Project Alicia : Organizing Tips: Home Office

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Organizing Tips: Home Office

So, the dreaded office... home of papers from all facets of our lives- from mortgage papers to report cards to tax forms to photos to bills to medical forms... You name it. PAPER! One of my least favorite things on planet earth.

About a year ago I decided it was time to clean up my files, which hadn't really been done in a decade (Gulp). First things first, I am not a hoarder! (Just in case you were wondering.) However, I was scared to throw anything away that might be important. I had heard that certain bank statements and tax documents needed to be saved for at least 7 years or more. When was it safe to purge all this paper?

So, I did some research and was more than disappointed to find that there is no set guidelines for how long to keep papers or organize home files. There were some websites that offered a time frame, but no two websites were alike. The information was all very conflictual. I studied extensively for about a week everything online I could think to google, I asked a few friends, I spent some time in my local Staples, and then I took the plunge.

This may or may not be for you, but I thought I would share what took me weeks to figure out.

Are you ready? I'm about to divulge all of my secrets...


This system is color coded and does not use manilla folders (only hanging file folders), a more stream lined approach for easier visibility and access. I typed up labels, printed them on cardstock, and cut to fit. I'm sure there is easier labeling methods out there.

Each color represents a different category.
Blue= Utilites
Yellow= Insurance
Green= Financial
Purple= Medical
Maroon= Employment/School
Red= Taxes

Each category has subcategories and you have to customize it to your needs. This is what made sense to me in my head.

Cable/Internet- 1 yr
Electric- 1 yr
Gas- 1yr
Trash/Water- 1 yr
Cell Phone-1 yr
Home Phone- 1 yr
Lawn Care/Pest Control- 1 yr

Auto- until new ins
Auto Claims- until sell
Boat- until sell
House- until sell/new ins
House Claims- until sell
Life- until cancel

Acura- until sell
Saturn- until sell
Boat- until sell
Bank Statements (for every member with an account)- 3 yrs
Credit Cards*- 3 yrs
House*- until sell
Investments*- annual statements
*use separate files for each account

Family members (separate files for each)- indefinitely
Cigna EOBs- 1 yr
Dental- until new ins
Eye- 2 yrs
Flex Spending- 1 yr

List each member of the family that it applies to for each category.
I also added a file for resumes and job search.

Individual files for each year- 7 yrs



Every file also has an amount of time clearly printed on the front. Every year I go through and can purge as necessary. Keeps files more managable and easier to maintain. (I added them after the subcategories above.)


This little wicker jobby is where it all starts. Everything is funnelled here.


Then papers are filed according to what they are. Bills on top, misc papers to be filed on the bottom, and once bills are paid they go in the middle to be filed. This is usually cleaned up every couple weeks on bill paying days. However, I must admit I had gotten slightly behind. The filing system makes it easy to keep up though.

The hardest part is the purging. I invested in a good shredder, but the key is to stay on top of it. It seriously took me almost a week to shred 10 years of documents last year. And it sucked.

Receipts have a completely different system and it's not as efficient or user friendly. Still working on formulating a better plan.

School papers, report cards, and photos have their own organizing systems- for another day.

There ya have it... a slice of my brain laid out for all to see. Anal? Maybe a little, but it makes life easier and less chaotic. It also makes my office time much more enjoyable.


  1. I'm so glad you blogged about this. I am somewhat of a paper hoarder and feel at much more ease when things are filed. Jason didn't have a system for a while and it bugged me. But truth is.. I still need a better way. I may try yours. Good ideas!!!

  2. I'm still behind from last year. But I have hopes that with this move I will finally be able to organize my offic again. I fear that It might take more that one week to shread everything that I need to. However, thanks for sharing. It is a great system.

  3. K- i totally have a similar system and I love it. However, you gave me some good tips and pointers that I must implement. THanks for the info. Can't wait to see what you do with photos and other "stuff". Have a fabulous time in FL. Soak in the sunshine for me . . . will ya?

  4. Great work on the organization. Just thought I'd put in our system. We only keep about 1 year or 2 in hard copy. Everything else is scanned into the computer and archived. I need a few more items scanned and we'll put all of this into our 72 hour kit.

    Why? Well, because one of the biggest lessons learned in Katrina was how to get your life back together after all of your important documents have been destroyed. There is no space to put an entire filing system in a 72 hour kit, but a CD can contain a copy of all or your information and start many life rebuilding processes rolling.

    With the transactions we've had in our life, there has never been a problem using electronic copies of our important papers. So, I just thought you'd like a tip from a paper hater as well.

    PS Many of our important documents (especially bills) are now electronic copies. It saves me from having to scan those documents. If you haven't gone to e-statements wherever possible, you might want to try it.

    LOVE your organizational tips.

  5. PAPER is definitely a problem. It accumulates so fast! We have two four-drawer filing cabinets for everything. Problem is that now I need to go through and purge those. lol :)

  6. OMGosh! I tottttallllly have to do this. I was just complaining about our file cabinet. But looking at yours makes me happy. Thanks!

  7. Wow. I am so glad I found this! I'm in the the midst of organizing our new home office and have been STRUGGLING. Thanks so much!