It's taken me years, but I have finally perfected my filing system.
The problem I've found with many systems has been the need to regularly file things. That just doesn't work for me. Instead, my systems allows me to pile things.
My system might be considered more dynamic than most. Using normal filing systems, you might expect to take a document, put it in the appropriate file and then leave it there. Such a system generally eliminates searching for a necessary receipt or tax form. But gone too is all that fun. Life, in my opinion, needs a little hair-pulling, frenetic adventure every now and then.
Instead of carefully placing each and every piece of paper neatly in a clearly marked file or folder (a somewhat time-consuming chore), I merely pile everything I consider worth keeping in my in-bin on my desk. Over the years, I have whittled down the papers I consider necessary to keep. Most things are on-line and in electronic format. Unless there is a questionable charge, there is no need to retain last month's cell phone bill...let alone last year's. Nonetheless, within three or four months, that in-bin manages to be quite full. Thank goodness I homeschool or the additional proliferation of forms and calendars and notices sent home by an institution might be overwhelming.
If I need to find a document, it may take me several minutes to sift through the stack. A traditional filing system may offer immediate gratification in this area but at the expense of several minutes of filing every week. Since I only need to search this pile once or twice a month, I estimate that in time-cost, my system is at worst on par and more likely superior to a traditional system.
Once this pile gets too high for the limited space on my desk top (perhaps quarterly), I will spend about 15 minutes sorting through it. Interestingly, at least three-quarters of that stack will go into the garbage can or recycling bin. The remainder will be relocated to another pile on top of my portable, important-paper keeper. This small filing bin with a carry-handle contains birth certificates, immunizations records, leases and mortgage info, insurance papers, and one or two Mass cards because you never know when you may need one. If the house were on fire, I wouldn't remember to take it, but I like to pretend that I would.
The portable filing bin is right next to two filing boxes which contain less urgent things. The vast bulk of these files are Bill's. And they are very important and can never be thrown out. I stay away from them. The rest are things like tax returns dating to 1987, because some day it just might be really important to prove I made $1500 working at McDonald's when I was in high school.
Note that those papers I moved were not placed inside any of these storage containers. Remember, my system primarily makes use of piling not filing. I will add to this second pile throughout the year as I purge my desk pile. And then generally about once a year, generally about this time once a year as I need to assemble tax documents, I will decide it's time to tackle that pile on the filing bin. And once more I will note with amazement that at least three-quarters of this already purged pile will make it's way to the recycling bin. Once I go through that stack, it's time to put the documents away. But in so doing, I will look at the filed documents that are now about a year old (or older) and will reconsider their value. Quite a bit of them get tossed out too.
This is the one part of my filing system where, perhaps, a traditional system saves time and energy and hair-pulling. This part of my filing system may be an all-day thing. In fact, I started yesterday and, due to multiple interruptions, will have to continue the process today. But in the end, I have the satisfaction of a clean desk and the relief that comes with shedding unwanted clutter pounds. Now, if only I could get Bill to go through his stuff...