Tackling My Paperwork (part 1)

Updated: Jul 10, 2019

Super nerdy confession time.

I once procrastinated on a major university paper by COMPLETELY re-organizing my family filing system. I earned the degree, so the paper must have gotten done somehow. And to be fair, I was earning a library degree at the time. So subject headings, categorizing, labelling and cataloguing were already my jam. I justified my procrastination by figuring that creating a filing system for my home was kinda, sorta related to schoolwork.

Today, if you asked me to catalogue a book for a library, I don’t think I’d have a clue where to begin. But ask me to file your home paperwork? You’re speaking my love language.

That original filing system I created was a thing of beauty. The fresh, clean new file folders. The carefully thought out file headings, custom created just for me. The fancy, matching labels (I hadn’t yet discovered the wonders of a hand-held labeller, but I did manage to get them all printed off, somehow). The feeling of opening my filing cabinet and seeing a tidy row of organized papers was heaven.

And almost twenty years later, I still use a version of that same filing system for my personal home filing.

Sure, it’s evolved somewhat as my family has grown. I’ve digitized a lot of it and replaced my battered filing cabinet with plastic filing bins that fit my home and lifestyle a bit better. I’ve added a few extra systems to store kid’s papers and action filing. I’ve added files of different colours so that I can quickly distinguish between the various meta-categories of filing that I have to keep.

But the bones of that old filing system – the file headings, the neatly labelled rows of folders, the sense of relief when I open the bin and find my documents quickly and easily – it’s all still there.

Told you. I’m a bit of a nerd.

So, twenty years later, what does my filing system for a family of four look like? I have five meta-categories of filing that I use to store the paper that I keep in my house: a shredder, an action file, permanent files, kid's memory files and household manuals, warranties and reciepts.

In part 1 of this series, I'll discuss my shredder and action files.


The shredder is my number one filing tool. Seriously. There is so much paper that you DON’T need to keep. But since so much of that paper contains personal information, I need the shredder to be sure that my personal info doesn’t get into the wrong hands.

I have gotten ruthless over the years about what goes into that shredder. Credit card statement reviewed and paid? Shred. New bank statement came in the mail? Shred last month’s statement. Power bill paid? Shred. There is absolutely no reason to keep these items once you have reviewed, paid or otherwise dealt with them.

Generally, I follow the AMA (Alberta Motor Association)’s guidelines on what to shred and what to keep. This list is applicable to all Canucks but do check your own provincial or state guidelines to be sure you are keeping what is necessary for your jurisdiction.

If I really feel I need to keep a copy of a bill or statement, I will take a photo of it or scan the document. I have also opted for e-statements for most of my bills and bank statements, which has reduced the paper coming into my house significantly. (The digital clutter, on the other hand, can become a problem. But that’s a whole other post.).

My current shredder is an ultra light, large capacity beast that is stored under my family's computer. My kids are old enough to use it safely, so it is left plugged in and ready to shred at a moment's notice.

Action Files

My action file is a lean, mean paper sorting machine that moves around the house with me, letting me sort through my incoming paper wherever and whenever I want. I use it daily.

It contains only what we need *right now* to run the household, and is a convenient spot to store paper that needed for the short term (think coupons, invitations, prescriptions, hot lunch forms…)

It also serves as a holding spot for items we need to file permanently but haven’t yet gotten around to it. And when kids or hubs ask where “X” is, or what they should do with “Y”, I can usually say “in the action file basket”.

To make it pretty – I made my own filing basket out of a wicker basket, a speed filing frame, pretty folders and custom labels. (See my note about being a nerd, above.) The basket looks good wherever it sits – and is most likely found in our living room or sitting on a shelf in our home office.

Although I will sometimes add files for special projects (like vacation planning or a reno), I keep my action files minimal and sorted like this:

- Family Member 1

- Family Member 2

- Family Member 3

- Family Member 4

- Pet 1

- To File

- To Pay

- To Action

- Coupons / Gift Cards

- Current Year Taxes

- Spare file 1

- Spare file 2

Up next - Tackling my Paperwork Part 2 (permanent files, memory files and manual filing)

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