Couch Potato Organizing Your Paperwork

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collage of TV, documents spread on floor, file drawer, and file folders.
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It’s January and the start of the tax prep season.  AND I have a pile of papers from before October (the official start of the busy holiday season in my house) to sort, organize and file.

Organizing and filing papers is probably my least favorite organizing job.  It’s kind of like cleaning floors – I love the 2 seconds right after it’s clean, shiny and organized, but after 3 seconds the mess starts again. 

To make organizing my paperwork a little more fun, I do it while watching TV.  I call it Couch Potato Organizing and convince myself that I’m watching TV … and sorting papers.  It’s more motivating than thinking of it as sorting paperwork.

First, grab your pile of papers that need to be filed and plop down in front of the TV.

Turn on your favorite show and start sorting the paper into piles for filing.

papers in a pile on the floor in front of a tv on a stand.

I use the following categories for our family:

Bank – a separate pile for each bank account

Credit card – a separate pile for each credit card

Insurance – home owners or renters, auto, life insurance, medical and dental insurance (you can also keep this information in separate medical and dental files, listed next)

Medical – piled chronologically (if you have family members that have on-going medical issues, you’ll want to create separate piles for each person)

Dental – piled chronologically (if you have family members that have on-going dental issues, like orthodontic care, you’ll want to create separate piles for each person)

Taxes – I have a file for each tax year, including the current one (filed in a prominent, easily accessible file, discussed below)

Home – Mortgage or lease information, property tax information, repair and remodeling information, inspiration ideas (because of our personal situation, I’ll tell you how I handle our home(s) files in more detail below)

Auto – Loan or lease information, recalls, repairs, registration

Utilities – I keep all utilities in one folder and shred them at the end of the year

Other – any other information I file alphabetically in files as general information

papers separated into several different piles in front of the television.
I begin by sorting my big pile of To-Be-Filed papers into individual piles by category. Within each category, I sort chronologically, with the most recent on top.
papers in an open file cabinet drawer with more papers underneath on the wood floor.

Once I have all my papers sorted into individual piles, I carry them to my file drawer and file them away. Since I already have all the categories separated out, this filing goes quickly and you can easily finish it during a commercial so you wont’ miss any of your show if your file cabinet isn’t in your TV room. See we’re really just watching TV and peripherally sorting our paperwork, so there’s no need to miss your show just for some papers.

I keep my “other” category files here in our desk along with the current year’s statements for banking, insurance, medical and dental. I also keep information on home and auto here. When we had a simple life (when was that again?) and only had a mortgage on the house we lived in, I kept the paperwork in this drawer. By only keeping the current year’s statements in this drawer, I’m able to make sure everything I will need reference is easily accessible.

a purple file folder with a 2012 label on it.

Each year I label a new brightly colored plastic file jacket with the year. We keep this jacket in the same spot on our desk and just switch out which jacket lives in that spot each year. Any receipts, statements or paperwork that we’ll need when we file our taxes is stuffed carefully filed in the jacket. The plastic jacket holds up well throughout the year and with the opening on the top of the jacket, it’s easy to file paperwork quickly and neatly.  When it’s time to do the taxes, everything we need is right there. Everything stays neat and contained which makes tax preparation a little bit easier, and every little bit helps when it comes to taxes.

file folders in a clear tub.

After the taxes are completed, we file the tax form along with all supporting documentation in the file jacket.  The file jacket goes into the Tax Returns file box.  It’s easy to access any old tax forms or documentation since everything is right there in the file jacket for each year.  And since the jacket opens on top, it’s easy to quickly thumb through all the paperwork to find what you need.

plastic containers with different labels holding documents on metal shelf in closet.
Crazy white labels are to maintain privacy of personal info.

As a military family, we move about every 3 years. Now that my children are older, living on-base doesn’t always provide access to the best schools. We’ve chosen to live off-base for the past 11 years and 4 assignments. Thanks to the state of the economy, we’re the disheartened happy owners of 2 homes that we are currently renting out AND we are tenants renting the home we live in now. That means I need to keep information on three houses, so rather than the one file I listed above, I have 2 file tubs plus 1 folder. I keep a tub on each of our houses and a folder on our current home.

Paperwork that has grown beyond a file folder is kept in file boxes in the office behind the door (since it’s not as pretty as the rest of our office furniture).  I have a file box for each of our houses.   Originally I had a separate file for every category or issue pertaining to owning and renting the house.  That was too complicated.  We now keep most paperwork in a file for each year.  That makes filing taxes easier.  When we’ve had to find past paperwork, we can usually figure out pretty quickly what year that event occurred.  We do have separate files for renovations we’ve done on each room of our older house.  I highly recommend keeping paint chips for each room.  That way you can quickly find what paint you need for touch ups, even 8 year later.

I have a portable file box that I use to carry our paperwork when we move.  Currently it is holding files on the home that we’re renting and a file for report cards and test scores for each of my children.  These are filed chronologically.  Keeping all the old report cards and standardized test scored has been invaluable as we move to new school districts and I have to fight with the school advocate for my children.

I have box for investment information.

I have a box for credit card statements with their receipts.  Each year I sort through those and copy any payment information I need for taxes.  I look through the receipts and pull out any we would need for insurance purposes.  Then I shred the statements and remaining receipts. 

I keep past tax returns and supporting documentation in a file box in the office.

I keep past year’s bank statements in a file box in the basement.

papers going into a shredder.

The final step is to shred any paperwork or receipts that we don’t need.  I just pull the shredder into the family room and shred during the commercials while watching my favorite show.  It’s a great excuse to watch more than one show, “Sigh.  I have to watch more TV so I can finish my shredding chore.  Sigh.”

To keep with my Couch Potato organizing motivation, I usually break the different areas into separate tasks that take 30-60 minutes.  I schedule the different tasks, like sorting and filing rental house papers, based on the TV shows I want to watch that evening.  That way by the end of the week, I’m caught up on my favorite TV shows AND on my filing. 

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  1. I really needed to read this. Ugh. I am the worst with filing paperwork! Thanks so much for all of this practical info. I am totally bookmarking this page to reference later.

    1. I am right there with you, Kelly. Double ugh. Tackling the paperwork while catching up on your favorite TV show really does make the chore more bearable. Just grab your papers next time you sit down in front of the TV. Enjoy your show.

  2. This looks great, so organized! I so need to do this, my stuff is such a mess right now! Thanks so much for sharing at Wednesday’s Adorned From Above Blog Hop.
    Debi and Charly @ Adorned From Above
    Bethany @ Whistle and Ivy

  3. I would suggest investing in a scanner! I keep a couple of copies of all of our paperwork on CD’s or jump drives in various places, and only keep the paper copy of the last year of our taxes since everything else is scanned in for quick reference!

  4. Great ideas, but have you thought about scanning your important papers so that you don’t have to store and move them? You can set up a similar filing system on your computer and back it up to the cloud so that it always with you.

  5. Thanks for sharing. My home office always in a mess, and I NEED a file cabinet to hold my documents.

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