3 tips for organizing your personal files – there IS such a thing as being over-organized

I love organizing things. Yes, I’m that person. My closet is organized by season and by colour. I keep all our warranties in 2 magazine holders on the bookshelf. Even my jewelry is organized.

Are you over-organized?

But I was asked recently: is there such a thing as being too organized? And it was asked as a joke, to be honest.

But you can be over-organized, for sure. A good thing taken too far is a bad thing, and that’s true from chocolate to filing.

When I was working with law firms, we tried to file everything to cover all possible circumstances. Was it a letter? LETTERS file. Was it a memo? MEMOS file. Was it a LETTER MEMO included as a part of an EMAIL? *

What’s wrong with that?

The problem is that those categories overlap.

Tip #1 – No category overlaps

In filing, the first tip is never having an overlap. Put another way, a thing cannot be a letter and a memo because that means there will be more than one place to find it. Think of your car keys. Where do they go at the end of the day? There should be only one place or you’re hunting by all your doors, in your jeans and your gym bag.

Same too with paper files. You don’t need to get super fancy and you sure don’t need to file everything. Nobody likes filing, even me, so filing needs to be fast and efficient, and you must be able to find it once you’ve filed it.

Tip #2 – First place that comes to mind, always

The second tip with filing is: always file in the first place you think of. The trick is not spending too much brain power trying to remember what definitions you assigned your categories, so make them distinct, e.g., HOUSE & GARDEN.

Tip #3 – Bigger categories to hold all your stuff

If I was organizing your home files, I’d do it in the following 10 categories, by year**:

  • HOUSE & GARDEN – everything house-related, except house purchasing, including insurance
  • MOTOR VEHICLES – everything to do with all motor vehicles, including insurance
  • SCHOOLS – everything related to school for the kids, all in one file if they are attending the same schools
  • MORTGAGE – There’s a chance you’re going to need to look at the history of payments on your home, so having a mortgage file separate from HOUSE & GARDEN is handy
  • UTILITIES – everything utilities, from phone to heating. Some people like having separate files for PHONE / ELECTRICITY / GAS / etc. etc. but in my view that’s too many places to file things, or over-organizing
  • TAXES – everything for the current taxation year, including last year’s return, tax receipts, charitable donations, etc. (BTW – The CRA only requires you to hold SIX years’ worth of old personal taxes, so shred the 1980s returns already.)
  • PERSONAL – Do you like keeping birthday cards? This is good spot for them. Otherwise, recycle.
  • FINANCIALS – you get the idea: all financial statements go here: bank statements, credit cards, TFSA statements
  • RRSPs – The only reason I think this warrants a separate category is that we all hit RRSP season in late February and need to grab all that paperwork at once, if we haven’t been keeping track monthly like they tell us to do
  • MEDICAL – Keep everything medically related, for your lifetime. I will write another blog post about this, but it helps to have a lifetime medical history on hand for reference in case you’re asked to fill out one of those long medical forms that asks questions about your medical history using the distressing word ever, such as Have you ever had a concussion? 

Signs of over-organizing

Being over-organized is spending time filing things you’ll never need to see again. I don’t file receipts (unless they’re related to a warranty, or I’m returning things). If it’s cleared my accounts, a receipt goes in the shredder.

Here are some categories you don’t need:

  • Clothing
  • Gas bills
  • Insurance
  • Rent
  • Pets
  • Filing by name, as in Linda’s Car

What do you think? Please drop me a line in the comments below!


* Answer: We’d copy for each of those files: one apiece for LETTER, MEMO, & CORRESPONDENCE and file accordingly. Law firm lawyers pay a large amount of money to a team of legal assistants and law clerks to do the filing on their behalf, and then they pay extraordinary amounts in office supplies, long term storage costs, and industrial shredding costs. You don’t want to do this, unless you’ve got these in your basement and some serious full time home support. (In which case, I’m coming to YOU for tips.)


Rolling filing cabinets. Photo credit: By Ajuntament de Palafrugell ([1]) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

** Yes, by year. Filing is so loathsome that there’s a tendency not to tackle it for years, so I think an annual box of files is a good way to keep things under control. I’ve been doing this for a decade, and I like being able to put my hands on old paperwork within 10 minutes. It sure impresses my husband.


Filing – it’s enough to make anyone turn to drink. Credit: Gratisography.



About The Author

Entrepreneur. Blogger. Genealogist. Volunteer.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *