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Organize Your Files



The third week in April is National Organize Your Files Week. If your files are already organized, give yourself a pat on the back and move on. If your files are a disaster zone or just need some tweaking, read on.

If your papers are scattered everywhere or are filed so randomly you can’t find them, look for the reason.


· Location of files

Where you store your files depends on the type of files you maintain. Archival files or other rarely accessed files should not be taking up your prime real estate. These files can be stored in an attic, top of a closet, or a storage room.

Your desktop files that you access daily or weekly are best positioned on your desk or near your work area.

Your other household or work files are best stored in a filing cabinet or document box that is easy to get to. The easier the access the more likely the papers will be filed in a timely manner.


· Type of file containers

A good filing cabinet is a wonderful place to store your files. However, a filing cabinet that is hard to open and won’t open all the way or is prone to tipping is a frustration and is likely not to get used.

Crates or bins that accommodate hanging files are another good alternative. These can be on open shelving or on in a closet. Putting the crates or bins on wheels makes it easier to pull them up to your work area for filing and then back to their home.


· Keeping too much

Think before you file a paper. The more paper you keep the harder it is to find what you really need. Overstuffed files make it hard to file more into that file and hard to pull out what you need. Keep only what is current and useful. If it is something you can easily find online, just read it, and let it go. Things change so quickly that old financial or diet advice is usually not worth keeping.

If you get updates on insurance policies or financial papers, get rid of the previous update before you file the new papers.


· Complicated or no filing system

Organize your files in a way that makes sense to you. If you can’t find it you might as well not have it. It doesn’t matter if you file your car papers under “car”, “auto”, “Dodge”, “Red Rooster (name of my car), or “clunker” – just as long as you will know where to look.

You can set up your files by categories – medical, insurance, financial, household, etc. or you can set it up alphabetically. Do what works for you.

Do not make your system overly complicated. It should be intuitive for you to use and maintain.

Color folders can be motivating (green for financial, blue for medical, red for taxes) but can also slow you down. Looking for the right color and keeping them always on hand can stop filing cold. Personally, because I file by categories, I use color hanging folders with manilla inserts.

Consider how you place your tabs. I have found that placing the tabs in a straight row one behind the other makes finding files a lot easier than using a zig zag method. Make sure that the tabs are readable. I prefer to use a labeler to make my tabs clear.

The main point is that when you file a paper, you should be able to find it within seconds.


· No maintenance plan

No matter how great your system is, it needs to be maintained. The desktop file is very active and would benefit from weekly or monthly maintenance. These files are not huge and it does not take long to look through them to see if some papers are now ready to toss.

The regular work files can have a yearly sort. I usually do this at the end or beginning of a year. I pull out all that is now old or replaced and also pull out anything I need for taxes. This keeps the files from getting overstuffed and hard to use.

The archival papers can either be ignored or culled yearly. For example, every year or so I cull out old tax documentation.


Once you figure out what is keeping you from having organized files, make a plan and schedule time to work your plan. Having a system in place that makes it easy to file will make your office space a much happier place.


If you recognize that you are struggling with setting up your files or want some help or accountability in developing and working any other organizational home project, join Diane Quintana and me in our Clear Space for You virtual support group.


Jonda S. Beattie, Professional Organizer owner of Time Space Organization, and co-owner of Release, Repurpose, Reorganize. She is based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of four books as well as a retired special education teacher she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients.



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Julie Bestry
Julie Bestry
Apr 26, 2023

These are all essential tips, and you've got me laughing at "Red Rooster!" You know how much I love organizing papers, but I think people have more fear of making the "wrong" decisions with papers and files, even if those decisions can be rescinded or modified. I love that you offered options, like rolling crates or bins on wheels, because so often people are afraid to step outside the lines they learned long ago. I'm not a straight-line filer, as my eyes are inclined to bounce back and forth anyway, so looking at one row after another feels onerous (and boring), but I appreciate that each of us have our own speeds.

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jondab
jondab
Apr 26, 2023
Replying to

The main thing I tell clients about filing - not one of my favorite things to do- is file so you can find it. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Use labels that are intuitive to you and be mindful of what you are doing.

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Linda Samuels
Linda Samuels
Apr 24, 2023

Loving your take on paper! And many of us still have paper. While I'd like to have less and am working toward that goal, I still have a lot. I'm with you 100% about making the filing system as simple as possible. Also important, as you mentioned, is to name things in a way that makes sense to the file user. Making filing and retrieval as easy as possible means investing in good tools like filing cabinets that actually work and not overstuffing your folders. Like you, I also prefer having the plastic tabs in a straight visual line. It's so much easier to find what you need. But again, that's my personal preference and some prefer the zig zag…

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jondab
jondab
Apr 24, 2023
Replying to

When I work with desks with paper stacked everywhere I always like to start with the why. Having no idea where to put the paper or knowing that it is difficult to file the paper where it belongs are often the two biggies.

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smqorgadm
Apr 24, 2023

I was talking to a client who had just cleared her files before moving. She spent several hours decluttering and shredding files, and when she was finished, it didn't seem as satisfying as other types of decluttering projects. I explained that paper files do not have as much gratification as decluttering different areas of the home. But, when she is looking for something, it will not take as long to find items because the papers will be much less. I told her, she would feel more accomplished when she moved things into her new smaller place.

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jondab
jondab
Apr 24, 2023
Replying to

This is so true. The real win from the work is having less papers to look through when looking for something and less crowding when trying to file more papers into the file. I do love the smile on clients faces when they are clearing papers from their desks and now know exactly where that paper should go.

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dnqsolutions
Apr 24, 2023

Organizing files can be a daunting process. Many people struggle with labeling along with how long to keep certain papers, and understanding which papers to keep.

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