7th House on the Left

File Organization 101

posted by Ashley  /  22 Comments

In honor of Tax Day, I’m going to delve into the most exciting thing ever… filing! I don’t know if you caught that, but that was supposed to come across as sarcastic. Though, I do actually think it’s kind of fun. I’m weird like that. My first “job” when I was about 14 was filing at my grandpa’s office. I say “job” because I’m pretty sure it only lasted a month or so and then I was off to summer camp for four weeks. But, nevertheless, I wanted something to do and even in that short period of time, I think the organization bug got a hold of me.

Home File Organization 101 // 7thhouseontheleft.com

January is normally the time of year where everyone breaks out the new office supplies, warms up the label maker and gets things organized. I’m the same way, but I always end up getting my office in gear around tax season. Going through all of our financial documents and organizing everything for our accountant makes me realize what we could have done better throughout the year (both organizationally and financially), which makes it the perfect time to refresh our filing system.

As of about 5 years ago, I had gobs and gobs of files. I filed ev-er-y-thing. Since then, I’ve learned what I do and don’t need to file, so I created a system to keep a majority of the important documents on my computer. As for what to file and what to throw away, that’s different for everyone, but I’ve boiled it down to the basics for us so when next tax season rolls around, I haven’t collected a lot of unnecessary stuff.

Home File Organization 101 // 7thhouseontheleft.com

Over the past year, I’ve switched a lot of my filing over to digital – especially in the work department. In light of that, this year, I set out to find a smaller, more streamlined storage and organizing solution. During a trip to Target a few weeks ago, I picked up two of these Threshold file holders (they aren’t listed online quite yet, or I’d share a link). Needless to say, I loved the wood and brass combo, but I also liked the fact that they were open on top and I could easily get a glimpse at the files without dealing with a cumbersome flap or lid. When I got them home, I attached a Martha Stewart bookplate label (from Staples) that I spray painted flat black to the end of each file holder. I labeled one box “Home” and the other “Business”.

Home File Organization 101 // 7thhouseontheleft.com

Before I got started on all of the actual organizing, I made a list of all of the different files I needed. (I’ll get to those specifics in a second.) Thinking all of this out on paper before diving in really helped me think through what categories and files I needed as well as what order they should go in – which probably ended up saving some time in the long run. Once all of that was squared away, I gathered my three boxes of multi-colored hanging folders (these from Office Max), scissors and label maker and got to work.

Home File Organization 101 // 7thhouseontheleft.com

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but whenever I make labels for things like files or lots of boxes at once, I type everything out (as much as the label maker allows at one time), then hit the “Print” button to print them all out in one fell swoop. You’ll have to cut between each word by hand rather than with the machine, but you end of saving a lot of label tape. Speaking of label makers, I’ve been using this one for a little over a year, and I love it. There are a bunch of fonts to choose from, and customization options galore – but not to the point where it gets confusing. If you’re looking for a super simple label maker that’s still great, but has less bells and whistles, I also highly recommend this one. Is it sad that I could seriously write a whole post about label makers? Anyway, back to filing! One more thing, because I always get this question, the small pair of scissors are from here.

Home File Organization 101 // 7thhouseontheleft.com

HOME // Every household is different, but here’s a rundown of what we keep in our “Home” filing box…

Blue. The blue files are for all things related to taxes. We have files for our taxes papers for the last five years (one for each year) and one called “Current” for important random papers we need to keep on hand for this year’s taxes come next April. We also have a file for income records.

Green. Green means money. We keep the majority of our finance information in our Home Finance Binder (which is a life saver when it comes to monthly budgeting and for fining info fast) but this is where we keep hard copies of the important things. The file names in this section include Bank Accounts, Donations, Investments, Mortgage, Greg’s School Loan, Paid Off (letters and account information for things that have been paid off) and Retirement.

Yellow. The yellow files are for house and auto. The file names include Home Insurance, Warranties (home warranty papers as well as large purchases like appliances), Auto Insurance and one for each vehicle. Obviously, there’s more home-related things you should keep on hand, like contractors names, serial numbers, maintenance and so on; but we keep all of that info tucked away in our Home Maintenance Binder. I know, I still haven’t blogged about that. Adding that to my list of things to blog about!

Red. The red files are for all things medical. We have a folder for each of us (including Bentley) as well as Insurance (for extra cards and the benefit summaries that come in the mail every year or whenever your plan changes), Paid Medical Bills, Dental, and Vision.

Purple. Finally, the purple files are for miscellaneous important papers and memberships. Our files include: Passports, Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificate, Diplomas, Alumni Info, AAA, Hotel Rewards and Frequent Flyer Miles. The passports, birth certificates and the marriage certificate are better off being kept in a fireproof box – these are just copies.

Home File Organization 101 // 7thhouseontheleft.com

BUSINESS // Eighty percent of my business-related files are kept on my computer. Everything from design client contracts to writing gig agreements are kept on my computer and backed up on a remote disk. That being the case, all I keep in the business file holder are incoming and outgoing expenses.

Green. This section differs for every type of business, but for this category, I have files for Design Projects, Writing Gigs, Advertising, Affiliates, Shop Sales and Awards & Misc.

Blue. This is for all of the outgoing receipts. The file names include Printing, Shipping, Packaging, Mailbox, Office Supplies, Hosting, Legal & Accounting, Donations and Equipment & Misc.

Purple. This section is dedicated to storing and sorting my favorite samples for future projects. Especially with graphic design projects and the store, I tend to collect a hefty amount of paper and printing samples. So, having a place to keep all of my favorite and frequently used ones together really proves to be handy. For this section, I have Paper, Printing, Collateral, Photography, Paint and Fabric.

Home File Organization 101 // 7thhouseontheleft.com

Lastly, I put a few extra files in the back of each box for when I need to add a file down the road. I also put a little pouch filled with extra labels and tabs. That way, next time I need to add a new file, everything is right there at my fingertips.

That about wraps up the rundown of our new, streamlined filing system. Like I mentioned earlier, every household and home-based business is different, so while this isn’t really a “guide” on what to file, hopefully it will be helpful in getting the organizational ball rolling.

Now that our filing system is all organized, it makes me even more excited to move on to other organizing projects around the house – like the neglected foyer closet. That’s what I love about organizing – it’s a beautiful, perfectly labeled vicious cycle.

Q: I’d love to see a glimpse of how you two plan and budget for projects. We both work full-time jobs and have a house that needs a lot of TLC. With our busy schedules, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day or days in the weekend. That being the case, I’d love to see how you guys do it. -Lisa

A: One of the projects we have coming up in the near future is a guest room re-do. When we first got the house, we had no idea what our style was, and the current state of the guest room reflects a mix match of styles and left over furniture from our apartment. In light of that, we’re going to try to bring in the modern rustic style we’re aiming for with a plank wall (more on all of that here). Since this is one of the next projects we have up our sleeves, we’re going to use this as an example…

Planning & Budgeting DIY Projects 101 / 7th House on the Left

STEP 1 // TALK IT OUT. We’ve been talking about doing a plank wall for a long time, but this past weekend we finally sat down to officially plan it out. We usually try to sit down and talk about big projects like this together because A) this makes the lines of communication better when it comes time to actually do the project and B) two heads are better than one. Most of the time, Ash catches something I don’t or vice versa. We make a good team like that.

STEP 2 // MAKE A LIST. CHECK IT TWICE. Once we’ve talked through the project from A to Z, we make two lists: a to-do list and a need list. The to-do lists consists of the major steps we have to accomplish in order to get the project finished. The need list is everything we’re going to need for the project – right down the the very last drill bit. If we come across something we already have (in this case, we already have some stain, polyurethane and brushes on hand), we still write it down so we’ll be sure to double check we have enough before we take a trip to the hardware store.

Planning & Budgeting DIY Projects / 7th House on the Left

STEP 3 // TAKE A PRE-SHOPPING TRIP. With our new “need list” in hand (with notes of what we already have), we like to take a quick pre-shopping trip to our local hardware store to check out the prices on stuff we aren’t sure about (like lumber and specific hardware). In our experience, we’ve learned that if you’re doing a larger project, getting a real price for everything is essential. If we were just buying one or two pieces of lumber, it wouldn’t be a big deal if we were off by a dollar or two. For the plank wall project, we’re buying 20+ pieces, so being off by $2 per board would mean we under- or over-budgeted by $40 – which may make a big difference in our budget for the project. Do that enough times over the course of a project, and things add up fast.

Budgeting DIY Projects / 7th House on the Left

STEP 4 // BUDGET & SCHEDULE. Once step three is done, we have a good gist of how much things are going to cost, and we can get an accurate idea of how much the project total is going to be. That’s when we take a look over in our Finance Binder, get a good idea of what our finances look like and schedule a weekend that’s good for us financially and time-wise. Some bigger projects will take some saving up to do as we make it a point to pay cash for everything. That’s when we make a note in our binder to set aside X number of dollars for X project.

STEP 5 // GET TO WORK. If you’ve got everything properly planned, this really is the easy part – even for larger projects. You already know how much everything is going to cost, you’ve scheduled your time to the best of your ability, and you’ve got all the materials on hand and paid for. Just rock out, get it done and try to have fun.

I (especially) love knowing how things are going to go before I get into them, so planning ahead is great for my sanity. On top of that, if you’ve really done your homework, everything should be relatively stress-free. Sure, doing all the planning takes some time, but it’s great to be able to say, “Hey! I figured this might happen, and I have a fix,” when something goes wrong. It makes the whole process a thousand times less stressful.

Free DIY Worksheet Printable / 7th House on the Left

Ashley here! After realizing our “system” is the same for all of our projects (even when we’re just decorating an area of the house), we came up with a fun and handy “DIY Project Worksheet”. You can download our design for free here. Each sheet prints two worksheets – making them the perfect size for stashing in your purse or folding in your wallet. Happy planning!

Lumber photo from here.


posted by Ashley  /  71 Comments

Over the past year, we’ve had a few requests for a peak into how we organize our finances. When we first got married, I was the one who kept track of the bills and made sure everything was paid on time. After a few months, the fact that I’m not much of a numbers gal started to catch up with me – and our checkbook. Things were fine, but not as smooth as we knew they could be. So, to prevent my brain from overheating too much, Greg took over the actual bill paying and the proverbial heavens have been rejoicing ever since.

Organizing the Finances / 7th House on the Left

Even though Greg is essentially the one who makes sure the bills are paid on time, together, over the last five years of marriage, we’ve finally come up with a system that works for us. We have a sit-down about once a month to go over the budget, set goals and make sure we’re on the right track dollars and cents wise. However, the main thing that keeps our finances in tact is, in the words of Blues Clues, a handy dandy notebook… errr binder. In that case, to answer the question, “How do you organize your finances?”, the best way would be to give you a tour of the binder…

Organizing the Finances / 7th House on the Left

In the front of the binder, we have a small notepad that houses all of our passwords for the online accounts (mortgage, cable, power, etc). It comes in really handy when you’re trying to remember 10+ passwords in your head. One of the benefits of keeping them in a separate small notepad is that if we’re going out of town for a while, we can just stash it away in a safe place – rather than the entire binder. All the information in the binder is pretty much useless without them. We also keep a few stamped envelopes for the few bills we still have to send through the mail. Seriously. Why can’t we just pay everything online?! In the zipper pouch are a few Sharpie pens, white out, and stickers for notes.

Fiance Binder / 7th House on the Left

Being the obsessive organizer that I am, I had to make sure there was a place for absolutely all essential types of financial information we could possibly need on a regular basis. We divided the binder into eight sections: bills, accounts, budget, register, receipts, donations, investments, and taxes.

Monthly Bill Organization / 7th House on the Left

BILLS // In this section, we have a monthly bill check-list where we keep track of the bills we have to pay. In the first column, we have the day of the month the bill is due, followed by the type of bill, a note whether or not it’s an automated payment and then a box to check off when it’s been paid. We’ve been using this system for a while now and it’s very handy and an easy way to get a snapshot of your month-to-month finances at a glance. Click here to download the monthly check-list! Also in the section is a page to keep track of what we call “rogue bills” – like the once-in-a-blue-moon dentist bill.

ACCOUNTS // This is where we keep all of our account numbers on hand. This section was created out of the frustration when we’d call the cable company or the power company and they’d ask for our account number. Rather than fumbling for an old bill or having them look it up with our social security numbers, it’s all right here in this section. Oh, and we have “Mortgage 1” and “Mortgage 2” because we pay a “half-mortgage payment” every two weeks rather than a full payment just once a month. Doing this cuts down on the total interest we end up paying in the long run and essentially pays our mortgage off faster.

BUDGET // In this section, we keep track of the household budget. We also have a few sheets of blank paper for number-crunching or jotting down financial goals we’re wanting to reach in the near or distant future.

DONATIONS // This is where we keep receipts and other information about the donations we make to charitable organizations. It’s nice to have a place for those little slips they give you when you donate something to Good Will.

REGISTER // In the world of debit cards and online bill-paying, we rarely find ourselves using a check book, but there are still one or two annoying bills that refuse to go paperless. When we write a check, we note it in here (including the date, check number, payee, amount) to keep track of what will be coming out of the account. Once the check has cleared, we just put a little check mark beside the check number.

INVESTMENTS // Just like the accounts and donations sections, we keep information about our investments in this section. The most recent balances, account numbers, dividends, etc. are all handy right here.

RECEIPTS // This is where we keep a top-load page protector with important receipts of large purchases – just in case. These particular top-load page protectors are really handy because they have a flap on the top that prevents stuff from falling out – perfect for receipts. At the end of every month or so, I go through the receipts and get rid of the ones we don’t need to hang onto anymore. If it’s something that we need to keep long term – like the dining room table receipt that has to be kept with the warranty information – I end up filing it away.

TAXES // In this section, we have another top-load page protector where we stash W9s, W2s or other important papers that float in throughout the year that we’ll need come tax time. That way, when 2014 rolls around, we’ll have everything ready and waiting for our tax guy (whom we love… dearly).

Finance Binder / 7th House on the Left

This system works pretty well for us – it helps us stay organized and all the information we need is right at our fingertips. How do you guys keep everything straight? Does one person do the bills in your house, or is it a community effort? Talk to us in the comments!

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