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As April 18th draws near, we will all be taking some time (we hope!) to get organized for taxes. As we do so we may think, “this would be a lot easier if I had a file system that really worked!”

Yet the very thought of finding time to overhaul your system can feel overwhelming. But don’t despair: around the beginning of the year is a PERFECT time to create a file system that you can use going forward! Start now, when the year is fresh, and delight your future self with a time-saving, simple, easy-to-use system that will make organizing papers, finding your files, and preparing for taxes a breeze.

You may be wondering, “but I have paper files, and digital files, and so much information in my email!” That’s okay, we all do. Fortunately, good filing systems are transferable. The concept you use for your paper files can also be applied to your digital files and email. Let’s walk through the steps, with examples.

1) Determine your top level categories

What are the groupings that you most often need to file? Examples could be work, finances, medical, travel, home, business, auto, family. Start by creating folders or boxes for these.

2) Put ALL free-floating files into those categories

Now it’s time to quickly sort. For anything that doesn’t easily fit into one of these categories, have a “Miscellaneous” file. The key is to organize like a kindergartner: put like with like, and don’t spent time studying the documents. Just sort them into your top level categories. It’s okay if you end up with folders crammed full of papers or files, because the next step is to…

3) Organize your top-levels into sub-groupings

This is where it gets fun and will take more time. If you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath. If you need to take a break, do so. Bring your mind back to the present moment and remind yourself, “I can do this!”  Go as slowly as you need to (but not so slowly that you stop!).

Using the same “like with like” principle, take one of your top-levels and organize it further. In Business, it might go something like this: you may have folders or use binder clips for income, tax papers, important documents, receipts, and loans. Once you’ve determined your subcategories for Business, you can further organize until you reach a point where every item has a home. Note, there is no right or wrong way to create and label these categories. The only criteria is that they make sense to YOU.

Consistency is your friend! Here is the exciting part: you can use the exact same process with your computer files and your email. In fact, it makes it much easier to sort files, whether physical or digital, when you use consistent systems for each. It’s simple but true: when you come across a business receipt in your email, you don’t need to stop and think about where it should go. You know (because you set up your top levels and sub groupings) what to do next: you can download the file and sort it into your “Business” folder on your computer, you can print the file and sort it into your “Business” folder in your filing cabinet, or you can archive the email in your “Business” folder in your inbox!

A couple of golden rules….

Don’t keep everything!

Papers and digital files are easy to come by, but take time and attention to keep organized. Remember that clutter has an impact on your health and well-being. Do yourself a favor and be mindful about what you allow into your home (or computer) and what you let go of.  We offer free guides on how long to keep papers and what to shred! Some papers are important to keep, but many are not.

Declutter regularly!

With that in mind, declutter regularly! It may be helpful for some to have an “Inbox,” either a physical drawer or folder in your home for incoming papers that you will sort later, and an identical folder on your desktop. Make sure that you have a date on your calendar (or with a professional organizer!) to go through this folder and sort everything appropriately.

Though this process may seem like a lot of work, it is 100% worth it. Once you have the systems set up, it will be easy to sort your files and stay organized all year. Remember, we are here to support you!

A tip:

You may have the urge to refine your system once you start using it. That’s okay! A key part of the decluttering and organizing process is that it changes with time. We may find ourselves ready to let go of some papers that seemed critical a few months ago! We also may find ourselves relabeling our files as we learn what makes the most sense and is easiest to use for us.

If you would benefit from guidance as you start this process, you can reach us at [email protected] The presence of a “body double” is a powerful boost for mindful decluttering and organizing!

Discover more ways to mindfully organize your home or office here! >>

Does your filing system (or lack thereof) make you crazy? We introduce how to make a simple and transferable system for your papers, email, and digital files!