my new filing cabinet paperwork that might eventually get tossed but that I know I'll need again. Even if I know I'll only need that paperwork to hang around for a year…or seven (if it's tax-related!), it's safely filed away.
Forever records like our birth certificates and marriage license went back into the filing cabinet, too.
Side note: I found gorgeous gold and silver hanging folders on clearance at Target. They were less than a box of the plain brown ones, so I just had to snatch them up! The design I used isn't available anymore, but here's a different set in my favorite color.
Why the labels and stickers?
Because one of the problem areas I had before was finding paperwork I actually did need to reference. Now, it's so much easier to just do a quick Evernote search (for my digital scans) or find the right color-coded dot. And there's not as much paperwork to sort through anymore too!
There's no one best way to organize paper files, (Kathryn from Do it on a Dime does it by month!), but here's how I color-coded. You can play with this according to how your brain works.
- Pink: Bills and credit card related documents
- Blue: All insurances (health, flood, house)
- Green: Assets (banks, house, car)
- Periwinkle: All tax years
- Orange: Miscellaneous files
And this was the (pretty) end result!
Ahhh…so much better than before.
What I quickly realized
I won't lie—this was a very time-consuming project. Mostly because I had to make decisions about all of my paper clutter, what to keep and what to toss. AND how to organize paperwork in the most efficient way!
But it feels so good to be done with it.
Previously, even though all that paper was “neatly” filed away in a filing cabinet, it was still clutter I shouldn't have hung on to for so long. Organizing clutter doesn't make it any better…it's still clutter! But now each piece of paper I have has a greater purpose attached to it, and it causes me to really assess what I need to save going forward.
Not to mention I'll have an easier time finding papers I need because I have way less paper on hand.
The six garbage bags stuffed full of shredded paper can attest to that!
Does your filing cabinet or file box need a complete overhaul? What paperwork have you been hanging onto that you don't actually need?
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