Organizing Important Documents
March 24, 2019 11:01 AM   Subscribe

At home, I'm finding I have an ever increasing pile of important documents (tax forms, health insurance, leases, stuff I want hardcopies of) and no system for accessing it. I need to change that.

I don't have the space for a full filing cabinet, nor do I need that much room, but right now everything is mixed together which makes it really hard to find stuff. What do you do for stuff you want hard copies of? Especially living in a small space? I've considered expanding files like this or file boxes like this but I'm just not sure. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
posted by Aranquis to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Get a three-hole punch and use a binder, or get a file box. For either of them, use dividers that make sense: Taxes, Leases, Insurance, Misc. Then just put things in date order in those categories.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:16 AM on March 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

scan them into google drive was my solution
posted by zippy at 11:17 AM on March 24, 2019

I already scan, but again, I want to keep originals so not looking for digital solutions.
posted by Aranquis at 11:18 AM on March 24, 2019

We used something like this for 10 years. Very easy to store and transport. It can be annoying if you’re accessing files frequently, but that doesn’t sound like your situation. There are the old school kraft paper versions which are probably more eco friendly.
posted by defreckled at 11:39 AM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I store my files in a storage bench (something like this) with a hanging file frame (like this). I’ve got it at the foot of the bed in the spare bedroom and it’s pretty unobtrusive but easily accessible.
posted by kittydelsol at 11:49 AM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've got a couple of file bins. They both fit in a closet. For my purposes, they're sufficient. One is what I call the "high frequency" box, the other "low frequency", based on how often I think I'll need to get into them.

There are whole books written on filing systems. What's important is that it makes sense to you, so you're not wondering where you stuck something. Mine is topical, organized alphabetically, so there's a file hanger called "vehicles" and a folder in that for my car ; a file hanger called "pets" and a folder for each pet; a file hanger called "warrantees" that kind of a mess. Et cetera.
posted by adamrice at 12:03 PM on March 24, 2019

I use a milk crate file box. Add some hanging folders, you're good to go.
posted by Marky at 12:11 PM on March 24, 2019

I rent, own property I let, have insurance, a car, file taxes in two countries and I would struggle to fill more than a file box with my hard copies. Now I do throw away all utility bills and a bunch of statements at least annually because I just need the account number and a lot of the stuff to do with my property exists only in electronic form. But chances are you don’t need anything bigger than a few folders or a box.

After that it’s a question of how secure you need your set-up to be. If damp/flooding is a concern a plastic container would be better than a crate or cardboard box type thing. Also, would you rather have one box or perhaps multiple different coloured folders where e.g. red is insurance? How do you like to organise your things?

That’s how I’d narrow it down.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:58 PM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

The best way I found was to scan and then file the hard copies in binders specific to the issue to the topic e.g., medical. The guts of the binder would use dividers and multi-document inserts including large printout insert holders. If it is just you, then you can use hanging binders that fit in a file cabinet all nice. However, if you are just doing a mass pile and file then I suggest using corded file cases with internal dividers.
posted by jadepearl at 2:21 PM on March 24, 2019

I have a bunch of file crates with correspondence, health info, banking, office supplies, taxes, my kid's artwork, and stuff. There are several brands and of course they are not interchangeable for perfect stacking, but oh well, close enough. Hanging file folders, often a manilla folder inside that because that's how it came from my desk. I am diligent about labeling every folder and every crate. They are easy to move and there are many colors available. When I traveled, I have a smaller version.
posted by theora55 at 2:44 PM on March 24, 2019

Figure out what categories make sense to you. Maybe Financial, Health, Reference? Or Financial, Medical, Educational, Identity, House/Home. Whatever your gut feel is about the big categories.

Each category gets its own plastic filing box like this. The key is to go smaller than an office/moving box, but big enough to hold all the stuff for the category with the most paperwork. Get one for every major category. You want to be able to grab one at a time easily, rifle through them to find or file something, then swing them back onto whatever shelf or perch or closet you keep them in. Honestly, I'd be surprised if you needed anything bigger than the one I linked to for any one category.

They'd then hold stuff like taxes, end of year bank statements, annual investment forms, etc. (in Financial); insurance, annual physical reports, x-rays, etc. (in Medical); leases, home insurance, copies of licenses, birth certificates, SSN, etc.(in Reference).

You caaaaan use hanging file folders or dividers in the plastic file box, but my experience is that hanging file folders aren't worth it for small boxes like these and that people just put a regular file folder inside the hanging folder and now you've got twice the stuff. Just get stiff tabbed file folders or even 9x12 envelopes. If you don't fill a crate and stuff tends to sag, I put a piece of styrofoam or a small empty cardboard box in the back for structure.

So for instance, in my Financial box, I have some tabbed folders with year-end investment statements, and also 9x12 envelopes that hold each year's taxes going back 7 years. Altogether it's actually not a lot of stuff. But it's important enough that I don't want to sort through all my other important docs to find it. Hence the holy grail of one box per category.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:13 PM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a medical file box (file trolley? I don't know what these things are called) on wheels that doubles as a small tabletop (sort of like this only mine has a locked storage place underneath). In other places I have those plastic file boxes that just hold maybe 10-15 folders. They are great because they have a low profile and you can slide them under a bed or whatever. But realistically, like koahiatamadl, I find that I have very very few paper records anymore (and I own and rent, own a few small businesses, etc). I toss out anything I can get online (all utility bills and bank statements etc), digitize my tax records every year.

The big thing for me is my filing system. I have a "to be filed" box that everything goes into and then I only do the filing every few months and it's a few hour project but I do it ALL at once. If I need a piece of paper from the last few months, I just dig it out of the pile. Pretty simple.
posted by jessamyn at 4:41 PM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

a hanging file crate, with alphabetized hanging dividers, and manila folders in those (or whatever system you like. For me, I have, for instance, the labeled manila folders for various credit cards all in one green hanging file labeled "credit cards".)
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:11 PM on March 24, 2019

I bought an inexpensive label maker ($20-25) to make labels for file folders. It's not much effort, especially if you are doing a couple at a time. The nice, large clear lettering makes 10x easier to read the labels and find the right folder. Plus it makes me feel so much more organized!
posted by metahawk at 6:24 PM on March 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I find the problem with those expandable folders is that reorganizing is a pain, as you can't easily rearrange the pockets/labels. Plain old file folders in hanging files are much easier to deal with. And if you're already scanning, one milk carton or box to stash away should be plenty of space. One drawer in the desk that holds my printer/scanner does it for me. Just pick something that fits in a space you can get to easily without it being constantly in your way.

If you're like me, keeping up with the organizing is the real challenge. I finally resorted to dead-simple. Since I can generally remember, within six months or so, when something would have been saved, I have four colored plastic folders labeled Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4. Q1 is about to be closed, as it contains any saved paper for the first quarter of the current year, newest in front. At the end of the year, all four quarters will be emptied into one single 2019 folder, again, newest in front.

When the organizing mood strikes (for me maybe once or twice a year), I pull the oldest year on hand and sort it. I find a lot can be tossed by then -- if I haven't needed it in three or four years, I probably won't, especially since I have or can make a scan. Important keepers -- anything related to long-held assets like house, appliances or car, for example -- go into a specific folder for that topic. Tax forms and odds/ends not worth a full file stay in that year's folder, now marked with a star so I know it's been cleaned out, and pushed to the back.

So my filing time is absolutely minimized -- just tuck things in front of the current quarter, quickly consolidate at end of year, fine-tune when the mood strikes and the files are stale. Works great for me.
posted by peakcomm at 9:05 PM on March 24, 2019

A Walmart near me sells bulk boxes of eight Marie Callender chicken pot pies. The inner dimensions of the container box (which has eight individually-boxed frozen pies in it) are such than a four-inch stack of US Letter sized paper fits perfectly.

So I've got a couple of these which I put documents in. I also make tabbed separators from larger flat bits of cardboard boxes. In days of yore I'd probably have felt a need to have a fire-proof container but with digital copies backed up that's a less pressing need. So yay recycling!
posted by XMLicious at 4:39 AM on March 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

We also follow the binder method. I use plastic sleeves, and insert the documents into the sleeve, rather than 3-hole punching the originals.

We use the same method for our appliance manuals.

A third binder is for kid stuff (report cards, etc).

All else gets scanned or photographed, and then shredded.

Our binder system only takes up about 18" on the bookshelf.
posted by vignettist at 12:23 PM on March 25, 2019

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