Monday, February 3

Efficient Organization: The Filing Cabinet

I am definitely an organized person. I come by it naturally, and have always seen the value in lists, schedules and everything having its place.

When discussing “The Happiness Project” at book club, one of the members commented “I just don't get how having a clean closet is going to make you happy!”  and I was stunned. Doesn’t everyone get a high from organizing, sorting and purging?

A reader and friend recently suggested that I parlay this area of obsession expertise into more blog posts, and while I’m all for it, I need to explain something.

I would call myself “efficiently organized” – which is not always what organizational-blog readers are interested in. Here’s a perfect example to illustrate what I mean: my filing cabinet.

At home and at school, I have well-groomed filing cabinets, with file folders neatly hand-labeled and arranged in alphabetical order. I’ve used this system forever, adding or deleting files as needed. For this reason, the hand-written labels work well for me.

Most organizational bloggers, though, go for the beautiful photo op. Readers like to see carefully typed labels in fancy fonts, done in a computer program, printed out on special stickers and carefully applied to the files.

But here’s the thing: I already have a perfectly functional system – taking a couple of hours just to change the look of the labels would not at all be efficient. It would be a waste of two hours of my time. Plus, what happens whenever I need a new label? My printing is neat and I never have trouble locating what I need in the cabinet, so it certainly serves its organizational purposes. And while I’m all for things being attractively presented in many areas of life/organization, literally NO ONE else sees my files but me. I’m pretty sure not another soul has ever opened by classroom filing cabinets, and on the very rare occasions my husband goes rooting around for a document himself at home, he’s certainly not complaining. Though I must admit that I did submit to Pinterest-pressure a couple of years ago and replace the folders that weren’t the same colour, which was refreshing. (Yes, I am being serious.)

Without further ado, here’s my very organized, but admittedly not really swoon-worthy photo:

On Pinterest, you can find tons of examples of filing cabinets that are beautifully refinished on the outside, but my cabinet at home (standard black, but in great condition) is kept in a closet, and I really don’t think there would be enough of a return on my investment to spend time beautifying the school cabinets which aren’t even my property.

My tips for filing success:

1. File immediately. People in the staff room the other day were talking about having a “To-File” pile. I never do. If something really needs to be kept (see next point) it goes from my hand directly into the filing cabinet. I open the mail as soon as I get in the door, and I truly do walk right downstairs, items in hand, and file any important pieces right where they go.

2. Only file what you absolutely must. So many things are available on the internet now, and filing within document folders on your computer is a much better idea than adding to paper folders. Getting e-mail notifications of bills and paying online helps with that, as well as removing your name from unnecessary mailing lists. Most of what I get in my mailbox at work, and a lot of what arrives at home, gets recycled. Even if it is something important, like a party invitation, I write the details down in my planner (RSVPing immediately if it’s required) and recycle the hard copy. For holiday cards, I keep a designated spot in the home for them to be collected/displayed. Most other correspondence (e.g. thank you cards) gets read, appreciated, showed to my husband or daughters if appropriate, and recycled. (Sorry if it sounds cold, but if you’re still reading, I assume you want me to be honest about my system!)

3. Whittle down your files on a regular basis. At school, I usually do this in June; pulling out a few folders at a time and whipping through them while the kids snack or work on art, or sometimes in the staff room while enjoying recess conversation. At home, it’s on the summer holidays, sitting in front of the TV. If I haven’t used it in a couple of years, I have multiple copies of it, or I know I can find it on the computer quickly if I need it again, it’s gone. I once read that tax stuff needs to be kept for seven years, so by year eight, it goes in the shredder or the fire pit. (To be clear, I mean the one in our backyard. I don’t camp.) I know I’m weird, but it gives me joy to pare down what’s in my filing cabinet (or pretty much any closet, cupboard or drawer).

So…are you inspired to get your filing cabinets into shape?

I already have a few more questions from a reader to get me rolling with this organizational series, but if you want to get a peek into an area of my home/work/life organization (besides, of course, my oh-so-gorgeous filing cabinets!), please comment, e-mail me, tweet me, etc. and I’d be happy to add your idea to the list.

I will never say that my way is the right way, but I certainly know what works for me, saving me time and making my days (from the crazy mornings to the exhausted evenings and everything in between) less stressful.

If you’re still with me, you may be interested in my previous clutter-control series:

# 2 - Beauty Products (no more contact lens products for me now!)
# 4 - Clutter Flashbacks (including hair accessories and coat closet)


Mary said...

Hey Kate,
I understand the "high" from having an organized closet - mine is colour coded! My problem is I get it organized but it never stays that way for long.
I like your suggestion for filing right away. My filing cabinet at work is very clearly labeled and I can easily access anything I need - home is ok but there is always room for improvement.
Once again, thanks for your great organization suggestions - really you could start your own organization consultation business.

This Mom said...

Oooh, the closet! I need to add that one to my list. I have a completely different system there - but again, it's efficient!