Get Organized Mission #9: Filing System Nirvana

Get Organized Mission #9: Filing System Nirvana

Welcome to Mission #9 of our 52 Get Organized Missions.

If home office organization is the bane of your life, you’re going to love this mission! One of the main causes of a disorganized workspace is paper accumulation – which usually happens because the filing system is over-complicated or non-existent.

If you’ve completed our previous mission Get Organized Mission #8: Declutter 50 Items you must be pretty pleased with yourself! Let’s now tackle your home office.

So in this Get Organized Mission we’re going to create a super-simple filing system – one that makes it easy to put papers away, and also gives you confidence that you’ll find things when you need them.

Remember – you only need 30 minutes for the basic mission. Extended Options are below. If you’re new, check out 52 Organizing Missions.

Get Organized Mission #9: Filing System Nirvana

Our filing system is going to have 5 macro-categories – overarching, top-level categories – as well as a number of sub-categories under each macro-category. The macro-categories are little team captains, each with their team of sub-category members.

Step 1: Create Visual Filing Cues

Your fist step is to decide how you want to separate your 5 macro-categories. This is an important step, because having easy visual cues will make filing and retrieval quick and easy.

I use hanging suspension files for macro-categories and file folders for sub categories. I also color-code my folders – so each folder in a particular macro-category has the same color – that way each ‘team’ stays together in their suspension file and with a team color to unite them.

Other ways to easily distinguish macro-categories and clearly identify your filing teams include:

  • Inserting a colored divider between macro-categories
  • Using larger labels or stronger lettering for macro-categories headings
  • Using colored markers to create color-coded labels

The enemy of action is perfection, so I suggest you keep it simple for now and upgrade your system later if you want.

Step 2: Label

Your next step is to grab a pile of folders and start labeling.

Turn folders over or inside out if you don’t have fresh ones at hand. Use post-its if you don’t have labels. If you want to make a trip to OfficeMax later that’s fine, but right now we’ve got 30 minutes and we’re going to need them to set up the baseline version of your filing system up – so no distractions!

Home Organization

Here are the labels and hierarchy (macro- and sub-categories) I suggest for general home organization:

  1. Home & Car
    • Property Documents
    • Insurance
    • Warranties
    • Car
  2. Medical
    • Health
    • Insurance
    • Medical
  3. Financial
    • Bank Accounts
    • Mortgage
    • Credit Cards
    • Investments
    • 401K/Superannuation
    • Personal Loans
  4. Utilities
    • Electricity
    • Water
    • Gas
    • Internet
    • Phone
    • Cable
  5. Family
    • Self
    • [Spouse: __________]
    • [Child 1: __________]
    • [Child 2: __________]
    • [Child 3: __________], etc

Home-Based Business

Here are the labels and hierarchy I suggest for a home-based business:

  1. Admin
    • Marketing
    • Accounting
    • Legal
  2. Current Projects
    • Project A: ____________
    • Project B: ____________
    • Project C: ____________, etc
  3. Pending (Waiting on someone else)
  4. Personal (Business-related personal items)
  5. Archive (Keeping for reference)

And there you have your simple, easy-to-file, easy-to-find filing system!

Initially, it might take a little while to get your papers into their new homes. But from then, you’ll find it a breeze to keep your filing up-to-date.

Dos & Don’ts

  • Don’t add a ‘miscellaneous’ category. This isn’t (only) because the word is hard to spell. It’s also because it’s too easy to throw things into a general category – and that makes retrieval difficult. It becomes a default lack-of filing system.
  • Do stick to as few categories as possible – it keeps filing and retrieving simple.
  • Do customize the hierarchy – add, subtract or change the macro- and sub-categories to make them work for you. But keep the descriptions short and clear.

Extended Organizing Mission Options

Want to go beyond this 30-minute organizing mission?

  • Make your system pretty – with color-coded folders, attractive labels, the works!
  • Ask your kids what they’d like to keep in their file, and start them on the habit of filing important papers they want to keep.
  • Take the opportunity to detox your filing cabinetshred or recycle any paperwork you no longer need.

Ready, Set, Go!

Remember – move quickly, act fast, don’t overthink.

Before You Go – Please Check In

You’re now accountable to your organizing mission-mates! Once you’ve completed this week’s Get Organized Mission please add a comment to let us know you’ve done your assignment and you’re keeping your commitment.

And see you back here next week!


You can now get your weekly organizing mission delivered to your inbox.
Click here to sign up for 52 Organizing Missions.

Image by Kasaa

Kim says:

Done – and so simple now!

Sylvia says:

This was great! I love the idea of the teams, now that they are my “friends”, I’m more interested in taking care of them and giving them what they need. I haven’t had time to start the home office side; just the home took over an hour but so well worth it! Thank You!

Julia O'Connor says:

still working on this one, it will take time

Lisa says:

This job took me more than 30 min but was worth the effort for peace of mind.

Maria says:

wow this system it’s so simple, and better than my now “old system”

Jenny says:

I have a lovely little miniature filing cabinet from the 1960s and I haven’t used it since I moved into my new flat. Now in use! Got things a bit more organised. More to do on this one – always – I am a terrible paper hoarder. Might try and have a once a month gather up of all loose papers around the house and sit on the floor by the filing cabinet filing – or preferably CHUCKING!

Connie says:

Whew! Was that ever overdue!! But it’s done now, thank goodness. Would you believe I found items from 2002 in there??? It feels so good to have the hub of our existence in order – even if the rest of our house needs serious help!! But I know every inch of my home will have it’s moment in the sun, eventually. Thank you for your specificity, Michele. It is a blessing to this procrastinating perfectionist!

@Marla: You’ve made my day with this comment! Filing can be such a pain but it feels so good to simplify! M :)

Marla says:

I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful I feel after completing this mission. My DH has been telling me for years that he found my micro-managed, alphabetically-based system confusing and frustrating. It took only a few minutes to re-order my files, and then I spent the balance of my time cleaning out my miscellaneous file. I found a spot for everything in it!

@MM: You’ll save a LOT of time looking for things without the misc category!

MM says:

I like the …. DONT add a miscellaneous category….. see how I go without that folder…makes sense…

Shannon R says:

Did it! It looks a bit more confusing than my last way of filing. I guess i need to go back and color code to distinguish, like suggested.

Le'Ann says:

I simplified my filing system several years ago and have been doing a pretty good job of shredding old paperwork regularly. Just had to clean out a couple of folders to call this one done.

Vinil says:

This was perhaps the most fruitful mission so far.. It was hard but well worth the effort. Now the table by my bed where all these paper were lying look so much cleaner. Thanks a lot!

Paula says:

Personal I actually started a while ago. Done now…. Business categories helped a ton

Lauren says:

God that was hard. Took me over an hour, but I’m done. Extremely rudimentary, but done. My shred pile is a thing to behold. But I’m glad I got the start because this was really holding me up in the progress. I love the dividing system you suggest!

Silvia says:

No problem with my home paper but I´ll need two or three missions to find a filing system for my work !!

Joey says:

I can’t believe how much small my files are. Amazing. Done.

Mary Ann says:

Files in folder are in action. Now – time to get the paper clutter in there and know where things are when I need them (instead of in ones of those piles that I don’t want to touch!)

Brenda says:

I think I have it. I’ll see if I can keep up with it now.

Hi Annie,

That’s awesome!

Paperwork and filing can get really overwhelming for people, so I’m sure your experience will inspire others, too.

Thank you so much for sharing your success!
Michele :-)

Annie says:

This has literally changed my life, I had papers everywhere and no idea where to start! Granted, it took longer than 30 minutes, but now everything is categorized and labelled in one folder, Michele, I can’t thank you enough!

Belinda says:

My filing system for home was a little organised, but now it’s super organised! I have used gorgeous patterened folders and co-ordinated these with other items (stationery, small storage boxes, labels, etc) so that I am more motivated to keep on top of the filing. A place for everything and everything in its place. Now it looks neat and tidy.

Hi Minima,

You’re a champion at these missions!

Thanks for that excellent point about keeping personal banking and card protection insurance data separate and secure.

Now on to that closet!

M :-)

Minima says:

Devoted my 30 to my personal filing system. I like the logical and colour coded system. It was helpful to have categories suggested so that we can pick and mix according to our individual needs. I’ll be interested to see how smoothly the system works over the next couple of months.

Just one thought – I would counsel against keeping all the personal banking material together – or, if together, at least keeping it secure. Loss of this master file to an opportunistic thief would be a disaster. Likewise it might make sense to keep card protection insurance data separate and accessible.

Oh Dear – I’ve just noticed ‘Clear Out Your Closet’ is coming along next. It may be some time before I battle my way through that one!

52 Missions says:

Get Organized Blog | Get Organized Mission #9: Filing System Nirvana: If home office organiz..

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Wingman Z says:

create a super-simple filing system – Filing System Nirvana