What's the best way to organize my family's important documents?
Real Mom Problem
“School papers, bills, coupons, important papers. Ugh, how do you keep them from piling up?”
- 1. Deal with paper as soon as it comes in the door. Don't let it pile up
- 2. Consider scanning documents to save on your computer
- 3. Shred papers you don't need, or that you've scanned and saved
- 4. Develop a filing system you can easily follow
Real Mom Solutions
Our Expert Mom Says...
Most families have many categories for what they would consider "important documents."
One set of important documents is your emergency and identification papers, such as birth certificates, passports, wills, insurance policies, and medical records. These papers are best grouped together for quick access in emergencies, especially with evacuations in mind. You can use an accordion or wallet style folio or just a pocket folder in a distinct color in front of your file drawer to isolate those crucial documents.
Other important papers are your standard reference files for managing the household. A good quality filing cabinet is still needed in most homes despite our increasingly paperless society, but you can likely get away with having a much smaller cabinet than you would ten years ago. If you decide to have less paper and are keeping important information electronically, make sure you have a reliable backup system that is automated and secure!
Organizing your finances starts with paying your bills. Have a particular location where you put all new bills to be paid, and have a regular day of the week that you sit down and pay them. Paid invoices, statements, and receipts can be easily filed in a January-December accordion file. We recommend that you automate as much as possible and use online banking to minimize the amount of paper and the amount of time it takes you to process your financial transactions.
Lorie Marrero is a Certified Professional Organizer® and the bestselling author of "The Clutter Diet: The Skinny on Organizing Your Home and Taking Control of Your Life." She is also the creator of ClutterDiet.com, an innovative program allowing anyone to get expert help at an affordable price. Lorie is the spokesperson for Goodwill Industries International, and she is a sought-after expert for national media such as CNBC, "Family Circle," WGN News and "Woman's Day." She writes regularly as an organizing expert for "Good Housekeeping." She lives in Austin, TX with her husband, two human sons, and 30,000 bee daughters in her backyard beehives.
The Moms of CafeMom Say...
I take care of paper as soon as it comes in. If I let it stack then I would get overwhelmed and not deal with it. I make sure I have a place for every situation. That day's homework is done right then. If there are papers, I go over them with the corresponding child. Any dates I write down on the calendar. I have a bulletin board that I pin any flyers up of events we may do. Any papers that I need to keep (like spelling words, word practice, etc.) go in a folder that I keep in a desk drawer downstairs so it's close. One lady here on CafeMom had plastic file boxes screwed to the wall right by her front door. That was cool. Mail is sorted right away, trash gets thrown away and the rest goes in a hanging file thing on my wall. When I do bills the stubs go into a pile and they are filed upstairs along with any other mail that needs to be saved. I have a file folder for every possible thing.
Mail gets opened and sorted when it comes in. Bills get filed into a hanging folder in my desk drawer to be paid later. I try to take action on as much as I can when it comes in. Papers that I want to save for reference (but don't actually need the piece of paper) get scanned and saved on the computer. We only have one file drawer for storing files, and it has things like owners manuals (I know you can get most online, but I don't like to have to boot up the computer), important documents (birth certificates, passports, car titles, house deed, etc), tax returns, and personal mementos (a few original letters, cards, etc). For homework stuff, he has to hang up his backpack as soon as we walk in the door, take everything out, bring me the papers, and go make his lunch for the next day. While he's making his lunch, I sort though the papers, put any dates on my calendar, fill out permission slips/papers to return to school, and put his homework folder (once a week) on his portion of my desk. Papers I don't need get thrown away, papers to go back to school get put back in his backpack right away, and his schoolwork either gets tossed (majority), put in envelopes to send to family, or put in a box on the top shelf of his closet (if he wants to keep it). I don't know what I'm going to do with the keep stuff. I think I might frame some of them for his room.
I have a small filing cabinet, paper shredder and scanner. I make a digital copy of most things and toss the paper. Just make sure you have a backup of all digital media.
I have a small hanging file that I keep my important paper work in. I just keep it in our closet because I don't have an office area. I have a separate hanging file for each category, then different manila folders for each thing. Like one hanging file for vitals, then manila folder for each of us that has birth certificates and SS cards. Then another hanging file for utility bills, a manila folder for each bill, etc.
I am a Professional Organizer for a living and I have a NeatDesk scanner (the full size one). These scanners are great, very fast and you can categorize the documents online so you end up with a virtual filing system. You DO want to back up those files regularly though; you can use a free service like Dropbox to save them on the internet (then you can also access those scanned documents from any computer at any time). Also the point of scanning is to throw away what you have scanned. Secondly, if you make a list of the different types of paper clutter (receipts, coupons, school papers, bills to pay, etc.) that are taking over your kitchen, then it will be easier to make a place for each type of item. It's okay to have file folders on a shelf in your kitchen along with the cookbooks. Finally, you can eliminate a lot of mail by going paperless with all of your bills, bank statements and investment info.
Currently, my system consists of a three-drawer filing cabinet, a two-shelf bookcase on top of that filing cabinet, and a shredder poised and ready to chew things up right beside it all. Periodically, I go through the papers, figure out what needs to be kept, what needs shredding, and just go to town. My poor shredder usually can't keep up!