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How to Organize Personal Records

If you’re anything like me, then you must love organizing papers. The thought of sorting through stacks and stacks of them fills your heart with unquenchable delight. In the end, the sensation of accomplishment when you see each sheet placed in its proper place bubbles up into exultations of excitement and sheer bliss, and you can’t restrain yourself from dragging all your friends into your shrine of organization…….No? Just me?

Marie Kondo abhors paper. In fact, she says in her book that her rule of thumb is to completely get rid of all papers when decluttering. Paper apparently sparks no joy for her. Not so in the Chu household! Oh..just me..again..Anyways..Here is my personal method for organizing the seemingly-but-not-so-unconquerable paper pile!

Start with laying out all your paper files and assessing which category they fall under. At the end of my own process [two days and many white hairs later, thanks to Michael’s very organized method of dumping everything into a single, horrendous blob], I finalized my primary + sub-categories:

  • Important Documents
    • Birth certificates
    • Marriage certificate
    • Passports
    • Social security cards
    • Education records
  • Finances 
    • Tax records
    • Tax returns
    • Charity statements
    • Retirement info
    • Auto insurance policy
    • Home insurance policy
    • Mortgage statements
    • Loan documents
    • Bank statements
    • Credit card statements
    • Long-term & warranty receipts
  • Health
    • Tiffany’s doctor visits
    • Michael’s doctor visits
    • Vaccination records
    • Pet records
    • Medical bills
  • Household
    • Vehicle maintenance records
    • Home maintenance records
    • Travel
    • HOA
    • Home warranty
    • Verizon contract
  • Legal
    • House deeds
    • Traffic records
    • Car title
    • Escrow
    • Jury Duty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under each main category, I listed each type of document, which will then find its way into its own little folder and then into a hanging file. As I sorted, I also threw out mounds of old papers that were no longer relevant. Purging is so, so good for the soul.

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Place papers into labelled and color-coded folders. We have a filing cabinet, but you can use whatever works best for you. For example, if you don’t have that many documents, it may be better to use a plastic filing box.

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While putting each type document into its proper place, I also researched how long I was supposed to keep certain papers, using this website as a resource. I then wrote that information down on a post-it and stuck it to the inside of the folder for easy reference.

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Post-it note for tax returns

Some categories have their own sub-categories, such as our personal health information, and our pets’ information. For those, I used these multi-tab folders. In our health folders, I have sections for medical health overview, doctor visit summaries, prescriptions, and eye exams. For our birds, I have a tab for each pet, along with information for bird-sitters and vet visit summaries.

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Put the folders into your filing system in the order that they appear in your reference files. This just makes it more coherent and easier to keep track of, especially as your paper pile grows.

Instruction manuals can be kept in a separate accordion-style folder by category. The sizes and thicknesses of manuals varied too much to place properly into the file cabinet, so I just put them in an accordion folder and place the whole thing right on top of the cabinet for easy access. I categorized manuals under:

  • Small appliances
  • Large appliances
  • Furniture
  • Kitchen
  • Electronics
  • Computers
  • Outdoors

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Hopefully these tips will help you get your paper clutter under control, or at least keep them all in one place for much easier access. Every year after taxes, I go through these files again to make sure they are still up to date.

Happy filing!

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