Simplify the Season : Organize Your Paperwork

Simplified Filing Station via Clean Mama

A great way to simplify things before life gets busy is to finish up any looming projects.  My looming project was my file cabinet.  I’ve been working on and off on it for the last two months and finally finished it up yesterday and it feels so great to have it completed.  Your project might be something completely un-paper related, but if you have been wanting to create a grown-up file cabinet or file your 2013 papers, now is the time to do it.  The timing is perfect – categorize, file, and shred.  Pretty simple, but time-consuming.  I’m so excited to go into 2014 with a plan for the files, bills, and paper clutter.

Part of the reason this project took me so long is that I couldn’t decide on what categories I’d use and how I’d work the cabinet itself.  So after some careful consideration, list making and planning I came up with a simple system that works for us.  I’m sharing it today in case your brain processes like mine and it’s helpful for you.

Close Up File Cabinet via Clean Mama

Here’s how I went from accordion files to grown up file cabinet (and you can too!):

Bought a large file cabinet – you might already have a file cabinet, I was using accordion files (gasp!)

Wrote down all of the possible categories and subcategories and then narrowed and combined

Bought 5 colors of hanging file folders

Used this label maker to make the folder labels

Filed, filed, filed, and filed some more.

Categories 101

I have oodles of paper ideas on my  organize: paper Pinterest page if you are interested in perusing that too.  But here are my categories and how I broke them down.

HOME + AUTO (together in the file cabinet, but separate subcategories)

File Folder Organization via Clean mama

Then I broke down the categories into specific SUBCATEGORIES.   The thing that I love about how I filed these is that I alphabetized the subcategories but I kept each subcategory in line so if I add or take away it won’t mess up the system.

My subcategories look like this (I’ll give examples of money and taxes – it’s very important to break everything down into specifics – each account gets its own folder:


January-December – separate file for each month for the year

bank account : bank name (separate file for each account)

credit card : credit card name (separate file for each account)

loan : loan name (separate file for each account)

paid off


paystubs : person (separate file for each account)

retirement : person (separate file for each account)

tax : deductions

tax: donations

tax : expenses

tax return : 2013 – 2008 – separate folder for each year


one for each family member

medical : dental

medical : prescriptions

medical : vision

paid : doctors’ bills


insurance : accidents

insurance : autos

insurance : homeowners

insurance : life

insurance : personal articles


home : address

home : improvements

home : landscaping

home : mortgage

home : warranties


auto : service

auto : one for each car


licenses : one for each



Files via Clean Mama

I used a piece of paper to jot down my ideas as I was working through this, but after working through the system I thought it would be more FUN to have a printable to work with so here’s a very simple one if you’d like to jot down filing ideas and categories as you work through this.

File It Printable via Clean Mama

Go here to grab the freebie File It printable.


It sounds so easy, and on the screen it is, but in real life it can be daunting and overwhelming.  I am so happy to have this corner of my office and life working in a functioning and helpful system.  The key to organization is that it should make things EASIER.  If you are organizing something purely based on looks it’ll look great and you can take some nice pictures, but it has to be workable for your life and family.  This filing system is going to save us TIME, ENERGY, and it will make paying bills and doing taxes EASIER.  That’s an organizing project WIN.

How Long Should I Keep It For - Clean Mama

If you haven’t seen this post with the FREE How Long Should I Keep It For? printable, go grab it if you are working through your files and need a quick (and cute) reference sheet!  (You’ll also see that I officially started this project at the beginning of August!)

I also use The Simplified Life Kit and The Simplified Life Budget + Bill Pay Kit in my homekeeping notebook and for keeping on top of the budget and bills (seen pictured in the wall organizer).  You can see them in my shop!



This post is part of a series designed to help you Simplify the Season. You can see all the posts here.

Simplify the Season via Clean Mama


  1. I’m curious what you put in the January-December money folders?

    • Hi Annmarie!
      I just put the paid bill stubs for each month for the current year in those spots – then at the end of the year I can shred them.
      xo, Becky

      • Hi Becky – just wondering, if the paid bill stubs go in the January-December folders, what goes in the Bill Account folders? I am in the process of setting up this system which is very easy to understand and implement. The All Bill Account folders/January-December folders is the only component I am not clear about. I really enjoy your posts and thank you very much for sharing all of your wonderful organizational ideas. Regards!

    • I was wondering where you purchased the wooden Stoll next to your filing cabinet?

  2. Hi Becky, I just want to thank you. With your photos and tricks, I will try to make my own filling station! Xo

  3. Evelyn Kelly says:

    In my home paper documents are the most cluttered things. Becky…you have provided wonderful information to organise my documents. I am glad to come across your blog. Thank you so much for sharing this post with us.

  4. I’m curious how many sets/boxes of the hanging file folders you ended up needing? I want to get our office organized once and for all and love your way of doing it! Thanks for sharing!

    • Good question! I bought 5 boxes of 25 file folders (125 total!) and I have extras (shown in the file cabinet – I put all of them in).
      xo, Becky

  5. Hi,
    The way you organize you organize your filing system truly amazes me. I let my husband organize ours and its truly chaotic! I think tomorrow I will be following yours
    Thank you!

  6. HI. This would work but I also own a trucking business where we have expenses like fuel, scales, tolls, and parts and repairs. Could you please help me

  7. Pamelotta says:

    Just wondering where you file your personal stuff. I have things like all of my family member’s important information and letters and information on the compassion child we sponsor and random things that pertain to different members of our family. Do you have a separate place for personal stuff?

  8. Pamelotta says:

    I think I may have found the answer to my own question when I looked at your home home keeping binder.

  9. Hello just wondering where you purchased the wooden stool by your filing cabinet?

  10. Love, love, love it! Where did you purchase your wall files? I’ve seen them at pottery barn and other places, but really love the look of yours. Thanks for the organized inspiration and I hope to incorporate even just half of some of your ideas.

  11. Lauren Kleiman says:

    I ordered the hanging files from amazon but the tabs were clear not colored. In the description on amazon they say they are colored but when they arrived they are clear. Where did you order your files from because I can’t seem to find the colored tabs anywhere?

  12. Where did you get the binder for your papers?

  13. Sharon High says:

    Love your system. Do you mind sharing with us your subcategories for medical, home and auto also?


  14. Hi Becky,
    I love the look of your system and I am going to revamp my file cabinet following your organization… Do you only use hanging files in your cabinet, or do you put manilla folders inside of the hanging files as needed? I’m wondering whether using those too would save some space (less bulky?).

    I’m also curious – do you have a folder for each utility and similar accounts such as Electric, Water, Trash Collection, Cable, Cell Phone, etc or do you just collect all of those statements in the monthly folders? I currently have a folder for each account and am not sure how you tackle that type of filing.

  15. Hi! Love your blog, just got back from the Office Supply store with my file folders to get my office in order! I have a question about the filing. So for example, what do you do with the 2013 items after you have filed your taxes? For example the 1-3 year and the up to 7 year items? Do you label it with the year and store it away in a storage box? I see you keep the previous tax years in your file cabinet, but like what about checkbook ledgers and business documents? My husband has a full time job and then a business on the side that I handle all of the paperwork for. I am just trying to figure out what to do with it/store it after the year is over and the taxes have been done. I feel like I should hang on the items for at least a few years in case something comes up. Apologize for the lengthy question, trying to get this stuff in order at the beginning of the year! 🙂

  16. Hello, I am followin your advice and have created the color system and categories as shown.

    I have one question. So many organizers have Active and Resource as the two areas of folders.

    Do you have another file for things like, kids report cards, diplomas, birth certificates, appliance manuals , things you dont use often but need to keep to refer to at times. Birth certificates, etc. , i love the broad categories by color and am wondering how you would categorize the Resource files you dont use day to day.

    Thank you

    • I group kids’ papers by year for each kid in a filing cabinet. Then in the upper cabinet each household member gets their own ‘important paper file’.

  17. Becky–

    I am almost finished with implementing your file system and love it. Two questions…do you file HEALTH insurance with insurance, medical or your home binder? Also, where do you keep a home inventory list?

  18. Hi CleanMama!

    I’m in the process of creating this filing system for my home. A question, do you only use hanging files or do you use Manila folders as well that are color coded like the hanging files?

    Thanks so much!

  19. Hi Becky! I’m really digging the font you used for your file tabs. Did you print them from the computer or used your label maker? My label maker only prints in caps I believe

  20. Hi I love this idea. Could you tell me where you boat the cabinet from and if it has the built in edges for the files to hang on or did you put them in yourself? If so how did you did this and what did you do

  21. Hi, I’m currently doing a new home office, how do you organise stationery like envelopes etc?

  22. Hi – I love your system! I used your ‘file’ it printable to come up with my system and hopefully it will work. I don’t have a business so I only have 4 categories {I have an auto section that works great for me so far} but it was the only one. 🙂 I’ve already had the filing folders and it was 4 colors so I’m trying. I actually did two months per folder for the money section that I also put the bank statements and credit card statements in, when I come to January 2018, January 2017 is shredded. Make Sense? My question for you is where do you file 401 Quarterly statements and bills/invoices you like to keep for more that one year? For example we like to keep gas and electric bills to do a yearly comparison.

  23. Sorry one more question….do you keep things like marriage certificates, wills, birth certificates in a certain place. I have mine in a fire proof safe but wondering if I should make copies for an Emergency Binder? Thanks!

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