Come to Order: Now is a great time to organize your paperwork

By Sue Becker | For The Bugle

Ready or not, tax season will be upon us sooner than we may like. Did you have to frantically search for your financial paperwork last year? Did you have to forego some deductions you deserved because you couldn’t find the supporting paperwork? Did you have to pay your tax preparer an additional amount to sort out the jumble of information you dumped in his or her office at the last minute?

Here are some tips to make this year more organized. There are many ways to organize paperwork, so choose the ideas that resonate with you and adjust the system to fit your needs.

First, choose a container to hold your documents. Several things to consider when deciding what container to use include: where you will keep it, how easy it is to put papers in it and retrieve papers from it, how secure it will allow your papers to be, and whether or not you’re a “visual” person who would prefer a somewhat open container.

To simplify the remainder of this discussion, I’ll assume you’re using a file cabinet. However, my comments are relevant no matter what type of container you use.

Next, create broad categories to group papers. If your categories are too specific, you’ll have too many places to search for information. For example, rather than create separate categories for doctor’s bills, prescription receipts, and medical insurance, you might want a category called “Medical.” Be sure to name the categories the way you think of them. For example, you may prefer to call the category “Health,” rather than “Medical.”

Use hanging file folders to contain each broad category. Place the folders inside the filing container, and put a well-labeled plastic file tab on the front of the each file. Use a bold, black marker to write the labels, or print them with your computer or a label maker – this will make the file names stand out and easy to read.

You should also use manila folders inside the hanging folders. If any particular category has a lot of papers in it, manila file folders can help you create sub-categories. For example, for the hanging file folder labeled “Medical” three manila folders inside could be labeled “Insurance,” “Prescriptions,” and “Doctor’s Bills.” The beauty of doing it this way is that all the medical information is in the same general location so you don’t have to hunt through your files for each sub-category.

Put the most current papers in the front of each folder. This will make the information used most frequently easy to find.

Additionally, consider using colored file folders to distinguish various categories. For example, all of the “Financial” files (e.g., Investments, Taxes, Bank Accounts, etc.) can be in green folders, while all of the “House” files (e.g., Mortgage, Maintenance, etc.) can be in blue folders, etc. This will allow you to easily zoom in on the appropriate section of your file cabinet and quickly find the file you want.

Although properly setting up your files may be quite time consuming, you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.


Sue Becker is a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization who helps individuals and businesses discover the simplicity, harmony, and freedom of being organized and productive. She also speaks to companies and organizations about how to get organized and make the most of their time. Sue can be reached at or 630-373-7400.

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