Queries from the Curious: Ask Helen

By Giggle Magazine


I’ve purged a lot of paper using your suggestions for recycling and shredding. I tucked the archival stuff into boxes, which helped clear out the filing cabinet. What’s left is a filing system that doesn’t make much sense to me or my husband and stacks of papers that still need a home. Now what?

Now you’re ready to create a reference filing system that will yield its secrets to you on demand, assuming you take the time to build it logically. A straight alphabetical model isn’t effective because our brains work best with categories. Organizers sometimes call this project filing.

Spread out those homeless, but important, papers, and write down the broad subject areas that you notice. For example, how many papers do you have that relate to your car, children, pets, finances, insurances, recreational activities and home maintenance? Group them together. Through this exercise, you will create an outline of the broad categories reflecting the papers that serve your administrative needs.

● Pay attention to the language you use as you group the papers. What do you call the thing that sits in your driveway? Go with your intuitive language. Is it your car, vehicle, truck? Or do you call it “Bob”? If other people will use the files too, make sure the language you use for categories also makes sense to them. Remember, filing is as much about retrieval as it is about storage.

You are now ready to use hanging files to establish the main categories of your filing system. You will divide all the related papers into subfolders. There’s no rule about how to do this because this process is based on what your brain considers to be logical. Keep the system simple and avoid over filing. A single piece of paper does not warrant a subfolder all its own. Let’s use the Car category as an example. The simplest approach might be to put all car-related papers into a hanging file, knowing that you will have to sort through many papers to find a particular one. If you want to subdivide the papers, consider subfolders for legal papers (title, purchase documents, tickets), maintenance receipts, loans and AAA membership. Find the groupings and language that make sense to you.

Update your outline of categories and subfolders as you create them, because this list will become your file index, a roadmap into your files to help you remember where you put things until you get used to the system. As long as you use your own vocabulary, you should be able to follow the trail back to the correct subfile easily.

Go to the office supply store to choose from the variety of filing supplies. You will need plastic tabs to label the hanging files, or the modern alternative, which has the tab built into the hanging file. You need white adhesive filing labels if you want to write out your labels, or a labeling machine, which gives greater visibility for the hanging files.

If you’re concerned about mislabeling files when you first start the process, use sticky notes instead of creating permanent labels, or label the folders tabs in pencil. This way you can change the names easily if you recategorize the papers. Reference files are not static. Purge them every time you handle one. Papers that seem important in 2016 may be obsolete by 2018. Let the files expand, contract and disappear as needed.

Check out the Giggle Magazine Pinterest board for more organizing ideas!