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

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

Junk Mail: How to Stop it and Let it Go

“I’d like to write to the folks in Wisconsin. If you mail a letter now, they can write this winter, and then we can hear from them next spring.“  – Little House on the Prairie This is probably my favorite line in the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. I’ve quoted it in Read More

Little House on the Prairie stamp with caption: "Junk mail? Not in the 1800's!"
Junk mail? Not in the 1800’s!

“I’d like to write to the folks in Wisconsin. If you mail a letter now, they can write this winter, and then we can hear from them next spring.“  – Little House on the Prairie

This is probably my favorite line in the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. I’ve quoted it in time management classes I’ve taught in the past. I am reminded of it every time I sort through mail, which sadly, is mostly junk. I appreciate the extra time and thought that goes into the (very) occasional handwritten letter I receive. But then what to do with it?

According to the NYU Law website, “44% of junk mail is thrown away unopened, but only half that much junk mail (22%) is recycled. The average American household receives 848 pieces of junk mail per household, equal to 1.5 trees every year—more than 100 million trees for all U.S. households combined.” These numbers fluctuate so much that it is difficult to find or verify current statistics. No wonder professional organizers are frequently called upon to help with paper clutter!

Control the amount of junk mail in your home by preventing it from getting to the mailbox. Here are ways to stop the influx and get rid of the rest.

Donation Requests (Junk Mail?)

My parents wanted to support the many causes they felt strongly about and so gave small, but regular donations to over 50 (yes, fifty!) charitable organizations for years. It seems a little heartless to categorize donation requests from struggling charities as junk mail, but the amount of paper this generated was staggering!  And according to Charity Navigator, gifts of $25 or less barely cover marketing costs. Those envelopes stuffed with free personalized return address labels and note pads cost money! So cutting down to a few charities and giving a bit more to those is actually more cost and time efficient for all.

Stopping:
  • Call the number on the material you receive and ask them to remove your address and all occupants’ names associated with it from their database.
  • Write a note (sticky notes are great!) on the donation slip requesting removal from all databases. Insert it in the donation return envelope, add a stamp and send it on its way. You’ll need to cover postage, but can be more efficient than trying to give details to a harried call center worker who is trained to try to encourage continued donations.
  • If you wish to use a gentler approach, you can use a detailed form letter. I created one for my parents to include in the envelope along with the donation slip. Feel free to use the wording in this free sample opt-out letter, which representatives from several large charities, including United Way and Samaritan’s Purse, said would work nicely.
Letting Go:

Give more to less. Identify the three-five charities you feel most strongly about and increase your giving to those. Then let go of the rest and have comfort in the fact that you are making contributions that really matter.

Tips on choosing charities:
  • Do not donate via phone solicitations. It is too difficult to verify if the caller is legitimate. Instead of requesting they mail something, tell them you will look them up online and ask them to put you on their “do not call” list.
  • Visit charitynavigator.org, the largest independent evaluator of U.S. charities (and my favorite); charitywatch.org or givewell.org. These organizations evaluate and rate charities by what percentage of donations go to overhead; overall efficiency, transparency, and accountability.
  • Make sure any charity you choose allows you to opt out (look for a checkbox) of the sharing of your information with any other entity. Check their privacy policies.
  • Give anonymously and still get a tax deduction. Charity Navigator’s Giving Basket allows you to “donate to multiple charities at once, set up recurring donations, give anonymously and get one tax receipt.” This way extra mail isn’t generated and you choose how much of your information is shared and with whom.

Magazines

Oh, those shiny covers promoting the latest diet tips next to a photo of a triple chocolate layer cake. What’s not to love? How can you turn down a $5 annual subscription or gift a friend a free duplicate? And then there are the free issues offered to business owners to keep in their waiting rooms, small response cards fluttering out as the pages are turned. Free isn’t free if something takes up space and costs you time or effort to manage.

Stopping:
  • Call the subscription or billing number on the first few pages. Look for the microscopic font at the bottom. Request to cancel and get a refund of any unwanted issues. Use the cash for something other than a magazine subscription.
  • Avoid the temptation and lure of steeply discounted or even free subscriptions. Subscriptions get you on more mailing lists. More mailing lists result in more…mail. If you really want an issue, buy it off the rack and off the grid. This will require a more mindful decision of what you are bringing into your home.
  • Likewise, avoid purchasing magazines through school fundraisers. Make a cash donation.
Letting Go:
  • Dump:  Mindlessly (or mindfully) recycle magazines with no regrets other than wishing you’d done it sooner.
  • Donate:  Donate your (content appropriate) magazines to schools, libraries, senior care facilities, or shelters for others to enjoy. (Remember to remove or blacken out your address sticker first.)
  • Pillage then Purge:  Quickly scan each magazine for free samples, current coupons you will use, useful articles to read or share and inspiring photos. At the end of a pillaging and purging session, put free samples wherever they will be used – lotions, perfumes, etc. can go in your bathroom, travel bag or purse. Coupons and articles can go in a pocket folder in your vehicle. Recycle the rest of the shiny debris.

Catalogs

Blue door with handwritten sign over mail slot: No Junk Mail
I repeat: No Junk Mail

Catalogs multiply. And even with ominous warnings on the cover that “this might be your last chance” or “we’re sorry to see you go,” it isn’t and they aren’t, because more are on the way. This is “push” marketing at it’s best: companies sending their stores to your door. Better to let “pull” marketing earn it’s keep: you see an ad online and visit the website. Then you search for what you want and have access to the most up-to-date merchandise and sale pricing.

Can you see how this can save you money? You make more mindful decisions when visiting a website instead of just flipping through a catalog that is delivered to your mailbox.

Stopping
  • If you have only a few catalogs you’d like to discontinue, just call the number that is in bold on every page and especially the order page. These are much easier to find than in magazines. Funny how that works!
  • If you prefer not to call and/or have a slew of unwanted catalogs, visit CatalogChoice.org. This resource is a “non-profit organization working to stop junk mail for good.” Sign up for a free account (donations are welcomed) and you are on your way to a smaller pile of mail. An important feature: you can enter variations of your name and different addresses.
Letting Go

If you want to keep your paper catalogs because you prefer thumbing through the pages, toss all the old catalogs and keep the rest in one spot – a basket, box or file. Then when you receive a new catalog, toss the previous issue. Out with the old; in with the new.

Credit Card Offers

Credit card companies also practice “push” marketing when they send you offers via mail. If you are in the market for a new credit card, pre-screened offers (meaning, you already qualify) may be a good way to review and compare rates and perks. However, if you have no interest in obtaining a new credit card, there are ways to eliminate them temporarily or permanently. Visit www.optoutprescreen.com to opt out of these offers, access the National Do Not Call Registry and other resources for discontinuing unsolicited mail, email and phone calls.

Letting Go:

Once you’ve decided you want to discard credit card offer mailings, and even if you have applied for one, shred the paper. If you don’t have a shredder, tear the papers into thin strips or pieces and place one half in recycling and the other half in the kitchen garbage.

Have Patience

While these methods can be very effective in reducing junk mail, some organizations are slower than others to update their databases. It may take 60 – 90 days to really see a difference in your mailbox with mail campaigns already in the works. Recycle what you receive in the meantime. If you prefer to track progress, keep a running list of each item you’ve canceled with the date you took action. You can use this free opt-out request tracker for that purpose. Keep in mind that each variation of name or resident will require separate cancellations. Here are additional resources for getting off junk mail lists once and for all:

DirectMail.com
DMAchoice.org
DoNotCall.gov

Need help cutting down your junk mail or piles of paper? I’m ready to help! Call me at 904-500-SORT (7678) or message me here.  Let me know what other organizing issues you would like help with. I’d love to hear from you.

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