Foolproof Ways to Organize Your Files — and Keep Them Organized

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Organizing Files

If asked to grab a specific document in your home right now, would you be able to in under 10 minutes? Five minutes? One?

Have you ever paid a bill late because you didn’t know where it was? Is your mental peace bogged down by a chaotic or nonexistent organizing system?

We’ve all been there, but your life doesn’t need to stay that way.

Enter the Simple 4-Step System

With just four steps, you can transform your paper clutter into a well-functioning system that works with you instead of against you.

1.    Gather All Paper Clutter

Papers hide everywhere. Take some time to go through your entire home and grab every piece you find. Lasting progress will only happen if you tackle every bit of the problem. Look in your filing cabinet, junk drawers, home office, end tables, closets, basement, storage bins and anywhere else you can think of.

Bring all these papers into a central location with plenty of space. Ideally, this will be a low-traffic area. Depending on the level of paper clutter in your home, you may need more time to complete these steps, and you don’t want people walking through or moving things while you work.

2.    Sort Papers Into Three Piles

Now that you have all your papers in one place, it’s time to sort them into three different piles:

  • Take action: Put anything in this pile that needs action. Bills you need to pay, paperwork to submit, a note to make a phone call and the like all belong in this pile. Ideally, it will be small.
  • Save: This pile will have everything you need to keep long term. Any tax information, important documents and memories should go in here. If you aren’t sure what to keep, determine how long you need to retain different papers.
  • Declutter: Everything else goes in this pile. Garbage, old receipts, children’s artwork you aren’t saving and so on are all additions to the declutter pile.

Set aside the take action and declutter piles to deal with later.

3.    Create a New Organization System

Now that you’ve sorted all your papers, you should know what you need to save. Take some time to sort your saved documents further into subcategories if you need help remembering what’s there.

Separate things like concert tickets, playbills and artwork into a pile to add to a memory bin for you or a family member. Gather marriage certificates, passports, Social Security cards and other necessary identification documents and put them in a safe.

Finally, it’s time for the bulk of your saved papers. Grab a stack of manila folders and begin labeling them with subcategories that make sense for what you have. Some people like macrosystems with fewer large categories, and some prefer microsystems with lots of subcategories to divide their papers into.

There’s no “right” way to do this part as long as it’s a system that makes sense to you and will help you find papers you need quickly and easily.

4.    File the Sorted Papers Into the New System

Finally, it’s time to deal with those piles.

First, find a prime location to put all your take-action papers. Add a reminder or block time in your schedule to deal with these. This pile will attract more clutter if you let it sit around for too long, so deal with your action items as soon as possible.

Next, you can dispose of your decluttered items. Trash goes directly in the bin, but separate anything you can recycle. Shred any papers with identifying information, like your address.

Now for the biggest step. Take your save pile papers where they belong. Add your memories to the memory bin, put identification documents in your safe and file the rest into your new system of file folders.

Take a moment to look around your home. All your paper clutter is gone, and you should be feeling a lot lighter. If you notice you still feel overwhelmed by your surroundings, take some time to do a thorough cleaning and see if that helps. A clean home, including paper clutter, will help keep your mind clear.

Dealing With Digital Clutter

These four easy steps work on paper of all types, including the digital kind, with minor adjustments.


The gathering step for emails involves signing into all your accounts, even if you don’t use them anymore. Consolidate where you can so you’re only moving forward with what’s active.

It is helpful to start with the declutter pile during the sorting stage and delete those as you go. After you have gotten rid of anything you no longer need, you’ll be able to see what types of files remain.

Make a take-action folder for things that need attention now and create subfolders for the rest, based on the types of emails you need to save.

Computer Files

Going through the files on your computer is similar to sorting through email clutter. However, there is an added step. Decide on a universal naming system when creating your folders. Rename your documents as you sort through them to reflect your new storage method.

Maintain Your Systems and Enjoy

You can now rest easier knowing you can find any paper you need at a moment’s notice. Your home should also look more peaceful and clutter-free.

The final stage of the process is maintenance. You have a sound system in place for keeping your papers. Keep up with it. Throw things in the trash or recycle them right away and file documents as they come in. Consider unsubscribing from mailing lists and going paperless to reduce the amount of clutter coming into your home. Remember, the longer you maintain your new organizational system, the easier it will become until it’s a habit.

Rose Morrison is the managing editor of and has over five years experience writing in the industry. She loves sharing her knowledge of home living and home renovations with her audience so they can live their best DIY life. When she isn’t writing (which isn’t very often) you can find her taste-testing tea or baking chocolate chip cookies. For more from Rose, you can follow her on Twitter.

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Categories: DIY, Home Improvement, Homeowner, How to, Shorewest Tips, Tuesday Tips

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