The 3 most efficient filing systems for paperwork 

Filing paperwork is a learned skill and not something most people have a lot of experience in.

It can be very overwhelming creating a paperwork system and even more overwhelming deciding what kind of paperwork system to employ. One great option is to have a digital system as your primary document organisation method and a secondary physical system for anything that can’t be digitised – like birth certificates.

1. Expanding files or filing cabinets



Expanding files are great for paperwork that requires being divided into lots of small categories. For instance you might have an expanding file labelled ‘Family’ and have a section for each member of your family with medical documents and other important information in family member’s corresponding section. Filing cabinets can be used in a similar way with manila folders acting as the ‘categories’.


  • Keeps all of your documents in one place
  • Easy to access and easy to organise
  • It’s a one glance system – you open the file or cabinet and you can see every category and document you may need


  • Not space efficient; files and cabinets are bulkier and take up more room than other filing systems
  • They attract clutter. It’s easy to fill files and cabinets full of documents and rarely clean them out

Ditch it: 9 types of paperwork you need to throw out

2. Folders

Filing cabinet


Folders are a great option if you need to keep bigger categories of paperwork separate like ‘Office’ and ‘Home’ that you don’t want mixed together in a filing cabinet or expanding file. You can buy folders in almost any shape and size and there are some very handy inserts available for most types of folders. You can get plastic sleeves that store business cards, recipe cards, envelopes and all sizes of paper so you can safely store any kind of document in folders.


  • Easy to store on shelves
  • They’re portable so you can just grab your ‘medical’ folder on the way to the doctor
  • Customisable; files and cabinets are fairly standard however folders have a wide variety of options so you can create system that suits you.


  • Can waste space; if you have a category where you only have a few documents to store it can seem overkill to have an almost empty folder to store them in.

Tip: Have a Miscellaneous folder with divider tabs for any categories that don’t warrant a dedicated folder.

3. Digital



For environmental and security reasons it’s a good idea to digitise as much of your paperwork as possible. Bank statements, credit card statements, pay slips and tax documents can all be digitised and there are some clever smartphone scanner apps that will assist you with digitising your paperwork system.


  • Space efficient
  • Easy to back up
  • Available everywhere; if you store your important documents in an online storage system, the security can be encrypted just like at a bank so your documents will be kept secure and they will be available to your wherever you have access to the internet.


  • Not suitable for storing certified documents as these need to be signed by an authorised person and cannot be stored digitally.
  • It can be easier to ‘lose’ things on a digital system so it’s important to make sure you have a good system with a backup. Set up your digital system the same way you set up a filling cabinet or folder system with categories and sub-categories.

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Paperwork tips

  • Keep it simple; the point of having a paperwork system is reduce the stress of searching for an important document so don’t over complicate it.
  • Buy good quality filing systems that will cope with years’ worth of filing.
  • Only keep essential items and ditch everything else.
  • Audit your paperwork regularly and throw away anything you don’t need.
  • Contact your banks and superannuation funds to see if you can have your statements sent to you digitally. There’s usually no need to keep physical copies of these kinds of documents if you have a digital record.