After my Mom, Ruth, was so weakened by cancer (or rather, the cancer treatment) that she couldn’t take care of herself, she had to move into a nursing home. She still had her apartment full of papers waiting to be filed in her latest, complicated, color-coded, cross-referenced filing system. We called it the Ruthie Decimal System.

Mom insisted that No.2 Sis bring boxes of papers from the apartment to the nursing home. I guess it was admirable that Mom wanted to sort her papers before she died, leaving the kids less work to do. Eventually however, her roommate, Bee, got tired of the boxes encroaching on her little space. She asked No.2 Sis to quit bringing the boxes.

A couple of months later, Mom was on her death bed. She hadn’t been responsive for days when I went in to bid her goodbye. “It’s okay to let go, Mom”, I said. “We’ve finished all your filing.” She opened her eyes, turned her head toward me, and gave me a major stink-eye! How did she know I was lying?

I guess I can’t imagine how much she was suffering. Dying a slow, lingering death, without a filing cabinet in sight.

I used to be able to relate to her filing woes, but a few years ago I invented the simplest filing system ever devised. I took two cardboard boxes (see, those empty boxes do come in handy) and hot glued pretty fabric to them. Be careful, hot glue burns. That’s a story for another time. I labeled one box “Tax” and the other “OIP” (other important papers).

filing system

Tax and OIP

When I go through the mail, I put any important papers that are unrelated to taxes into the OIP box. For example, I save insurance statements, check stubs and credit card receipts. At the end of the year, I put it all in a manila envelope with “OIP” and the year written on it. The only time I’ve had to go back and dig through the envelopes is when I’ve sold or refinanced a house.

I put anything that might be needed for taxes, like charitable receipts, bank statements and W2’s, into the Tax box. At the end of the year, I bundle it up and send it to the tax accountant. When it comes back, I put it all in a manila envelope with “Tax” and the year written on it. The only time I’ve had to dig through the “Tax” envelopes is when I got audited by the IRS. It was the very next year that I hired an accountant.

The only other things you might need are a shredder and a recycling bin. The shredder is for any mail that doesn’t need to be kept, but has any personal information on it. You don’t want a  dastardly garbage thief to take advantage of you.

The recycling bin is for all the junk mail, and if you’re like me, you get a lot of it.

Recycling bin and shredder.

Recycling bin and shredder.

The finished manila envelopes can go in a filing cabinet, or in a closet, or in a box under your bed….wherever you have room and will think to look for them if they’re needed.

After Mom died and we really did finish sorting through her papers, we each took one of her color-coded three ring binders (an essential part of the Ruthie Decimal System). I got the “Entertainment” binder. Among other things, it contained half done crossword puzzles, each in a plastic page protector. Why, I ask you, why?

*Shudder* I feel a heavenly stink-eye aimed my way.

Stay tuned…

p.s. I pay all my bills by automatic withdrawal from my bank account. I’ve saved countless amounts in late charges, and I don’t need an “Action” box in my filing system.

p.p.s. I linked this to Cozy Little House.

And Chic on a Shoestring.

And I Heart Organizing.