Annual File Fling My employer is moving our department to another building in a few weeks. And as is the norm for our industry, we’ve accumulated enough manila folders in our central filing system that they really should have their own zip code.

In advance of our move, my colleagues and I (from senior management on down) are taking shifts to comb through every manila folder so we can remove and shred all things obsolete. Of course, this – like any decluttering opportunity – delights me.

As I pared down manila file folders alongside some colleagues on Friday, I recalled that at home, our Annual File Fling is just around the corner. Before your eyes glaze over, consider how pleasant it is to easily find the receipts, invoices, and documents you need – from years past or present – on a moment’s notice.

For this project you’ll need:

  • Motivation and a hot beverage – current favorite: Ghirardelli Drinking Chocolate
  • File cabinet or other contraption that holds hanging file folders
  • Set of hanging file folders with labels
  • One 12-pocket month-by-month accordion file
  • Your favorite pen

Categorize your existing documents

Before you start filing, categorize your existing documents and sort them into separate piles. You’ll likely identify the following categories for file folders: auto records, bank statements, credit card statements, insurance forms, membership contracts, paid bills, tax forms, etc.

Hint: If you have accounts at two+ banks, or if you have two+ credit cards, cars, etc., you may want separate file folders for each bank, credit card, car, etc.

Pare down your documents and then file, file, file

Label your hanging file folders so that each pile of documents has its own folder. Now comes the fun part! Go through your categorized documents (except receipts) and identify what should be kept, and what’s recyclable or shred-worthy. Then file the “keep” documents in their respective labeled hanging file folders.

Hint: Not sure what to keep, recycle, or shred? Generally speaking, anything involving finances or taxes (i.e. bank statements, credit card statements, investment records, W-2s, etc.) should be kept for seven years. Mortgage or loan papers, titles, and service records should be kept for as long as you own the property, plus seven years. Deeds, titles, mortgage papers, contracts, or anything that you will keep forever (i.e. birth, death, or marriage certificates; military documents; patents and copyrights) should always be kept in a safe deposit box.

Anything that has your personal information on it should be shredded.

Receipts can be filed in your month-by-month accordion file. Store this accordion file in or near your file cabinet for easy use throughout the year.

And you’re finito!

And now for the Annual File Fling

The actual Annual File Fling adventure on which the hubster and I will soon embark is even easier! In early January, grab a no-nonsense accordion file (no labels or individual pockets needed). Flip through your hanging files, removing any Calendar Year 2009 documents that need to be kept for tax purposes, and place them in the plain accordion file labeled “Calendar Year 2009.” Store it someplace safe and dry.

Your hanging file folders should now be relatively empty and ready for use in 2010. Stick to your new filing system, and next year at this time repeat the file purge and File Fling process.

Hint: Put an Annual File Fling reminder on your electronic calendar for late December/early January, and you’re all set!

*Photo by Jonathan Eggers