by Susan Caplan McCarthy
File things only if you believe you’ll need to refer to the information in the future. If you don’t think you’d need a piece of information in a year, then you don’t need to file it, which means - you don't need to keep it.
There is no right or wrong way to organize your files. If you don’t use the filing system you have (that, maybe, someone else set up for you), then it’s the wrong filing system.
If you are an “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” sort of person, don’t hide your files in file cabinets. Instead consider a milk crate file system or something else that keeps things organize and visible. Many doctors’ offices keep patient files on shelves so that staff look for identification information on the side tab. Would that type of system help you?
If you really hate filing, you might like having a shelf of baskets with very general labels like, “House,” “Car,” “Work,” where you can just toss papers. When the basket is full (or you need to find something), pull down the appropriate basket and look through the box for what you need.
Although color-coding your files sounds super organized, what happens when you run out of green file folders? Anything that would go into that new file now sits in limbo on top of your desk, awaiting your next trip to or order from the office supply store.
Those ‘waiting to receive a file folder’ papers may now encourage other papers to build up (“I’ll just wait for the new file folders and then I’ll file everything at once.”). I’m not saying that color-coding isn’t useful; however, consider if you would really find this beneficial.
If you normally think, “Oh, the receipt for the excise tax on the car is in a yellow folder” or, “The glue sticks are in the second red drawer of the rolling organizer cart,” then color-coding would be a significant organizing tool for you. On the other hand, if you don’t normally locate things in that way, don’t waste your time creating a color-coded file system.
Hanging File Folders
Hanging file folders usually indicate a general topic that is broken down into more specific topics that are organized into file folders.
You know those plastic tabs that you use to label hanging file folders? I remember learning that clear and yellow tabs are much easier to read through than the red, green, or blue plastic tabs.
Move all the tabs so they line up behind one another. According to The Smead Manufacturing Company, your eyes can scan information more quickly this way as opposed to staggering the tabs.
File folders help you break down a general topic, such as Insurance, into more specific topics, such as Car Insurance, House Insurance, Motorcycle Insurance, Health Insurance, etc. When it comes to naming a file, consider what words you use to refer to something in conversation. For example, is it a Car, Auto, Automobile, Vehicle, or Honda?
If you can’t find something because you don’t know what label was used, then you have a filing system fail. Your filing system should allow you to find information with ease.
Always label the folder tab with the contents of the file. Keep it simple, “Electric,” “Kitchen Remodel,” “Flood Insurance.” Off the top of my head, I don’t know the name of the company I have my house insurance through. If I had made a file with that company’s name, it would slow down my retrieval of that information.
If (like me) you hate your handwriting, invest in a label maker which creates a uniform look for your files. Seriously, I got goosebumps when I bought a Dymo LetraTag and labeled my file folders. Soooo neat.
Maintaining Your Files
You can schedule a once-a-year purge where you pull out information that you need for taxes and remove instruction manuals for items you no longer need and pull old policies and so on. Also, when you go into a file to look for some information, sort through the pages and remove anything that you no longer need. Shred or recycle the paper.
Sort through your paper clutter and other type of clutter in your home by joining the free program, A Year of Decluttering. In 2018, you’ll receive daily emails each containing a 15-minute decluttering task. With the start of 2019, the program will be available as a free PDF.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I help people focus on what's important to them by guiding them through clearing clutter and distractions from their lives. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; courses; speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.