How many of you gave a shudder when you saw the post subject? File organization is a long and boring process. (Having once worked as a secretary, I am intimately familiar with just how tedious this process can be.) But I find it necessary…which is why it may surprise you to know I don’t do a very good job of keeping up with it. In fact, I created a “file box” when Zach and I got married nearly three years ago…and I haven’t touched it since then. I know, right? It’s been sitting under my desk nagging at me. Every once in a while, I would need to pull a file out of it and I would just want to scream. Not only did it have a ton of now-irrelevant files, but I had apparently shoved in a bunch of unimportant files, as well. I found all of our old Dungeons & Dragons character sheets (try not to roll your eyes–I love that game). I found sheet music from when Zach was first learning to play the guitar. Old bills, income taxes from 2006, magazines that I didn’t even like, the warranties and user manuals for items we don’t own anymore. You name it, it was in there. Which is impressive for such a small box.
So while browsing Pinterest (surprised?) I stumbled upon this blog post at Fabulously Organized Home in which she detailed how she organized her own files. And I was smitten. I spent about a day and half looking at it, making lists, and hunting down files before heading over to Office Depot.
Unfortunately, even something as simple as getting organized can be really expensive. I didn’t want to spend any more than $30 on this…which I felt was being liberal because how much can folders really cost?
Let me show you how I cut back on the cost and got my files organized!
This is what I started with. The little green folder is filled with old bills. Why? I can’t remember…. -_- Solution: Empty it all out.
And that’s what I did first. I picked one, emptied out each folder one-by-one, and checked each piece of paper. I had to make sure 1) it wasn’t important, and 2) it didn’t have any personal information on it. Even if I plan to shred my files, I first try to blot out any personal information (in case the shredder happens to leave the piece with my entire SSN entact…just shredding isn’t completely reliable for the truly motivated–yes, I’m paranoid about my identity, is that a problem?). This is what I do (I learned this from working with Human Resources at multiple companies).
You start with your numbers, though this also works with letters.
And turn them in 8’s. Mine aren’t perfect in this picture. I do a much better job when I’m working on a real document. But that’s basically it. It’s time-consuming (especially since some agencies–like the Department of Education–insist on putting my full Social Security Number TWICE on each page that they send me…which really irritates me), but it works. It’s also great for anyone who doesn’t own a shredder. I hoarded so many personal documents simply because I don’t own a shredder. After a while, my office started becoming cluttered with trash that I was too afraid to throw out.
Two things, though: try to use the same color ink to cover up what was written. If that’s not possible, go darker. Never lighter. Also, do not use a Sharpie to do this. Sharpies don’t imprint on the paper, pens do. Even if you cover the entire number, you will still be able to see the imprint perfectly through the marker.
These are the things I try to cover when I see them:
- Social Security Number
- Phone number (mostly because I live in a college town known for partying hard–some drunk college kid finding my number would be a pain)
- Maiden name (I just do)
- Birth date
- Credit card numbers
- Checking account numbers
I don’t worry about address, generally, but you can cover that if you want. After that, shred/tear up and toss. (If I’m feeling really paranoid that day, I might even put them in a bag and set them on fire–safely of course. My father-in-law saves everything with his personal information on it and then has a bonfire later to burn it all. That’s one nice thing about living out in the middle of nowhere.)
Once I had thrown everything out, I surveyed what I had left and made a list. I used that post from Fabulously Organized Home as a way of outlining what I needed. Here’s what I came up with:
Important Documents (red)
- Birth Certificates
- Marriage Certificates
- Driver’s License Photocopies
- Social Security Cards
- Voter Registrations
- Living Will
- Vehicle Title
- Income Taxes
- Credit & Debit Card Info (card numbers, expiration dates, number to call if lost or stolen)
- Annual Investment Statement
- Student Loans
- Car Loans
- Auto Insurance
- Health Insurance
- Jewelry Insurance (for my wedding band & a ring my parents got me when I went to college)
- Medical Bills
Household (sky blue)
- Vehicle Maintenance Records
- Home Inventory (only the stuff worth stealing)
- Vet Records
- Health Issues
- Medical History
- Hospital Admissions
- Lab Tests & Results
- Doctors’ Phone Numbers
My medical information was very easy to gather. The hospital I go to has an online system where patients and doctors can share information. I can get on there and access every file they have for me, see what tests were run, what the results were, see notes the doctors left if I was admitted to the hospital. All I had to do to get all of that medical information was log into my hospital chart account and print it all off. It’s very nice. I can also request prescription refills from my doctor (he then sends a message to me and the pharmacy onhealthy.net telling us both how many refills I have left–which means not having to get a prescription paper…I just walk into the pharmacy, give my name and birth date, and they fill my prescription).
- Certificates & Awards
- Travel Plans
- Bucket List
- “Before Kids” List (Diaper List? Need to come up with a catchier name.)
- Dungeons & Dragons blank character sheet
I scanned the rest of our D&D stuff onto my computer and got rid of the hard copies.
For each bullet point, I made two folders. Because I decided to make photocopies of everything. Here’s where it gets a little complicated.
Let’s talk about the originals first…even though I worked with the copies first.
For small documents (like my voter registration card and SSN), I was afraid they would fall out of the folders and into the bottom of the box. So I put them in an envelope for extra safe-keeping.
Now. There are 36 bullet points. So for the original files, I made 36 folders. I put them in hanging folders (these ones because they hang low and show the tabs, which means not having to use those stupid plastic tabs), though I did put multiple manilla folders in some because I only bought one 20-pack. It was fine, though, since many folders only contained one document. For each section, I wrote the name of the document on the manilla folder tab in the corresponding color using a colored pencil (“Birth Certificates” is written in red, “Car Loans” is in green, etc.). I put the documents in the manilla folders, put the manilla folders in the hanging folders, and put the hanging folders in the brown box (though I would like to get a fireproof safe), and then got out my accordion folder, which is where I decided to keep copies. Let’s discuss the copies now.
I did not put hanging folders in this (because there was no where to hang them). Instead, I made 36 more manilla folders. And then I took out my originals and made a photocopy of each one. There is a reason! I don’t want anyone handling the originals more than necessary. Too much handling is how things get lost or destroyed. I want the originals packed safely away until they are absolutely needed. Otherwise, the photocopies will be used, because if a photocopy is lost or destroyed I can get out the original and copy it again. No big deal. Getting another original of some documents will be difficult if not impossible. (Zach was born in Germany and has a German birth certificate along with a US certificate stating that he’s still a US citizen because of the circumstances surrounding his birth. It’s difficult enough getting a replacement for a regular US birth certificate. How much fun would it be to try to get a second copy of THOSE? Probably none at all. Photocopies! :D)
Second benefit: If Zach and I are ever in a car accident together and are both hospitalized, my sister-in-law lives right down the street and can come over and grab this very portable accordion folder. One thing I was grateful for when I was hospitalized in October is that I at least had important documents in this folder. Because it turned out we needed them. Zach was able to get home and grab it, of course. But after that I decided to let his sister know where it was in case she needed it for us. But I’d rather she dealt with copies than originals.
This is such a long post, wow.
As you can see, I did a similar thing with the color-coding as FOH did. It was such a great idea. I did try to think of my own idea, but hers was better than anything I could come up with. So to keep it all straight (and so Zach would know what each one was for, as well), I made a Color Key.
Inside of accordion folder.
Inside of box lid.
After that…I was basically done. Finally. 😀
(Right, this folder is being reused. I used it for college.)
It’s not as organized as FOH’s, but it’s MUCH better than it was. Now I can actually find things! And that’s really the most important thing. Overall, this new system cost about around $30-$40…because folders are expensive. Ugh. I probably could have found them cheaper online, though, so shop around. I already had the accordion folder (which I got from Target) and the brown box (which I got from Wal-Mart). They were both decently priced and they’re very sturdy. But I’ll repeat what Fabulously Organized Home and many of her commenters said, because it’s very important: the most optimal way of storing your very important documents is to put them in a lock box somewhere or in a fireproof safe. But…this will work for now, I suppose.
If you want to see the original blog post, go here to Fabulously Organized Home. I suggest going to her blog because her finished product is still way better than mine (classification folders are $27 for five at Office Depot and I wanted around 30 of them, so I skipped that…but I still drool over the idea of having my files that organized).