How to Create a Home Office Filing System You’ll Actually Use

Receipts. Bills. Financial documents. Mail. It’s piling up in your home office and, really, filing away papers is the last way you’d like to spend your time. The papers in your home office are begging for some organization with a filing system that’ll make it easy to find them when you need them, and give you clear guidelines for storing bills, forms and important documents as you get them.

The key to eliminating home office clutter once and for all is creating a fail-proof system for organizing your papers. If you’ve got a good system in place that works for you and everyone else in your family, you’re far less likely to create more piles of papers in your office.

Here are some keys to creating a paper filing system you’ll actually use in your home office.

Decluttered home office with wrap around desk space

1. Should it Stay or Should it Go?

Before you can begin filing papers away, you have to actually go through everything you have. We know this sounds painful, but being organized now will save you a headache while you’re trying to find a tax form or your car title, for example. It’ll also make filing papers in the future a heck of a lot easier. Here are some pointers:

Recycle or shred junk mail or papers that you know you no longer need. For example, if you’ve got some forms electronically (and those files are kept securely and backed up), it’s probably safe to say you can shred them.

Create a document retention policy. This sounds overly formal, but a retention policy is just a set of guidelines for knowing how long to keep papers.

Consumer Reports urges you to keep essential documents like birth certificates and social security cards forever, while tax documents should be kept for at least seven years because the government has six years to collect tax or move forward with legal proceedings.

Keep other financial documents like loan documents, investment papers or insurance policies as long as you are paying the loan, investing your money or holding a policy. Finally, receipts, bank deposit papers or credit card statements (if you still get paper statements) should be kept for a year.

Home Office Design Ideas

2. Create Categories and Sub-Categories

Now that you’ve purged old and unneeded papers, as well as those that are stored electronically, you’re ready to create a folder and labeling system. The most common way to store paper files is with hanging file folders, tabs and manila folders.

When it comes to creating categories, there are many routes you can take, but a simple system is the most effective. Create categories that are straightforward and clear, but not too specific. For example, a hanging file folder dedicated to your car title and insurance documents should be labeled “car,” not Honda. If you’ve got multiple cars, you can label separate manila folders more specifically. Both would then be filed in your “car” hanging file folder.

The categories that you need are somewhat unique to your family, but probably include banking, bills, investments, insurance, tax documents and valuables. In addition, you may want to create a hanging folder for each member of the family with separate manila folders for medical papers and vital documents like birth certificates and social security cards. Remember, this is a starting point—you may need to create more categories based on your specific needs. Above all, create categories that make sense to you and your family, or you likely won’t go to the trouble of using your system.

White Red Office with pull open drawers and cabinets for additional filing storage

3. File Away Your Folders

Finally, storage. Now that you have an ideal paper filing system that works for you and your family, those files need to be stored in your home office where you can get to them easily. Importantly, you should have enough file drawers to store your folders so you’ve got enough space to easily sift through documents. You also want to ensure you’ve got some space to grow.

You should also make sure your file drawers are in a location within your office that makes sense. They might not need to be right by your workstation, since most files are stored long-term. However, they should be easily accessible. Working with a designer to create a custom office organization solution can help you put the right amount of storage in the right places to maximize your productivity when you’re working and help you stay organized over the long term.

Now that you’ve created a system that works for your family, it’ll be easier to sort through papers and file them way for safe keeping. Our final bit of advice is to create an “Inbox” or “Action” folder where papers go when you receive them. Once a week, review your papers and file them away. This will make document retrieval much easier in the future, all while creating an organized and attractive office space in your home.

If you’re interested in creating some custom organization for your new filing system, reach out to us at The Closet Works for a free, in-home design consultation.

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