logo A Book Review  by Judy

At Your Fingertips
A Household Filing System That Works for You

by Denise Dale and Alexandra Bradley

The most common complaint, of anyone who is disorganized, is that they've lost the battle of the paper war. They just can't seem to manage the paperwork needed to run the home, nor can they keep track of all the papers, documents and mail that floods into the average home on a daily basis.

I've seen quite a few clients who store their financial records, in no logical order, in piles on tables and counters. One client spent a week sifting through piles of mail (open and unopened) and other papers looking for her income tax refund cheque before finally calling me in to help her get a handle on her paper problem. (We finally found it being used as a bookmark in one of the cookbooks in the kitchen.)

Now when I run into someone with paper problems, I recommend At Your Fingertips because it sets out all the criteria needed to handle paper properly. The authors are records management experts and in this little book they take you step-by-step through the process of setting up a household filing system. Nothing is set in stone, the authors suggest that you build on the information given in the book so you can adapt it to work with your own record keeping needs.

The book is not large, but there is a lot of information packed into every page. It starts with a quick overview of the reasons why we have problems managing paper and why we should be concerned when our paper is not properly organized.

Chapter 1: What To Keep? The authors discuss what decisions need to be made when sorting and filing paper and give tips for doing so.

The basis of the system is explained in Chapter 2, Where To Put It? The system consists of four file categories:

  • Fingertip Files - Current papers, bills, receipts, calendar, phone numbers etc.
  • Household Files - Finances, utilities, education, employment and warranties.
  • Permanent Files - Health records, vet records, birth certificates, etc
  • Reference Files - Books, newspapers, clippings, info you want to keep, crafts

Each category is fully explained and there are suggestions of what to put where. The authors have even included things like cash register receipts and take-out menus so you can easily see how to customize your own system depending on the kinds of paper you are managing.

Chapter 3- For How Long and Why? This is an excellent retention guideline and will be a big help to those who are scared to throw anything out. You'll find out what types of paper can be thrown out immediately after use and what types of paper should be kept and then you'll learn where to keep it. This is the key to solving your paper management problems. Once you set up your categories and understand the retention times for the various paper types, you can set up a workable system and never have to wonder again what to do with any piece of paper.

In Chapter 4: Under Control, you'll learn how to maintain your new filing system. There are helpful hints for a yearly purge, as well as tips on how to eliminate and curb the paper coming into your home.

If you prefer to manage your files in a binder, rather than a file box or cabinet, Appendix A and B give detailed instructions on setting up your Fingertip and Household files using three ring binders. Appendix C has a recommendation and contact information for filing supplies put out by a professional archivist. The book ends with personal acknowledgements from the authors and has a page for your notes.

I suggest you read through the book first to get an overview of the whole system. Once you determine what your paper management needs are, you can start adapting the advice to create your own customized system.

The procedures and advice offered is sensible and very detailed, most organizing books don't cover paper management thoroughly enough, I'm sure you'll find At Your Fingertips - A Household Filing System to be THE definitive book on paper management. Highly recommended!

Copyright © 2003-2004 Judy Brown


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