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Keeping your monthly documents organized

It's important to keep some records: bank statements, bills, tax information, etc.  One can never tell when one will need those documents.  Like most people, I had for most of my life used hanging file folders in an old filing cabinet.  The thing got to be full to bursting, and mostly full of crap.  And the chore of de-cluttering it became so onerous that I just kept putting it off, which only made matters worse.

Then my dad died.  And while I was clearing out the family house, I discovered his way of tracking things, and was surprised to see how effective and efficient it was.  Since I was already in clearing-away-the-crap mode, I took some time to rearrange my own files and apply his approach.  Works like gangbusters.  So I thought I'd share it.

My dad's method is based on two things: using envelopes instead of folders, and distinguishing groups of items by date.  I've tweaked things a bit to accommodate the occasional weird items, but the basics remain.

Simple envelopes go far to stay organized.
I bought 500 No. 10 (i.e. standard business size) envelopes; they're quite cheap, especially in bulk.  Then I keep each year's bills/statements/etc for each source in its own envelope.  One for the phone, another for water, a third for TV, and so on.  I write the source and year on the short edge of each envelope.

I also keep one year's stuff, just in case.  At the end of each year, I toss stuff that's more than a year old.  This takes less than an hour, which is definitely not an onerous chore.  Because of the information involved, I shred the old stuff.  But a fireplace or wood-burning stove works just as well.  Since I keep a year's worth of stuff, I use elastics to pair up last year's and this year's envelopes for each source.

Some organizations use larger envelopes when they send stuff and they just fold the paperwork twice.  And some organizations - like insurance companies - send 'way more paper for even the slightest change than they really should.  That's why I also have the larger brown envelopes.

All these envelopes fit easily in one of my desk drawers, so they're out of the way and I can live free of hanging files and folders.  And it takes, I've found, just a few seconds to track down whatever envelope I need.

Simple cardboard boxes hold the big stuff.
Now, of course this doesn't cover everything.  Some things are just too voluminous to fold up into an envelope.  For those very few things, I just bought a few, thin Kassett cardboard file boxes from Ikea. They have fold-over lids and elastics to keep them closed.  I got them all in black cuz, like, I'm cool.  Those yellow tabs at the bottom of each are 2"x0.5" post-its on which I wrote what stuff goes in that box.  Again, remembering that I now purge old stuff religiously every year, these boxes are big enough to do the job, much safer than hanging files, and more discrete too.

One box is for our new house, another is for financial stuff and insurance, and so on.

How you decide to partition your records is up to you.  I would advise you to keep track of how your using the envelopes for a while.  Take note of situations in which this method is slowing you down or adding to your meta work.  Those would be bad things.  If you notice that this is happening, schedule some time to play around with how you use the envelopes.  Try to identify exactly what it is that's slowing you down, then focus on finding a way to fix it.

All I know is that this envelope trick of my dad's has really been great for me.  Your mileage may vary.

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