One of the hardest things for me to organize is paper. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve had a few years worth of paper files in assorted boxes, folders, and bins, and sometimes just haphazardly stacked on top of each other. Up until a few years ago, I’ve been able to keep up with the monthly waves of paper that came by the mail. Then I had a baby. Suffice it to say that everything was so thrown for a loop that by the time I resurfaced, there were piles where there were none before.
The problem with piles, as anyone, organized or not, will know, is that they tend to attract even more piles. I looked at those silent testaments to my sleep-deprived and exhausted state, and felt even more tired just by looking at them. I simply didn’t want to deal with them. So I left them as they were, filing them away in my mind so as to supposedly help me remember where to find what I needed when the time came. Ha! A few months and several new piles later, the only time I could find any given piece of paper was to go through the entire lot.
Still, I couldn’t do anything about them. The truth was, I didn’t know what to do about them. Should I file the way I’ve always done, that is, by service provider, bank, etc.? This method has always taken me more time than I’d care to put in. Then I had to go through each of the old folders to figure out what I should keep and what can be thrown away.
The prospect of having to plow through piles of paper, with the knowledge that I didn’t like my filing system, paralyzed me, and so I just shut the door into the basement office. Month after month I did this. It was overwhelming because I didn’t have the tools to deal with my paper files in a way that works for me.
So why am I telling you all this?
Well, because I finally found the filing method that I can use no matter what stage of filing I’m at.
FreedomFiler. It’s very aptly named, because it’s given me freedom from my past piles, and freedom from having any more piles ever.
What is Freedom Filer?
What it is is a self-purging filing system. The FreedomFiler has allowed me to:
- deal with new files in monthly batches
- discard old files per month or year, again in batches
- color-code files according to how long they should be kept (It even tells me how long!)
- keep monthly files for two years
- maintain tax archives
- keep documents required for filing taxes
- organize permanent and periodically replaced files
- know that I will have the files I need for any reason for as long as I need them
- eliminate the need for file clean-up day
- not have to set up a new file for every new year/company
Here’s a diagram of what the system looks like, once it’s set up. I have my system pretty much laid out like this. Click on the image for a larger view:
I now have designated places for statements, bills, receipts, medical records, home and car records, insurance records, tax documents, references, active files (to do, addresses, etc.) and every piece of paper that I will ever have to file.
The logic behind FreedomFiler’s color codes is what makes it work pretty much perfectly. The codes are as follows:
- Green – monthly files, to be kept for two years; one set each for odd and even years
- Red – permanent files
- Orange – files that are replaced as new ones come in (bank policies, etc.)
- Light blue – documents needed for filing taxes for odd and even years
- Dark blue – tax archives up to 10 years (ending in “0”, “1”, etc.); there are extra tags to keep tax documents beyond 10 years, for those inclined to do so
- Purple – references
- Grey – action files (to do, letters to answer, files to sort, etc.)
How it works
This is just a glimpse of how FreedomFiler works. At the start of every month, any papers in the appropriate green folder are discarded, ready for that month’s new files. For example, for next month, I will get rid of the files in the folder with the white-topped green label, which contains files from June 2007.
Every year, and only once every year, the different sets for green and light blue files are swapped around. If the new year is even (eg. 2010), the black-topped labels are used. For odd years, the white-topped labels go to the front.
Once it’s set up, the FreedomFiler Organizing System is very easy to use and is highly effective. You can watch a demonstration video here.
FreedomFiler is available in kits or ready-made systems. The kits come with a set of colored tags – some pre-printed and some blank – and instructions for filing. The ready-made system adds a filing tote and folders.
I got the Home Filing Kit Deluxe Edition for $42.95. It may look expensive just for a bunch of printed tags. But what I consider to have paid for, in addition to the actual tags, is the organizing expertise behind this product. It’s like having a professional organizer come into my home and help me deal with my paper piles, and I don’t think I can find someone to do what FreedomFiler has done for me, for the affordable price of $42.95.
I usually don’t gush about products. But this is one product that I make an exception for. If you have trouble keeping up with your paper files, you have to try FreedomFiler.
Now that I have my paper piles under control (that sounds very formal, when in fact I feel that I should be doing cartwheels about this), I’ve been inspired to fully organize the basement office. I’m about 95% done, and when it’s finished, I’ll show you pictures of my beautiful, functional space, and my FreedomFiler drawer!
images from FreedomFiler