I’m officially on spring break (yay!) and that means lots of spring cleaning around my apartment. I’m on a mission to get everything organized. Over the rest of the month, I’ll be sharing some of the work I’ve been doing, beginning with today’s post, detailing how I tidied up my home files.

I’ve kept my files in an old Pottery Barn file cabinet that I’ve had since high school. Although it’s a nice piece of furniture, I don’t really need it, and found that a good 75% of it was stuff I did not need to hold onto. I purchased a few things at the office supply store, and got to work shredding up a storm. Keep reading for the full details on what to keep, what to shred, and how to organize your jam-packed box of old papers into a system you can actually use.

A Few Things You’ll Need to Get Started

home file supplies

What to Buy

1. Letter Size Hanging File Folders A pack of 25 should be plenty for most home file systems. There are tons of pretty colors to pick from, which makes filing a little more fun!

2. Letter Size File Folders These are typically sold in a box of 100 and you will probably have a ton of extras. Save these for when new files are needed.

3. Small Plastic Portable File Box Most home file systems only need a small file box. I picked one with a handle so that I can keep it in the closet, but easily pull it out to my desk as needed.

4. Shredder It will be your best friend in this project, will help you safely eliminate any documents with private information, and will be great to stow under your desk for daily shredding as you go through your mail each day.

5. Label Maker I already had a Brother label maker that has been my organizing BFF for about 10 years now and is still going strong. Pick up some extra label tape so you don’t run out, plus most of them need several AA batteries.

Gather, Sort, Purge

1. GATHER It All Up I started out with a file cabinet full of outdated files, but before I could get started, I did a quick sweep through my apartment and gathered up any random boxes of paperwork, bills, and mail, that hadn’t yet made it into my file cabinet.

2. SORT Like Things Together As I said before, most of my stuff was already sorted into categories, but then I had to sort in all of the stuff I had gathered from around the apartment. If your things are in various shoeboxes, you’ll need to first sort them into categories that will go into your file box. Here are the categories I am using (remember to alter to fit your needs):

(Numbered categories are on labels on hanging folder tabs, lettered are sub-categories, labeled on file folders.)

  1. General
    1. Personal Records (passport, social security card, birth certificate, old IDs, etc.)
    2. Home (apartment rental agreement, rental insurance policy, etc.)
    3. Jewelry (or other important item information for insurance purposes)
    4. Checking Account (general information, I shredded all statements because I can access them online)
  2. Car
    1. Car (maintenance records, title, paperwork)
    2. Car Insurance
  3. Health (I keep a hard copy of all current policy coverages and health records)
    1. Medical (vaccination and medical history information)
    2. Dental
    3. Vision (current prescriptions)
    4. Pets (Ruby’s healthcare information and vet records)
  4. Employer (I’m a teacher, so your files will probably be different)
    1. Teaching Certificate
    2. Teaching Contract
    3. Awards
    4. District Information
  5. Education
    1. Grad School (records and letters of rec)
    2. Undergrad (records)
    3. Community College (records)
  6. Investments
    1. Work Sponsored Retirement Program
    2. IRA (my personal IRA)
  7. Taxes (filed returns and tax documents)

Now for the fun part…

3. PURGE, Shred, and Destroy Once everything was sorted, I went through each category and went through the pile with a fine tooth comb. I used this graphic to help guide me through the process. Here are some things I should have shredded and purged a long time ago

  • Tax Returns and Documents You only need to keep the last three years of returns and docs. I had everything dating all the way back to 2003. Wow! That was a lot of shredding!
  • Home Purchase Documents for Homes You No Longer Own I had paperwork on a home purchase I made back in 2007. This stuff is super paper heavy, and was so liberating to get rid of.
  • Checking Account Statements I’m not sure why, but I had some really old ones from organizing I did a few years ago. There’s really no need to keep these because most likely you can access them online or order them if an issue arises. Go paperless and save yourself the hassle or shredding them every month when they arrive in the mail.
  • Credit Card Statements As with checking and savings accounts, you can access all of this information on line. Go paperless! Save a tree and your shredder from more useless work.
  • Paperwork Related to Old Loans If you’ve paid them off, you do not need to retain loan information. If you’re still working on them, you need to keep the loan agreements, but not the bills. Once bills are paid, shred them.
  • Paperwork Related to Old Jobs/Careers Once you no longer work there, unless you need it for applying to a new job, feel free to shred old company reviews, salary statements, paystubs, etc., especially if you’re no longer in that line of work.

Again, please refer to this graphic for more detailed information that may apply to your home file system.

Arrange and Store Files

Once purged, organize all of your files into folders with pretty labels into your portable file box. The great thing about a plastic file box like the one I’m using (link above) is that it’s big enough to hold everything I want to keep on hand, but small enough to fit inside of a cabinet or closet, out of sight until you need it. It’ll also work in any home, and if I ever need to upgrade to a bigger box later, this one was only a $15 investment.

Now, sit back, relax, pour yourself a glass of wine and give yourself a pat on the back! Nice work!

As you can see, Ruby was a huge help in this process…


I hope you enjoyed this first installment of Spring Cleaning ideas! Keep your eye out for more like this throughout the month of April. Also, if there’s an area of your life you’d like to clean and want some tips about, please let me know!