Organizing Paper Records


Current file system

When we lived in the house, I had file drawer that was 55 cm deep. It was mostly full, and I went through it yearly to discard outdated stuff. When I moved, I was able to get rid of a lot of house related papers including my mortgage repayment instructions and the warranties for the house appliances. In the photo is the current file box, and an envelope for previous tax records.

Here is the system: each topic gets a hanging folder, and for many subjects that is all that is needed.  The automobile records don’t need any more organization. I toss in the maintenance receipts, the insurance coverage documents as they accumulate. During my yearly purge, I take out the outdated ones. Some topics need a bit more organization. The Money folder has three subdivisions (the manila colored folders): one for the credit card, one for the credit union accounts and one for retirement accounts.

The folder with my name has things like my birth certificate, my nursing license, my current item count. I used to have a folder for each of the kids with subdivisions of things like school, medical history, birth certificates and social security cards. As each child has turned twenty-one, I have given the contents of the folder to the young adult, who must then manage his or her own papers.

You may notice a folder titled Death. This folder holds my will, my Health Care Power of Attorney, my Do Not Resuscitate form, a brief set of instructions of what to do with my body and music I would like played at my memorial service. It also contains a letter to my children with money information, how to access the accounts. This letter I update each year, usually around New Year’s Day. Each of my children knows where this information is kept, so they can find it easily when I die.

Some of you will argue for a safe deposit box, or a fire-proof box to keep at home. If you desire these things, go right ahead. I have found I have no need for my marriage license or divorce degree, but they are available at the county courthouse, should I ever need a copy. I have been able to get new copies of documents like a Passport or a birth certificate, when they were destroyed by fire. I mostly hold onto papers that I might need to reference in the coming year or two.

The tax papers I save for seven years. When I file a new year, I destroy the oldest one.

I don’t think I will ever get rid of all papers–I like writing in a paper journal, I find balancing my checkbook easier with a paper statement of the account. But I do feel a bit lighter each time I recognize I no longer need something.

9 thoughts on “Organizing Paper Records

  1. Maggie says:

    Seriously love the title ‘Death’ on folder containing the will, power of attorney, etc.
    I am relabeling mine the minute I get home. Make such good sense


  2. Elizabeth says:

    Absolutely love this. Love the death folder–my dad did the same thing and gave me a copy of all of everything in a neat red folder, labelled “what to do when I die.” I love the idea of a folder with names for each person. We have all of that personal stuff in one “legal” folder but it’s confusing. Our system is pretty similar to yours, but your just looks a lot calmer!
    Question: I recently went through all photos to create a “best of “paper album of my personal favorites. I like having my own small collection like this, in a form I can hold and page through. How do you feel about photos?


    • Fawn says:

      Elizabeth, it seems you are always 2 steps ahead of me. The photo post is coming soon. Good for your dad giving you all the paperwork you need. I think it is one of the kindest things we can do for our loved ones, so they are not struggling to find needed papers in the worst of their grief.


  3. LM Radja says:

    I like your style!! You gave me a great idea regarding my kids paperwork – I don’t know WHY I thought I needed to keep it for them.


  4. Linda says:

    I love the death folder. Our wills, last wishes, etc. are in a fire proof box in our closet. Our system is pretty similar to yours, but in a small file cabinet. Great post!


  5. Kim says:

    How long do you keep paper bank statements? Do you keep this file box in your black cabinet that you showed us in your 78 item post? Thank you for such an interesting and helpful post.


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