Paper clutter is one of the most ordinary forms of clutter that people have around their homes.
From tax returns, medical records, and insurance to bank statements and marriage and birth certificates, there’s a multitude of personal documents that we need to keep track of and have easy access to.
In this guide, we’re going to share our favorite home file organization tips and answer common questions to help you tidy up your home and make your important papers findable!
How do I organize my home filing system? 4 steps to get started
When you have piles of documents, receipts, and junk mail sitting on your kitchen counter, decluttering papers and organizing what you need can be a nightmare.
In this section, we’re going to go over 4 practical tips that you can use to prepare for organizing your home filing system.
Step 1. Minimize your paper clutter
Decluttering and paper organization always begin with letting go of what you don’t need.
The first step to creating your home filing system is to throw away unnecessary papers to lighten the load.
If you don’t want someone to potentially see your sensitive information, buy a shredder, shred the paper baggage, and throw the shreddings away.
You can also scan your papers and upload the files onto your computer or smartphone if you’re not quite ready to let old taxes, paper receipts, or credit card statements go.
Digitize your documents
Going paperless (or nearly paperless) is a modern convenience that we think should be put to use at home.
Your home should be your sanctuary, and piles of paper can make your home feel like a cluttered office cubical rather than a space where you can relax, focus, and get things done.
By saving your important documents on your computer or smartphone, you can minimize the paper clutter you have while still giving yourself effortless access to the files you need the most.
For example, if you have mountains of old receipts that you need for taxes, Shoeboxed is a great way to keep track of your expenses digitally.
Shoeboxed is a receipt tracking app that lets you scan your receipts, upload the data into your account, and turn your receipts into expense reports for the IRS.
If you have too many receipts than you’d like to scan, you can stuff them in one of Shoeboxed’s prepaid Magic Envelopes to get them scanned and added to your account!
Especially if you work from home as an accountant or virtual bookkeeper, it’s important to easily search for your important documents and having it all digital makes finding them 10X more easier.
Step 2. Categorize your papers and documents
While you may have documents that don’t fall under these file types, we’re going to share common categories and sub-categories to give you an idea of where to start!
Financial documents are necessary to keep in your home filing system to pay bills on time, keep a record of your financial history, or in case you ever need them for taxes, budgeting for family finances, etc.
Finance files can include the following sub-categories:
- Debts (loans/credit cards)
Personal documents identify who you and your family members are and keep records of life events, histories, etc.
Personal files can include the following sub-categories:
- Marriage or divorce certificates
- Birth or death certificates
- Social Security cards
- Medical records
Home documents are anything related to your home.
Home files can include the following sub-categories:
- Documents for contractor work (home improvement)
- Real estate documents
- Insurance (renters and homeowners)
- Warranties or receipts for large home purchases
Vehicle documents are anything related to your car or other vehicles you may have.
Vehicle files can include the following sub-categories:
- Vehicle title
- Repair documents/receipts
The video below gives a visual representation of how to categorize and file papers at home:
Step 3. Use filing cabinets
At this point, you’re probably visualizing the bulky metal filing cabinet at your workplace.
Luckily, home filing cabinets don’t have to clash with your home office decor. Filing cabinets, like the one below, look more like furniture than filing cabinets.
These home filing cabinets still function like a regular filing cabinet—they even lock—just without the drab industrial look.
Regardless of the style you go with, a file cabinet is a tried and true way to keep your documents safe and categorized for when you need them.
Filing cabinets typically have ample room, so if you have a large family, run a business, or just like to hold onto all of your old important documents, a filing cabinet could be your best friend.
Step 4. Use desk drawer file organizers
If you don’t have the space for a filing cabinet, desk drawer organizers can be just as useful for organizing your files.
Desk drawer organizers probably aren’t the best if you have stacks of documents to organize, as they may not have much space for everything.
However, if you just plan to file the papers needed for everyday life, they’re a cost-effective and convenient organization option.
Hanging desk drawer file organizers, like the one below, have customizable folders and hang on the inside of desk drawers.
They’re an excellent way to free up space in your home office, hide your important papers, and stay organized.
At home file organization bills system
Staying on top of paying your bills is part of effectively managing your finances.
If you’re looking for better ways to keep up with your bills, here are our top home filing system ideas!
1. Toss what you don’t need
The first step in organizing your bills is to go through the envelopes, separating them into paid and unpaid bills.
- If a bill is paid, decide if you need to keep it for your records or taxes. Don’t need it? Toss it!
- If a bill is unpaid, write a check and put it in a separate pile.
When organizing your bills, it’s a good idea to file the paid and unpaid bills separately.
2. Date your paper bills
Yes, your bills are already dated, but who wants to search the fine print for due dates?
Writing the due date on the outside of the envelope makes it easier to see what’s due and when and will help you organize your bills later.
3. Decide how you want to organize your bills
Old-school filing cabinets, binders, and folders are all great options for organizing your bills.
If a bulky filing cabinet isn’t your style, a binder is a compact way to separate your bills while still keeping them in one place.
You can also have separate folders for your bills. For example, you could have a folder for car bills, house bills, medical bills, vet bills, etc.
4. Choose a filing system
You can file your bills by categories, in alphabetical order, or by date with the soonest due date near the front of your file.
If you’re not sure which system would work best for you, scroll down to the section below where we cover the 3 basic filing systems in detail.
5. Skip the paper filing by going digital
If you have bills that can be paid online, consider opting for automatic paperless payments.
Many bills can be sent to your email and paid electronically, so to help ease the burden, go as paperless as possible.
This is a great way to “set and forget” some of your bills—just be sure you have enough money in your bank to cover the costs and create a computer folder to store all your bills.
Electronic file organization for home
Home filing system ideas for your electronic files look a little different than paper. Let’s go over the best ways to organize your digital files!
1. Take out the trash
Duplicate files, out-of-date tax-related documents, and other files that aren’t needed can be deleted or archived.
Remember: Don’t delete tax documents unless you’ve had them for at least 3 years.
2. Sort your files
Organizing your computer files might look different at work than it does at home.
If you’re organizing your work computer, categorize files by company or customer name, project, or date.
If you’re organizing your home office computer, you may have digital files for taxes based on year, bills, photos, or other important documents.
a. Categorizing by company
Categorizing your digital files by company or customer names are best for businesses that work on one large (or multiple) projects with a single entity.
This can be a great way for freelancers, contractors, or marketing agencies to keep tabs on project-related documents.
These files can be further broken down into sub categories, such as individual projects.
Files that are organized by company or customer name may look something like this:
All Projects > Name > Category > Subcategory
Example: All Projects > Joe’s Plumbing > Marketing > Ads
b. Categorizing by Project
Sorting computer files by project is ideal for companies that have multiple employees working together on a single project.
Categorizing by project makes it easy to find everything you need related to that project in one place.
Digital files organized by project may look something like this:
All Projects > Project Category > Subcategory > Project Name
Example: All Projects > SEO > Webpages > Joe’s Plumbing
C. Categorizing by date
Organizing computer files by date is best for businesses centered around various timeframes, such as tax and advisory companies.
Computer files that are categorized by date may look something like the following:
All Projects > Year > Month > Day
Example: All Projects > 2022 > 01_January > 24
d. Organizing your home office computer
If you’re organizing the taxes on your home office computer, you’ll want to categorize by year.
Organizing your taxes may look something like this:
Taxes > Year
Example: Taxes > 2022
If you’re categorizing your bills, try the method below:
Bills > Category > Month > Day
Example: Bills > Auto > 03_March > 05
If you’re sorting your photos, follow the order below:
Images > Year > Event > Category
Example: Images > 2010 > Graduation > Grad Party
Who needs a professional organizer when you have YouTube? This video on organizing computer files is a must-watch:
What are the 3 basic filing systems? Ways to file your documents
While there are endless ways you can file your papers to make the system work for you, these 3 basic paper filing systems are usually go-tos.
1. File by subject or category
Filing by subject or category refers to an alphabetical filing system based on a particular subject.
This can be useful if you’re filing a wide range of papers in the same filing system.
For example, you might have a file for Accounts, Bills, Cars, Debts, Home, Medical, and Personal.
Any document related to those subjects would be filed in that folder, regardless of the date or to whom the file belongs.
2. File in alphabetical order
Filing in alphabetical order is the most popular way of organizing important documents at home.
Filing in alphabetical order is as simple as it sounds. With this method, you file your papers according to the letter of the institution’s name, person’s name, or document’s name.
For example, if you have a file folder categorized as “Bills,” you would organize your bills in alphabetical order.
Say you have bills from Capital One, Discover, and American Express. You would organize the bills beginning with American Express, then Capital One, and finally Discover.
3. File in chronological order
Filing in chronological order refers to filing documents according to their date and time.
This can be a useful organizational tool for filing bills and financial statements at home.
For example, if you’re organizing your unpaid bills, the bill with the furthest due date would be placed in the back of the file, while the bill with the closest due date would be placed at the front.
Frequently asked questions
A typical home filing system would include financial documents such as tax returns or bank statements, home and car documents such as insurance and repairs, and identification documents such as birth certificates, social security cards, and passports.
The alphabetical filing system is the most common filing system. The alphabetical filing system files documents in alphabetical order from A to Z.
While the alphabetical filing system is the easiest filing method, it still requires categorizing into sub-categories for better organization.
An ideal filing system is one that allows you to find the files you need easily. You should be able to know exactly where to look for a particular document.
A good filing system also lets you add to your documents without disrupting the original order of your filing system.
For example, if you file in alphabetical order and then by date within that letter, new documents will fall right into place rather than cluttering up your filing system.
It’s a good idea to organize your bills by date and by whether or not they’re paid.
If you hold onto the bills you’ve paid, keep these separate from the unpaid bills and organize them by date. Place the oldest documents near the back of your filing cabinet.
If you’re organizing unpaid bills, place the bills with the nearest due date toward the front of your filing system.
It’s best to organize paperwork alphabetically and by date. Within each letter folder, have your documents start with the most recent paper and end with the oldest or less relevant.
You should keep important documents such as legal identification documents, tax-related documents, home, car, or other property documents, medical records, and financial documents safely filed at home.
These can include tax returns, car titles, wills, bank statements, etc.
Keeping your papers organized in a file folder or filing system can ensure that you have easy access to all of your most important documents.
There are a few ideas for organizing all the files you may have, but the most popular is organizing paperwork in alphabetical order in file cabinets.
Home filing systems don’t have to be messy. By now, you should have the tools you need to organize monthly bills, get rid of your paper piles, and create a filing process that works for you.
Hannah DeMoss is a staff writer for Shoeboxed covering organization and digitization tips for small business owners. Her favorite organization hack is labeling everything in her kitchen cabinets, and she can’t live without her mini label maker machine.
Originally published March 23, 2023. Updated on May 10, 2023.
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