Can't find your passport? The warranty for your camera? The receipt for those too-small Jimmy Choos? Organized papers means less anxiety, less clutter and more control. Plus, you'll never have to keep shoes you don't want just because you couldn't find the receipt. Unless you already have a system that's at least 75 percent effective, I recommend starting from scratch.
Pick the Must-Haves
Determine what's critical, instead of trying to figure out what to get rid of, and change your mind-set. Suddenly, filing is not about storage but about finding what you need when you need it. Build your system around the pieces of paper are you often looking for, worried about or constantly referring to, whether it's medical records, take-out menus or school forms.
Weed Out the Maybes
Lug all your papers to one central location (any space with a large work surface will do) and sort them, one by one, into filing folders. Scratch passive headers like "Bills Due" in favor of hard-to-ignore names like "Maintain Good Credit."
Next, divide the folders into three to five broad categories. For example: Finance (receipts, investment and bank statements), Family (vital documents; medical, education and career records), Lifestyle (travel plans, hobby info, articles of interest). Traditional A-to-Z systems can be confusing because related files often end up under different letters.
One reason people fail to file is that it's boring. Try adding zip to your system.
How long should you hold on to receipts, records, and date books? Get Julie's special chart.
From the September 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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