Now That Tax Season Is Over… Time to Set Up A Better Filing System for NEXT Year

By Regina Leeds, The Zen Organizer
NABBW’s Organizational Skills Expert

We all know four letter words that are guaranteed to get everyone’s panties in a bunch when uttered in public. One begins with a b, another with an f and then there’s the c word.  I would argue there are equally powerful phrases that can clear a room, cause profuse sweating or even the use of one of those four letter words.

‘Like what?’ you ask. Well, let’s see.  How does the phrase ‘income tax’ grab you?  See what I mean?  Why don’t you mop your brow and we’ll continue.

Meet ‘The Cash Guy’

My dad knew how to manage money.  He bought our Brooklyn brownstone with cash. He didn’t believe in mortgages.  If you couldn’t afford it, you didn’t need it was my dad’s simple philosophy.  The words: ‘Save for it’ echoed in our home regularly. He paid all of his bills on time frequently with cash.  He didn’t have a credit card until he was told he needed one to demonstrate he could handle money!  All those cash payments were working against him.

My father was an organized guy … up to a point.  He had all of his important papers in one deep dresser drawer.

The one thing my dad never embraced literally or figuratively was a file folder.  He had no use for them. Every year when tax time rolled around my mother and I made ourselves scarce. Why? After all as you might guess my dad had the money to pay his taxes.

What he didn’t have was a system for finding his deductions. If he couldn’t find a paper, he was absolutely convinced my mother and I had gone into his receipts drawer and rummaged around just to make him crazy. This had nothing to do with reality and everything to do with avoiding responsibility.

Does your house fall prey to sudden emotional eruptions this time of year? If these are related to lost receipts, take heart.  A file system is your best friend.

Office Supplies … just for the fun of it!

I’ve given detailed instructions for how to set up a file system in each of the One Year to … books.  You can pick up a copy, purchase the basic supplies and create a system that will help you keep track of your life every day not just at tax time.  Yes, it requires a commitment of time but the time you ultimately save is double maybe triple this initial investment.  You’ll need to maintain the system you create.

You won’t however have to reinvent the wheel every year.  Isn’t that comforting? The big news these days is that fashion, form and function are happily meeting up in office supply stores and at on line retailers.  You can stick with manila folders and standard issue dark green hanging file folders or you can jump into the world of colors and patterns.  It costs more but if that’s what will motivate you to stay on top of the papers of your life then it’s well worth it.

And don’t forget to invest in a label maker (I use Brother P Touch exclusively). You want everyone to be able to find a folder in your new system not just those who can read your handwriting.  Once you begin your organizing adventure you’ll want to label shelves, cupboards, storage boxes and everything else in your life.

Are you ahead of the game?

Some of us are drawn to the comfort, control and peace that being organized affords. Maybe you are the Boomer with the file system everyone envies.  Just remember this tip: a file system is meant to be an active storehouse of information not a cemetery or a monument to the past. Once a year take a few hours to clean it out.  With old, previously filed paper the choices are fairly limited.  You can toss or recycle it, shred, continue to keep it filed or archive it.

The latter option is too often overlooked. Whether it’s a metal file cabinet in your garage with a key or a file box in the back of the guest room closet, there will always be some material you need to hold on to but don’t need to deal with on a day to day basis.  Back up material and receipts for your income tax are probably the biggest category here.

Don’t Be Shy

If you need help, get it.  Sorting papers, making file folders and creating a system isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  But why deny yourself the rewards because you aren’t good at the set up?  Hire a professional organizer like me. People often think I’ve stopped working with clients and only write books.  If I did that I would lose touch with the very material I have to write about! My clients are my teachers.  Find a good book on the subject and following the step-by-step guidelines.

I’ve written 8 books and feel confident one of them will be just the ticket for you. Are you getting antsy just reading this article?  A good old-fashioned accountant might be the way solution for you.  Collect your receipts and send them to her office every month.  She’ll make the files and maybe even do the tabulating for you so all you will have are the totals you need to plug into your 1099.

And if filling out tax forms is what really drives you up the wall, hire a professional.  You won’t be surprised to hear my dad never did! Even our dog breathed a sigh of relief when we reached April 15th. The outbursts and recriminations would be put on hold for at least 11 months.

Regina Leeds, the Zen Organizer, is the author of eight books on the subject of getting organized.  Her book, One Year to An Organized Life has been chosen as Book of the Quarter by Fedex. In June, it will go into displays in 7,500 FedEx locations across the country. One Year to an Organized Life with Baby is her newest book. Read more about The Zen Organizer at www.reginaleeds.com.

New York City native Regina Leeds has brought order to home and work environments across the United States since 1988 when she started her company, Get Organized! by REGINA. Currently based in Los Angeles, her clientele run the gamut from movie stars to business people and housewives. Regina regularly travels throughout the United States to assist her clients. Regina is the author of two books: The Zen of Organizing; Creating Order and Peace in Your Home, Career and Life and Creating a Place Without Losing Your Space: a Couples Guide to Blending Homes, Lives and Clutter.