The Last Filing System You’ll Ever Need

A Filing System for Paper Management Note: This post on filing systems contains affiliate links. If you purchase those items through my links I may earn a commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link. Most people need some sort of filing system to use for paper management, even if Read More

A Filing System for Paper Management

Note: This post on filing systems contains affiliate links. If you purchase those items through my links I may earn a commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link.

Most people need some sort of filing system to use for paper management, even if they prefer to go digital whenever possible. But what about insurance policies, warranties, and user manuals, certificates, passports, and health records, to name a few? You’ll want a place to easily file these things so they don’t turn into clutter. Ready to set up or redo a paper filing system? Here are some decisions to make before you purchase supplies.

Folders or just hanging folders?

Unless you want double work labeling, only hanging folders are needed. Plain manilla folders are very useful, however, during an initial sort of all your paper. Scribble temporary file names with a pencil and erase later for reuse.

Value/cheap or quality hanging files?

How annoying is it to have a hanging file fall apart (the metal piece separates from the file) or the hooks on the end of the files fall off the rails? Double annoying! Go ahead and buy the default dark green or brown files, but please, please, invest in reinforced versions like this one. Better yet, buy the Surehook brand, and not only will your hanging files stay in one piece, but they’ll also stay on the rails. The hooks are longer! You will thank me in a few years, or at least you won’t have regrets!

Solid color hanging files or multi?

Having all hanging files the same color makes filing easier and is probably a little cheaper. Just make sure you choose a color you won’t mind looking at for years! If you thrive on color for different categories, then these Surehook folders in mixed boxes of red, blue, green, orange, and yellow will work well. AND they work very well with the filing system I recommend.

File tab in front or back?

Should the hanging file tab be attached to the front of the file or the back? While we’re at it, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Was that dress on the internet blue and black, or white and gold? Either way, you’re right. My preference is to put file tabs on the front of the folder so I can grab them and drop papers in behind. But I have many clients who prefer tabs to be placed on the back of the folder so they can grab the file and place papers in front of it. Just pick one method and stick with it.

Left-align, center-align, right-align, or stagger file tabs?

I’ve always liked the look of staggered tabs. But here’s the thing about that layout: it slows me down. My eyes dart from left to right and back again when looking for a file. And when I add a new file, I have to reorder a few tabs around it so the order makes sense to me. And it bugs me when, if I am using a five-tab system, the first four tabs in a group are related, but the fifth one isn’t. It just looks wrong to me. Confusing? Yes. Nitpicky? Well, maybe…

I now recommend that all tabs be left-aligned, with an optional category tab placed on the far right of the folder that starts a new category or group of files. Our eyes naturally look to the left first anyway. No more eyes darting all over the files; just a quick scan from front to back with the prompt of a category tab if needed. This system works well with drawers or carts where files are stored front to back. But if files are stored sideways in lateral file cabinets, then align the tabs so they are at the front of the drawer, whether left or right-aligned. If you access files in this type of drawer while facing right, then your tabs need to be right-aligned, and vice versa.

Place papers in the file with the top of the papers pointing to the left or right?

This may seem like a small detail, but if you don’t want to spend your time shuffling papers around so they all point the same direction, you need a system.

Do you have a file nearby? Stop what you are doing and pull the papers out. Which hand did you use? If you used your right hand, then put papers in files with the top of the pages pointing to the left. If you used your left hand to pull the papers out, then it makes sense to put the papers in with the tops pointing to the right. But wait, are these your personal files, or do these files need to be accessed by others as well? If the latter, you may need to have papers pointing to the left. Why? Because right-handers rule the world. I know this because I was born left-handed, learned how to write with my left hand, and then was made to switch so I would conform (my teachers meant well!). Although I’ve been writing with my right hand for decades, my tendency would still be to grab papers with my left hand. But I am in the minority and most of my clients would prefer their papers point to the left. Once you’ve decided this, explain your preference to anyone else who accesses these files.

I’m getting dizzy, are you? On to more concrete options!

Drawer, tub, crate, or rolling cart?

First, are you an Innie or an Outie? If you prefer things to be in drawers or closets – out of view so they aren’t visual distractions – then you may be an Innie. If you need things out in plain view for visual inspiration and also because out-of-site means out-of-mind to you, then you may be an Outie. Take this tendency into consideration along with how and where you use your files.

Elfa rolling file cart with Freedom Filer Filing SystemDo you want to keep your files tucked out of sight and in one room only? If you promise to open them frequently to file things and purge as needed, then fill your drawers with files. If you aren’t so sure those things will happen, then consider using drawers for archived files like tax returns, reference material, or supplies.

Do your files need to leave the premises? Consider tubs or crates that fit in your trunk. Do you like to work at your kitchen table or sofa? Consider a rolling file cart that you can roll out of sight later.

Do you hate filing and/or have ADD or ADHD? Consider an “open” filing system such as a file cart, crate, or tub minus the lid. Removing extra steps to filing (open door to the office, pull the drawer out…) simplifies filing.

I use drawers for supplies, reference material, and archived files like tax returns. I use this rolling cart from The Container Store for all my frequently accessed files (monthly statements, policies, ID’s, warranties, etc) and a step rack for active files (prospects, business cards for follow-up, receipts to log). The step rack should be within reach of your workspace.

Labeling systems

A good system will make it easy to file and retrieve items. A great system will be evergreen – you won’t need to update file labels if you move, use different utility companies, or have a significant life change. The filing system I recommend and use with nearly all my clients is Freedom Filer.

This is a color-coded labeling system (a pack of labels) for home filing with add-ons for:

  • Self-employed
  • Business
  • Employees
  • Customers and Jobs
  • Vendors

The Home 1/5 tab version is ideal for most people. The 1/3 system is more detailed, so compare them both if you aren’t sure. There are enough labels to make separate health and ID files for a family of four, with plenty of blank labels. You can purchase add-ons if needed, although most people don’t need them.

You will need 60-80 hanging files and tabs to create a complete filing system with this kit. If you want to use colored hanging files that match Freedom Filer’s labels, then these Surehook files are perfect. Yellow is not one of the system’s label colors, but you can use those for archived tax files and warranty files.

Ready to get started? Order a filing kit directly from FreedomFiler using my discount link.   While there, check out all their different products including the Elfa rolling cart that I recommend to all my clients. This is a $10 discount from The Container Store.

Need help with this project? I am happy to help you create your last filing system ever! Call me at 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me, or just go ahead and schedule your free consult for business or residential organizing, or life and productivity coaching! I’d love to help you get organized so you can live the life you desire.

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer®, Productivity Consultant, and Life Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

Downsizing Books: To sell or donate?

Downsizing Books My clients were downsizing books and had 11 boxes to get rid of. Here’s what happened when we tried to sell them to a used book store. Recently, I helped a brother and sister purge their late mother’s collection of books. They had lived abroad in the 1960s during their father’s foreign service Read More

Downsizing Books

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Chamblins-Bookmine-aisle-225x300.jpgMy clients were downsizing books and had 11 boxes to get rid of. Here’s what happened when we tried to sell them to a used book store.

Recently, I helped a brother and sister purge their late mother’s collection of books. They had lived abroad in the 1960s during their father’s foreign service work, and their mother had amassed a small library including cookbooks, books on travel, history, religion, art, culture and more.

The sister culled the collection and filled 11 banker’s boxes with unwanted books. Since they had no preference for disposal, I offered to take them to Chamblin’s Bookmine, a local used book store in Jacksonville, Florida to see what could be sold.

This was the process:

Step 1: Load boxes into my Mazda hatchback. Since my car is small, I could only take half at a time. (If I’d known I would be doing this full-time I would have bought a bigger vehicle!)

Step 2: Drive 45 minutes to the used bookstore near my home.

Step 3: Carry six boxes into the used bookstore. Note to self: Get a small dolly.

Step 4: Wait for review and purchase.

Step 5: Carry five boxes out of the used bookstore. That’s right: five. They only purchased one box of books. Store credit: $44. Cash value: $26.40 (60% of store credit)

Step 6: Drive home and unload the boxes of books. Set outside for donation pickup.

Step 7: Repeat Steps 1 – 6. Out of the five remaining boxes of books, they only purchased about half a box full. Store credit: $12. Cash value: $7.20

Five bankers boxes of books waiting for review and purchase at Chamblin's BookmineWas it worth it?

Maybe… if the books were in better condition and my client wanted store credit to get more books. But in this case, it would have been more efficient to call for a donation pickup. Unlike international best-selling author Steve Berry, who purchases 300 – 400 books for research at Chamblin’s for each novel he writes, store credit was not a priority for my clients. (In case you wondering, Steve brings those books back six to nine months later to exchange for his next novel’s research material.)

To summarize, I drove about three hours, spent another hour at the store, used up gas, did a bunch of heavy lifting and all for a $56 store credit. You do the math!

One bonus: Before Vietnam Vets came for pickup I invited my neighbors to take a look. Their young children were happy to take a stack of art and geography books. Another neighbor, a writer, took a few more. This was a nice surprise! It is satisfying and easier to get rid of things when you know who is getting them.

 

Other ways to dispose of books

Donating Books to Schools

Years ago I needed to downsize and get rid of at least one-third of my collection. These also included my daughter’s books. I sorted those by age and donated them to the local elementary, middle and high schools she’d attended. I gave a few others to friends, and the rest I took to Goodwill.

Selling books online

Another method of downsizing books is selling them online. Some of the books I have donated were current and in mint condition. Yes, I could have tried to sell them to a used book store or online through Amazon or eBay, but my time is precious and I am not in the book-selling business! Considering selling yours? Ask yourself if it is worth your time to do this. Is there another task that has a bigger ROI for you?

I had a client who had over 500 books in her library. Most were current and in great condition. After we sorted them by topic, however, she chose to donate half of them for a tax deduction. This was more valuable to her. I stacked all the books spine-up in boxes, took photos for her records and had them picked up. Her collection was more manageable and she gained more office space after removing two of four bookshelves.

Your reading style

When I ask prospective clients if they consider themselves a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner, I give the example of their preferred book format: “Would you rather read a book on an e-reader, listen to an audible version, or do you want to hold the physical book and turn the pages?”

Most say they want the physical book, but at the same time, they want to downsize. Book exchanges and libraries can be a good compromise. Check out the Little Free Libary.

My vintage apartment has two built-in bookshelves and my rule of thumb is to have no more books than will fit on those shelves. I read physical books to take a break from technology – and some I just love to look at and touch – but my preference is to read them on my Kindle (it’s easy to hold) and or listen via Audible (I drive a lot!).

The number of physical books you keep comes down to space, aesthetics and learning style. The way you dispose of them depends on the ROI – return on investment – for you.

Need help decluttering and getting organized? Call me at 904-500-SORT (7678) or message me here for your free consult for organizing or life coaching. I’d love to help you simplify and Zen Your Den® (and your life).

 

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer®, Productivity Consultant, and Life Coach
Zen Your Den®
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

The Sh*t We Keep: Frugal Clutter is Still Clutter

Clusters Handcrafted Popcorn in New Hope, Pennsylvania is the guilty pleasure I enjoy when visiting my parents. I sample their seasonal flavors but always leave with a couple of bags of their fluffy white cheddar and wasabi standards. If you visit, get a bag and ask for it to be left open. They’ll fill it Read More

Bowl of buttery popcorn
Bowl of buttery popcorn

Clusters Handcrafted Popcorn in New Hope, Pennsylvania is the guilty pleasure I enjoy when visiting my parents. I sample their seasonal flavors but always leave with a couple of bags of their fluffy white cheddar and wasabi standards. If you visit, get a bag and ask for it to be left open. They’ll fill it to the top and you’ll have a little more to snack on while you shop up and down quaint Main St. And if you get a plastic tub, bring it back to get a dollar off a refill. But that’s how I got into trouble.

Frugal Clutter

In October 2017 I finally bought a small plastic tub filled with my favorites. It was sturdier than the fold-down bags and was a smart choice for the road trip back to Florida, I reasoned. Plus I’d save a dollar when I bring it in for a refill.

That tub traveled with me 900 miles back to Florida and then rolled around in my trunk for a few weeks until I took it out and carried it into my apartment. Where to put it? It didn’t need to go into my kitchen, as I was only going to use it in New Hope. Instead of sticking it in a suitcase (where I tell all my clients to store travel things), I set it on my dresser. Wouldn’t you know I forgot to pack it on my next long drive up I-95 in January 2018?

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate…” – Cool Hand Luke, 1967

In July 2018, my brother visited me in Florida while on a long road trip from California. Before he left for Pennsylvania (yes, we are a family of road trippers), I ran back into the apartment and grabbed that tub. Joe could take it up with him and leave it for me in the guest room for my next visit. Made total sense, right?

My memory is fuzzy about what my exact instructions were to my brother about where to put that tub. I probably should have been more specific.

In December 2018, I once again made the long drive up I-95 to visit our parents. My mother greeted me at the door with hugs and I unloaded the car and began to settle in. I walked into the bathroom and something caught my eye: Cluster’s Handcrafted Popcorn plastic refillable tub. The one I had bought to save a dollar. The one that had traveled 1,800 miles to Florida and back and cluttered my bedroom in-between. The one that now sat on the floor by the toilet, holding a toilet brush.

Refillable popcorn tub from Clusters in New Hope, PA being used instead to hold a toilet brush
Clusters refillable popcorn tub

When I pointed this out to my mother and brother, they high-fived each other.

The sh*t we keep!

What frugal clutter are you hanging onto to save a dollar?  Gas station soda cups? Movie theatre refillable popcorn tubs? Coffee mugs? Leave your comments below!

Need help decluttering and getting organized? Call me at 904-500-SORT (7678) or message me here for your free consult for organizing or life coaching. I’d love to help you simplify and Zen Your Den® (and your life).

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer®, Productivity Consultant, and Life Coach
Zen Your Den®
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

The Zen Your Den 30-Day Decluttering Challenge

January is Get Organized Month! To get started fast, join the Zen Your Den® 30-Day Decluttering Challenge and let go of 1,001 things. Yes, 1-0-0-1! You can start this challenge any day of the year, but get it done in 30 days. Once you start, you won’t want to lose momentum! 1,001 is just a small percentage Read More

January is Get Organized Month! To get started fast, join the Zen Your Den® 30-Day Decluttering Challenge and let go of 1,001 things. Yes, 1-0-0-1! You can start this challenge any day of the year, but get it done in 30 days. Once you start, you won’t want to lose momentum!

1,001 is just a small percentage of your stuff

Zen Your Den 30-Day Decluttering Challenge tally sheet
30-Day Decluttering Challenge

Before you call me crazy, let me reframe this for you. According to a survey, the average U.S. household has 300,000 things, from books to belts. And if you apply the Pareto Principle, most people tend to use just 20% of their things 80% of the time. I am only asking you to let go of .3337% of your things. Okay, if you insist you are way under the national average with a measly 100,000 things, then that challenge still equals only about 1%. But enough with the math. I’ve already wasted enough time for both of us trying to calculate this!

What I’m really asking you to do is to make 1,001 decisions over 30 days. Yikes! But if it’s true that we make about 35,000 decisions per day, that is an even tinier percentage (nope, not doing the math).

Why I started this challenge

In her book, How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind: Dealing with Your House’s Dirty Little Secrets, Dana L. White, refers to closets, cabinets, bookshelves, and even houses, as containers. Before putting this challenge out to the interwebs, I surveyed my own home, a two-bedroom 1930’s apartment. Although I am a Certified Professional Organizer®, I still have issues with my own stuff. I’d moved in a year earlier and had downsized significantly, but hadn’t quite finished settling in.

My stuff
  • Books were starting to pile up on the floor near the built-in bookshelf in my living room and my magazine basket was overflowing.
  • As for clothes, well, it had been a year since I did a good closet cleanout. Sure, I donated a few pieces here and there, but as I tried to shove hangers aside to find a favorite shirt, it was obvious I’d added way more than I’ve subtracted. It was time to loosen up my closets.
  • Although my quaint kitchen is tiny, there is generous storage space. The tall white cabinets hang so low there is no space for a vent or fan over the stove (no frying for me!). Still, I had managed to fill them all with surplus baking pans, mixing bowls, and more coffee cups than I would ever use. I wanted to clear some space for my cookbooks since the kitchen is where they will be used.
  • My “office” had been a catch-all room for supplies for crafts I no longer craft, boxes of photos, and memorabilia. This office organizing project had ranked low on my list of priorities since I’d been content to sit on my sofa while typing away. But having a little separation of work and leisure is a good thing. I could actually use this room as my office (what a concept!) since that’s where my desk is. My supplies would be close at hand and my vision board in full view for inspiration.

All of my containers were overflowing, and since I’m a numbers girl (I’m always setting times and giving myself number goals) I decided to challenge myself to get rid of 1,001 things in one month.

You can do this

Are you ready to start your own Zen Your Den® 30-Day Decluttering Challenge? If 1,001 is too daunting, then don’t focus on it. But you may surprise yourself! Make a list of your containers (closets, rooms, bookshelves, cabinets, trunks, etc.) and categories of things you need to go through. Grab a clipboard to keep track of your progress. Here are some prompts to get you started:

  • Old bank statements (a seven-page statement counts as one thing)
  • Refrigerator door clutter
  • Pantry items (FYI: out-of-date food cannot be donated)
  • Clothes (a pair of socks counts as one thing)
  • Decorative items
  • Office supplies (a box of paperclips counts as one thing)
  • Soap (how many hotel soaps do you need?)
  • Kitchen (yes, eight forks count as eight things)
  • Books and magazines
  • Linens (sheets, towels, pillowcases, bedding, pillows)
  • Photos (think bad shots, scenic shots with no people, duplicates)
  • Memorabilia
  • Weight (why not count any pounds lost during this process?)
  • Craft supplies
  • Garages, attics, and basements
  • Storage units
  • Vehicles

Yes, you could hack this challenge. You could donate two 500-sheet reams of paper and an empty binder and you’d be done. Or you could take 1,001 pennies to your bank and deposit them. , but you’d still be surrounded by extra things you don’t need: old clothes, books, duplicate kitchen supplies, bad photos, your high school book reports… So get in the spirit and get started! Join the Zen Your Den® 30-Day Decluttering Challenge Facebook group community for support and ideas.

Need help decluttering 1,001 or more things and organizing what’s left?  Call me at 904-500-SORT (7678) or message me here for your free consult for organizing or life coaching. I’d love to help you simplify and Zen Your Den® (and your life).

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer®, Productivity Consultant, and Life Coach
Zen Your Den®
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

It’s National Checklist Day! (But you need to use checklists EVERY day)

Once upon a time, I was on a small plane that was about to take off from the Ft. Lauderdale airport to the Bahamas for a working vacation. Ahhh…that sounds awesome (note to self: plan another one of those). Okay… so I was a little nervous because a recent small plane crash was still making Read More

Photo of checklists on a clipboard. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Checklists are great productivity tools! (photo by rawpixel on Unsplash)

Once upon a time, I was on a small plane that was about to take off from the Ft. Lauderdale airport to the Bahamas for a working vacation. Ahhh…that sounds awesome (note to self: plan another one of those). Okay… so I was a little nervous because a recent small plane crash was still making headlines and this plane was packed with gear and suitcases right down the center of the aisle. Although the sky was a cloudless, beautiful blue, I’d brought a John Grisham novel along just in case I needed a distraction while flying over the ocean.

The side door closed and the engine sputtered to life. A few feet in front of me in the cockpit, the pilot was peering over a checklist in a large black ring binder. After a minute he slammed it shut. What I saw next got my attention. On the front was a cover sheet with these words in large black print: “HOW TO FLY A PLANE.” Our pilot had a sense of humor. I kept my nose in my book for the entire flight.

The History of Checklists

Humor aside, it was a real-life catastrophic plane crash in 1935 that launched the widespread use of checklists. Although the plane was in perfect condition, the flight crew had forgotten one simple, but crucial step: they had neglected to release the flight control gust locks. By the time one of the pilots realized the mistake, it was too late. As a result of this preventable accident, the “check list” was developed and is still required in all aircraft today.

Checklists Today

Checklists are essential for everything from preparing for takeoff in a plane to closing down a restaurant kitchen at the end of the day. They prevent critical steps from being missed and are one of my favorite organizing and productivity tools to create and use for complex tasks that need to be repeated. I love them because they free up memory space and allow me to focus on whatever is in front of me. I’ve created checklists for myself and clients to help with a variety of activities and projects such as:

  • Onboarding employees
  • To-do lists
  • Hurricane preparation
  • Contractor vetting
  • Weddings
  • Job fairs and vendor booths
  • Birthday parties
  • Community events
  • Garage sales
  • Presentations
  • Research/comparisons for purchasing a new car or RV
  • Setting up audiovisual equipment
  • Shopping (standard lists for different stores, customized grocery lists)
  • Packing (different kinds of lists for conferences, camping trips, extended vacations, cruises, summer camps, international travel)

What checklists do you currently use to help you stay organized? What activities of your life and work could be more organized with a comprehensive checklist? The objective eye of a professional organizer and productivity consultant can help you create the checklists you need to keep you and your family and/or work team on track.

Need help creating checklists and other productivity tools? Call me at 904-500-SORT (7678) or message me here for your free consult for organizing, productivity consulting or life coaching. I’d love to help you simplify and Zen Your Den® (and your life).

Barbara Trapp, Professional Organizer, Productivity Consultant, and Life Coach
Zen Your Den®
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO