It is possible to maintain a slim filing system with a few guidelines. Do you have a filing system set up but find that it fills up quickly and needs to be culled? There are ways to maintain your filing system without having to do a yearly clear out. I’m going to cover some tricks to use which are equally applicable for hard copy files and your emails.
How Much Space Do You Have?
First and foremost, decide just how much space you want to dedicate to your paperwork. This will keep you from flowing into other areas of your home. Having a defined space in mind will help you maintain your decluttered space too as it is a visual cue that things need reassessing. If it spills outside of the place you’ve dedicated to it you know it is time to work on it. If you’ve dedicated a two-drawer filing cabinet to your papers, and you have a stack sitting on top that you can’t fit in there, it’s time to do a deep purge.
If you’re just starting out on tackling your paperwork, see my other blog posts such as How To Get On Top of Your (Actionable) Paperwork, Overwhelming Filing Piles? Follow These Rules To Make Filing Easy and What Paperwork Should I Keep When I Do My Filing? You may also find my post Organising Your Digital Documents helpful.
Tips to Maintain a Slim Filing System
Here are a few rules you could use to maintain a ‘slim’ filing system, one that’s not bulging at the seams. These tips will help you maintain your filing without having to do huge culls every couple of months or years.
Just Say No
A good first rule is to just say “no” to keeping and filing something in the first place. Do you really need to keep it? Why? If you decide to keep and file less in the first place, you’ll be doing yourself a favour. When these things are presented to you (for example receipts at shops) or arrive in the mail, you can bin them straight away. Done.
Another easy one is junk mail. My general rule of thumb here is to bin it. Better still, put up a ‘No Junk Mail’ sign on your mailbox to stop it from becoming something you have to make a decision on each time you get the mail. There may be some circumstances in which you use junk mail, such as using catalogues to find the cheapest groceries to stick to your budget. On the whole, however, it’s generally just a game of temptation. Be honest with yourself here. Is this junk mail helping you live the lifestyle you want? Most of the time, these catalogues are really just a temptation to spend money we don’t have (or to pull us away from our financial goals) or encourage us to buy stuff we don’t actually need. So be ruthless. Say no to this if you can.
If you want further tips on what I think you can just toss read my post What Documents Can I Throw Out?
Let’s use bank statements as an example to explain this rule. You’ve decided you need to keep bank statements and you prefer a printed version. Generally, these come monthly so, to keep it manageable, decide in advance how many months or years you need to keep. If it’s a well-established folder, cull what you don’t need. Arrange it in date order with the newest one at the front of the folder. Every time a new one arrives, add it to the front of the folder. Then remove one from the back of the folder, which will be the oldest one. Done. There will always be the same number of statements in the folder.
If you’ve just created a new folder and it’s empty, the above still applies. Decide how many months or years you want to keep. Write on a sticky note the month and year you’ll start tossing statements and keep it in the folder. That will prompt you to toss them at that time. Alternatively, you can add a note in your phone calendar to remind you that’s it’s now time to start shredding them.
This can also be relevant to folders like the one holding manuals and instruction booklets. Often this folder grows and grows so, to keep it lean, keep an eye on it when you are in it. If you add a new manual, or when you are flicking through it to find something, do a quick check for anything that is no longer needed. Throw them out. It usually only takes a few extra seconds.
Set a Number Limit
This is similar to the above, but it is a a different way of approaching it. The focus here is on a number limit rather than the process of removing one file as one is added in. A way to keep your filing drawer from expanding is to set a limit to the number of files you keep. For example, you might decide to keep only twelve electricity bills. This rule is suitable for things like bills and statements as they’re essentially the same type of thing coming in. They just age. It won’t be as relevant for things like your medical records.
You can also set the number limit based on date. For instance, keep twelve months’ worth, or five years’ worth. This makes it easy to purge a year at a time.
Set a Size or Space Limit
If you’re using folders, hanging files or document wallets to store documents, you can maintain your organised paperwork by setting a size limit. We’ll use a hanging file as an example. Let’s say you have one hanging file full of manuals. When it’s too full and needs another, it’s time to cull. Don’t let it expand to two files. On the occasions when you feel it necessary for it to multiply, consider if there is another file you can let go of instead. Try to create space as you consciously allow another area to grow.
With some of the files you keep, it might be necessary to set a reminder to purge the folder once a year to keep it trim. A typical folder that will grow is the ‘Medical’ or ‘Health’ folder. We often just add things into this folder thinking it’s important. It grows fatter and fatter, eating into the space for other documents. So, to keep this folder in check, you may need to do a regular review of it and purge what’s no longer relevant.
Assess Your Rules
Consider rules you may have set yourself. For instance, you might have decided, “I keep everything from my phone company.” Being so hard and fast on these things can lead to you keeping much more than you need. Try to be a little more discerning as you receive documents from them. Consider if it’s really vital for you to hold onto it. Do you need to keep the statement and the late notice now that it’s paid? Do you need to keep the information sheet they sent three years ago that’s no longer relevant? Do you have to keep the Terms and Conditions to your old contract? Probably not. Being mindful of what you’re keeping will help keep the filing operating effectively.
The best thing about these rules and guidelines is that you can decide on the rules today, and just start doing it with the new paperwork that flows in. You can deal with the backlog later.
What can you start doing today to get your papers in order and maintain a slim filing system? I’d love for you to share you thoughts in the WellSorted Facebook Group.