While both cloud and digital file storage options have become the most popular methods of maintaining records, it's still prudent to continue to preserve important paper files and hard copies. As a general rule, you should keep tax returns indefinitely and maintain supporting documents and other important papers for at least three to five years.
Given that an abundance of paper can easily pile up over the years, it's essential to store your files properly to avoid mountains of clutter. Here are several file storage suggestions and tips to help you keep your important documents neatly organized and stored.
Choose a File Storage System
Use hard cover binders for a convenient and versatile way to store your files. Available in a variety of colors and sizes, they can easily be customized to fit your personal filing system. Use a hole puncher to store documents with a minimum amount of effort, or organize them with clear pockets inside the binder. Once your papers are collected in binders, you can easily organize them on shelves in the office, a room at home, or even a closet.
Hanging folders also give you easy access to your files and a filing cabinet is the classic way to store hanging folders. They are available in a variety of finishes, ranging from the traditional to the decorative. They also can be locked if you need to protect your documents. You'll find magazine racks and hanging file systems that install easily on walls or inside closets and storage rooms.
Another idea is to set up bins along a series of shelves and label them to identify the contents. Keep in mind that it can be difficult to keep the papers organized once they're in the bin. If it falls off the shelf or too many people have access to the bins, it can create chaos where you want organization.
Consolidate Your Categories
It can be difficult to determine what to keep when you're setting up a file storage system. When you first receive a file or other document, choose one of these options:
1. Refer it to the correct department or individual.
2. Take action, whether it's paying a bill, placing an order or calling a customer.
3. File it away for storage or future reference.
4. Throw it away. Don’t save junk mail to read later; just put it in the recycling bin instead to eliminate the clutter immediately.
Don’t let papers linger on your desk for too long. Keep an inbox, but make it a point to go through the box regularly and follow the rules and any policies and procedures for handling paper. When you deal with papers immediately, you reduce stress and avoid creating a stockpile that you'll have to file later.
Create Color Schemes
An easy way to keep on top of your filing system is to use color-coded stickers to differentiate between different departments, financial responsibilities or other tasks. Keep a list of the coding system, so you know at a glance which folder belongs where in your storage system. A color list also helps others know what each sticker means, making the filing system easier for others to use. Purchase colored stickers or use file folders with colored tabs to organize your files.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when trying to update your office and file away your clutter is to reduce the mess and keep things simple. Create an easy to maintain file storage system, and be sure to stick to that system. Allow only the fewest number of people access to the system to minimize mistakes and misfiled papers in the long run.
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