5 of the Best Paper Filing Systems That Actually Work
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
It doesn’t matter how often you organize paper, it’ll always come back. Paper is one of those small, seemingly insignificant things that pile up before we even know it’s becoming a problem. But what’s the best way to organize it? There are so many paper filing systems, and each has its pros and cons.
What matters most is picking the one that works best for you and the amount of paper you deal with. You may need one system for work and another for personal stuff.
That’s why I wanted to share a few of the best paper filing systems that actually work. You may tweak them to your unique needs and that’s fine. But give them a read, test them out, and see which one works best for you.
Here are 5 of the best paper filing systems that work
#1 — Vertical filing storage
Perhaps the most talked about type of paper storage is vertical filing systems. Vertical space in organizing is something few people know how to tap into. As professionals, it’s our job to show you how to amplify your space for maximum results.
Vertical storage, especially for paper, is perfect for those who don’t deal with a lot of it. It’s also a great option for those who need most of their paper at arm’s length. The size and width of the storage unit you purchase is up to you. But it’s important to know how much you’ll need before buying.
There are three-tier or five-tier units that are the most popular. If you have the wall space, you can build a custom storage system that houses everything you need. But for most people, a narrow unit with three or five folders is plenty.
Before choosing vertical storage, consider how much paper you deal with daily and whether you need certain things within easy reach.
#2 — Binders
Despite their bulkiness, binders are becoming a go-to for people to organize and manage their paperwork. This is mainly because binders are easy to store away. Instead of buying something like a filing cabinet or vertical unit you can add the binder to an already owned bookshelf.
People who organize papers with binders may create one for each member of the family. Or they may have one for all household policies and another for medical records. How many binders you use is, again, up to you.
For example, binders are great for organizing emergency paperwork. It’s something you can grab in a pinch and if you keep it up-to-date you’ll be able to avoid a lot of complications. We wrote about the perfect emergency binder and what to keep in it here.
Binders make for a great paper filing system because they’re easy to update and take up less room.
#3 — Digital filing and storage
In this digital age, it may seem like we’re collecting less paper... especially with most bills being paid online. But paper still enters our homes and if you don’t stay on top of it, you’ll be drowning in it before you know what hit you.
If you’re looking to rid yourself of as much paper as possible, digitizing what you have may be your best bet. The improvements in technology have made storing documents online easier and more accessible. Gone are the days of needing a scanner. While it’s still the best product for a seamless process, there’s more you can do to get things online.
Smartphones can send scans to your email. You can save invoices as PDFs and file them into a folder. You can also buy niche appliances like a ScanSnap to scan receipts and other documents.
While you still need to keep hard copies of certain items like social security cards, marriage licenses, and tax records, digital filing has made it easier to get a handle on how much paper you deal with. So long as you organize your folders well, you’ll be able to find whatever you need.
#4 — KonMari™ Method
Chances are you know who Marie Kondo is. Or you at least heard her name from someone. Her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, revolutionized organizing and decluttering. Many professionals use her methods in a variety of ways.
One category in her decluttering hierarchy includes paper. She encourages you to gather everything paper related from books to magazines, receipts, manuals, and more. You then separate them into three piles:
Needs Attention (bills, forms to sign, etc.)
Short-term documents (tax records, warranties, etc.)
Indefinite documents (birth/death certificates, social security cards, etc.)
Three categories may not be enough for everything you have, but you can build sub-categories off of these. What Marie Kondo focuses on is getting you to understand how long you should hang on to paperwork.
Anything in the “Needs Attention” category should be dealt with as soon as possible. Short-term documents should be updated or recycled after their expiration dates. And indefinite documents can be stored in either a binder or filing cabinet.
If you choose the KonMari™ Method of paper filing, it’s important to make it a habit of separating paper at least once a week. This will help you stay on top of it.
#5 — Good old-fashioned filing cabinet
Finally, a paper filing system that never goes out of style is a good old-fashioned filing cabinet. These are still used in many offices today, like law firms, archives, corporations, and medical facilities. This is because they need to save many files and records.
If you have a lot of paper at home, you may benefit from buying a small filing cabinet. Out of all the methods listed above, they’re the safest. They’re fire and waterproof and most come with locking mechanisms.
Filing cabinets give you a ton of space to work with. So if you prefer a different folder for every single type of paperwork, you have that ability to do so. But it’s important to label folders, as this will help you find them faster when searching through the drawer.
If you don’t want a huge, weighted cabinet, you can always buy a small filing box (cardboard or lock box). The size of the cabinet really depends on how much paper you have and how you plan on filing it.
Before buying one, it might serve you to go through all your paperwork. Declutter what you no longer need and create a list of folders you want to make. This will help you determine the size of the filing cabinet you’ll need.
When it comes to organizing paper, you may need to try a few different methods before you land on the one that suits you best. As I mentioned earlier, you may also need one method for the office and another for your home.
These five options are the best to start out with. They will help you pare down your paperwork by really thinking about what you need. The first step in any organizing project is eliminating the unnecessary. Once you’ve done that, you can then trial-run some methods.
If you’re drowning in paper clutter and not sure which of these storage ideas will work for you, contact me today. I believe everyone has different organizing needs. My job is to help you find the one that transforms your space and helps you feel calmer and more in control. So reach out today and let me know what you’re having trouble with.
Do you find it impossible to keep up with paper clutter? Do you feel confident in your filing system? What’s one thing you think you need to improve with your paper organization?