Thursday 25 September 2008

How to review and archive your household filing in one hour a year

This is the third and final part of my series explaining how I've adapted David Allen's Getting Things Done principles to deal with my household paperwork.  (If you're starting out, see this post to find out how it took me just one day to get to a state where it only takes a minute a day plus an hour a year to maintain.)
Because my system works in whole years, it makes sense to do my housekeeping tasks sometime in January.  I find a couple of weeks after New Year works for me, but if you want to be super-diligent and get it out of the way on January 1st then good for you!
The steps for moving the filing and archiving system on each year are pretty simple:
1. Bin the oldest year’s paperwork
2. Demote the oldest ‘single year’ archive to the “---- and older” archive
3. Remove anything older than last year from the ‘current’ filing into the folder we just freed up
I like to start with what feels like the most meaningful part of this job which is to thin out my ‘current’ filing system, even though that’s really part of step 3.  All I do is go through each of the file folders in my filing box and take out anything dated earlier than last year, abbreviated to Y-2.  (So when I next do this in January 2009, I’ll be removing all the 2007 content.)  If something still has day-to-day relevance now then it stays in the file e.g. an appliance warranty that doesn’t expire until next year.  I also take the opportunity to get rid of some newer items I’ve since realised don’t need to be kept, like the quote for the decorating work I decided not to go ahead with anyway.  Anything I know I’ll never need again gets shredded or binned immediately, and whatever is left becomes the Y-2 pile, so in this case the 2007 pile.
All my examples here are based on my seven-year retention with my oldest archive housing three years, so you’ll need to adjust for the configuration you’re working with.
Now I need a place to put the 2007 pile – but because I’m demoting my oldest ‘single year’ archive that means I don’t need an extra box file.  Here’s what would happen to my archive box files in 2009:
Old label New Label
2003 and before 2004 and before
2004 2007
2005 2005
2006 2006
I highlighted the 2004 to 2007 change because this is where the new 2007 pile goes.  So the 2004 contents go on the floor (yep, they get temporarily relegated to a ‘pile’), out comes the labelling machine, and voilĂ , we have a 2007 archive.
The only thing left to do now is update the oldest archiving, so the “2003 and before” box gets a new name, and the 2003 content goes in the bin (after a very quick scan to make sure I’m not throwing away something I do need to keep after all).  I then have a sift through the 2004 pile and get rid of anything obsolete before I add what’s left to the box file.  I don’t need to touch the 2005 and 2006 boxes this year.
And that’s it – if you follow the same system you get to enjoy the warm glow of being organised for the rest of the day, and don’t have to worry about housekeeping your archives for another year!

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