The Simplest Paper Filing System


You don’t love filing?

You want to find your household papers but you don’t want to set up an elaborate system?

I find that a little odd, but okay. We all have different interests and abilities, which is what makes this an interesting world.

The simplest filing system would be based on the temporal filing system, and expanding it beyond paid bills.

This is how Annmarie Brogan, co-author of the excellent home organizing book Beyond Tidy, sets up her filing system, since she also does not love spending her time filing. (<< !! still so hard for me to imagine not loving filing!! But I digress.)

To recap the temporal filing system:

Take 12 folders. Label each folder with one month of the year: January, February, March, etc…

Stuff any papers in there, related to that month.

You can put paid bills in there, and also statements. You could even use it as a rudimentary tickler file – got a flyer for an events coming up in December with critical parking information? Stash it in the December folder.

When the year ends, sort through the month folders and pull out everything you want to keep. Write the year on a new folder (or, I just use a big manila envelope). Put everything that you still want to keep into the year folder, discard the rest, and start fresh with your month folders.

Instead of searching through giant random piles of paper, or several, this divides your papers up into twelve sections, organized by month.

Much easier to find things when, instead of one giant random pile (or several giant random piles), you have twelve files, and you can probably guess which month something occurred in, or at least which season of the year. This narrows down your search to three or four folders.

If I got struck by lightning and my brain changed and I no longer loved filing, this is the low-fuss system I would use.

I would combine this with a slow motion recycle bin for things I was undecided about.

I would put things like birth certificates and passports in a fire-safe box (but be sure to air out fire-safe boxes regularly; if it’s too humid in the box, your documents can mildew beyond recognition).

And then I would label a few file folders for more permanent categories like contracts, deeds, insurance policies, etc.

This system will allow you to spend less time filing and still be able to find your papers.

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Wondering how to manage your paper-based or hybrid paper-digital systems? Ask me a question.


Brogan, A. and Limpert, M. (2020) Beyond tidy: declutter your mind and discover the magic of organized living: 8 powerful principles for creating a life you love. New York, NY: Racehorse Publishing.

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