Sunday, July 11, 2010

Filing Made Super Simple

box with 2009 papers - and cat

Sometimes, we just don't need fancy filing systems.

I've read two articles - one a while ago, one just recently - that suggest simpler ways to handle "filing" all the paperwork. And both seem like they could work just fine for some people.

Over on Simple Productivity Blog, LJ Earnest suggests a "filing heresy: one box filing." Here's how it would work:
Grab a small, empty box. About the size of a box that holds file folders, not one that holds a refrigerator. Throughout the year, toss in the things you need to hang on to for financial and tax reasons.
I know someone who does just this - and it works very well for her! [via Lifehacker]

And then over on Discardia, Dinah advocates "stupid simple filing." She suggests we create files for papers we know we'll want to be able to put our hands on - health insurance, automotive repair, etc. But then, for all the rest:
Put everything else you think you have to keep in one stack.

Seriously, just stack it up.

Make it very handy for adding to the stack and very unoffensive to your eye. ...

My discovery was that I spend far less time flipping quickly down through the reverse chronological stack to find one of the few things I actually wind up needing to refer back to than I ever did filing, so why file?

When the pile gets unappealingly high ... whip through it quickly and pull out obviously stale stuff that can now be discarded or shredded or for which you have since created a file folder.
If these approaches appeal to you, go read the full posts by LJ or Dinah for more information.


Anonymous said...

Love these methodologies. Nice and simple.

Cynthia Friedlob said...

I've been a fan of the one box system for quite awhile. There's less agony for me sorting through it once a year at tax time than filing more frequently.

Just wanted to mention something about keeping records for the IRS: it's no longer necessary to keep everything for seven years, as we've been told for ages. Here are the guidelines from publication 552(for individuals; small businesses have their own guidelines), available at the website.

(1) Owe additional tax and #2, #3, and #4 do not apply to you – 3 years after filing year

(2) Do not report income that you should and it is more than 25% of the gross income shown on your return - 6 years

(3) File a fraudulent return - No limit

(4) Do not file a return - No limit

(5) File a claim for credit or refund after you filed your return - The later of 3 years or 2 years after tax was paid

(6) File a claim for a loss from worthless securities - 7 years

Property records should be kept until expiration of the period of limitations after the property is sold. Also, your insurance company or creditors may require you to keep certain records longer than the IRS limits.

SueBK said...

Hubby's preferred method is to keep every single little bit of paper that comes into the house. My preferred method is to throw out every single bit of paper. One year I accidently tossed some papers he actually needed to keep. Opps.

So, now, I scan and ditch. I keep hard copies only of things I need for tax and warranties. I also keep scanned copies of these. I name my files by the date, the shop/retailer/etc and/or purpose. (eg we have 2 cars & a trailer - registration renewals are called by the number plate). It's so much easier to find electronic files using the search function.

I also go online and download manuals for new appliances, and again call them something logical.

I'm slowly whittling 16 years of saved papers down to a single accordian filing box - mostly tax papers (because I believe we here in Oz still have to keep things for 7 years).

My goal is to ditch the ugly, 3 drawer filing cabinet that has two drawers of ... ummm ... stuff, and only one drawer of filing.