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how do you organize a filing cabinet?

Posted by joann_fla (My Page) on
Wed, Jul 23, 08 at 19:09

I've been putting this off so long, I just can't stand all this paper. I have a 4 drawer file cabinet & its still not organized. I am over run with papers what can I do?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: how do you organize a filing cabinet?

Before you organize anything, be sure it is even worth keeping.


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RE: how do you organize a filing cabinet?

Joan na, My best advice is to first purge anything you don't really need. Then, when you start filing, create large sections: Home, Work, Cars, Health Insurance, Bills. Within those sections, divide things into files based on how YOU would look for them.

For instance, when I get a new notice in from the homeowner's association, I know that I will look in the home area, in the folder I have for the HOA. However, if they are sending a notice about something to do with landscaping requirements, I'll put that notice in the Lawn folder instead, because that's where I'll look for it later.

Basically, you want to put together a system that works for you. If it helps, my filing cabinet has 5 drawers and each one has a separate type of files in it.


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RE: how do you organize a filing cabinet?

Separate the papers you want to save into stacks (bank statement, mutual fund, paid bills, auto insurance, life insurance, information on products you own (like computer), medicaletc. whatever you have. I keep a folder of things which are of interest to me--nothing important, just interesting. Each stack is going into a manila folder.

On a paper, write down the titles of the folders you want, put them in alphabetical order. Get a box of manila file folders, and label them starting with the first title on a folder with the tab on the left, the second folder you label will have the tab in the middle position, the third folder on the right, then back to the left for the next folder. I'm assuming you are using letter size folders. This way their positions will be staggered in your filing drawer and you can easily see the titles.

You need a file cabinet with the side bars to hold the hanging folders which your manila folders sit in. Make a trip to Office Depot or Staples to get help with this. If you need a file cabinet, they are not expensive, but the real cheapo ones are pretty flimsy. Step up a bit if you can. If you cannot afford a file cabinet, you can get the plastic crates which will hold the hanging folders quite nicely.

Good luck, and congratulations on starting an important project. There's nothing like finding papers when you need them.


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RE: how do you organize a filing cabinet?

I have a two drawer cabinet, the top drawer is for "business" items, the bottom is for "personal". So all of my financial/tax/insurance/freelance type files are in the top drawer, medical files, pet files, car titles and household project type stuff is in the bottom drawer.

For finances, I have old tax records in the back, with the current year's file in front of that (and a folder on my desk for this year's reciepts and such). Each bank and credit card/loan payment has it's own file for statements, payment stubs, etc...I probably don't need these, but I do save them just in case. Files pertaining to the house take up several files - one for insurance, one for tax payment stubs, and one for our actual mortgage documents. Car insurance documents are in another folder, along with the payment information on the one car we make payments on. I have a file for credit reports too. I'm doing a little freelance work this year, so that has a file too, with two folders, one for copies of my work, the other for invoices sent out.

We each have a medical file in the second drawer for forms, payment stubs, etc. Each of my dogs has a file as well for vaccination records, license papers, and vet records. If we're doing research on a project for the house (like painting the house, landscaping, or roofing), I put those in separate files in the bottom drawer. Vacation research and planning goes there too, along with passports and birth certificates (one file each for passports and birth certs.). :-)

That's really all we file.


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RE: how do you organize a filing cabinet?

One tip: Have master folders and subfolders (like, master folder CAR and subfolder CAR INSURANCE and subfolder REPAIRS).

But do NOT require everything to be in a subfolder. The owner's manual can just be shoved into the CARS master folder. Or, if you get some odd piece of paper about the car--let's say you run across a newspaper article about customizing your Dodge pickup--you can just stick it into the master folder.

I have a folder marked FUN; inside there's a subcategory folder marked ZOO and one marked FRUIT (it has newspaper stories on where to pick berries or apples, plus a flyer from a place we've been to a couple of times). The master folder has lots of other stuff, all unrelated.

Forcing everything into a subcategory wastes time and energy.

(I like having hanging folders for master folders, and manila ones for subcategories).

I have a master category called DAUGHTER - SAVINGS; inside is a separate folder for each of the savings programs she has. Son has one, and Parents has one.

Lots of the paperwork you don't need to keep. I don't even file quarterly reports from most of my retirement savings plans. I don't plan to DO anything w/ that info, so I toss it. I keep the start-up paperwork. Some of them, I keep just a year's worth, in case I wanted to track how it's doing. But I've mostly stopped, because honestly I'm not going to act on any of that info anyway. And it's not "official"--it's just a report for now.


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RE: how do you organize a filing cabinet?

I'm oddball out here :) I have several 2 drawer good quality file cabs. Actually 2 are butted together, topped with a wood shelf and my stereo/CD boxes sit on top, and it is in my dining room.

For many years I have used an large expandable accordian file thing that sits inside the file cab. That is where I file all my monthly bills (and each slot is labeled from AAA to VISA) and I just lift the whole thing out when it is time to do my taxes. Behind that are hanging folders with various categories related to my work/company correspondence, licenses etc. (I am a nurse.) The bottom drawer (hanging files) has everything related to my extensive landscape including categories for various shrubs, control of deer, etc.

The second cab (hanging files)has one drawer for everything medical from bills, lab reports, surgery records to articles about my various orthopedic issues. The bottom drawer is everything my executrix would need - advance directives, copies of latest will/tax return, insurance policies, retirement savings accounts, car title, etc. All originals are kept in a fire proof safe in basement. Don't laugh, but I keep all receipts of major house contracts and purchases in an old hard suitcase in the bottom of my entry coat closet.

Then I have a 2 drawer cab in back hallway off kitchen (on top sits newspapers/mags ready to be tied for weekly recycling.) Top drawer has all my various boxes of note cards and a box with dividers for 'birthday, blank, thinking of you, inspiration, etc.) The bottom drawer has everything related to equipment and auto; these are not hanging files, plus file folders of favorite recipes/menus/newspaper articles (food related). So easy to lift out onto kitchen table to review directions, troubleshooting, etc.

Every couple of years (rainy day project)I go through some of these files and throw out what no longer applies - like household items I no longer have. At tax time, it is a good time to shred all those bills I don't need to keep.

Since identify threft has become such a issue, I keep a shredder in the dining room and as mail comes it, I shred anything that might hurt me, put the envelopes and other junk in a grocery bag for tieing up for the recycle bin.

After taking over a year to sort, shred, etc. 25 years of bills etc. stored in attic, I vowed never again would I get so lazy....I still have a laundry basket filled with boxes of old checks to sort through - one by one as anything that proves I paid/need to keep must be pulled for the future.

I do advocate getting a fire proof safe. I used to keep a SDB at the bank but their fees got so expensive even they recommended I get my own at Staples....my biggest fear is a house fire and being unable to prove purchase receipts.

Everyone has different needs. I would recommend taking one category at a time and deciding how you want to file them, what should be kept in a safe, what you no longer need to keep. Since you have a 4 drawer cab, put those file you are into frequently at the height most convenient to your height and can see names on the folders. The top and bottom are probably better for topics you don't need as often.

I do like hanging folders and they do have ones that are 2 inches thick in addition to the regular size - great for thicker or multi files within one topic. But as you can see, not everything needs a hanging folder (and they can get costly.) Not every drawer needs the plastic labeled tags inserted into the edge of the hanging folder (best for items in lower drawers, I admit.) The whole task can be overwhelming so take it one step (drawer) at a time. The only colored folder (purple) I have is in my executrix drawer marked 'legal' - just makes it easy for me to identify and pull out for any new necessary papers....

Lastly, where you keep your cabinet plays an important role in how well you will use it and keep it up-to-date. I don't have an 'office' and use my small kitchen table and dining room table, so my cabs are easily accessible.

Good luck and I hope this 'story' gives you some direction....


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RE: how do you organize a filing cabinet?

I have a large file cabinet that is divided into 4 sections. 1 section is monthly stuff (mortgage, utility, credit card statements, cable), 1 section is financial stuff (in green folders!), 1 section is annual or non-monthly stuff (subscriptions, dues, tax receipts, insurance activity, education records), the other is temporary (college search, PTA projects).

To make labels for these things, I keep an Excel file where I can add or delete entries as needed. I use a label making program (Word, Publisher, Works) with the Excel file to mail merge the labels. Mail merge is fast & easy to do.


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RE: how do you organize a filing cabinet?

I keep as much as possible on the computer and therefore no paper files (great firewall, etc.) - and am plannign to get a scanner and put EVERYTHING on it - on an external hard drive anyway LOL - i hate the paper storage - then i can just scan, shred, and be done.

with desktop search - you can search for anything on your computer


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RE: how do you organize a filing cabinet?

I have two 2-drawer cabinets beside my computer. On top sit my shredder and printer.
My drawers are divided into far top left 1)warranties, lawn mowers maintenance and operation booklets, appliance receipts etc; btm left 2) household expenses (we built and then we added on when my mom had her stroke and came to live with us). I don't get in these drawers often.

The closer set top is my main household expenses and bills, credit cards, banks etc.
The bottom of that unit is for income taxes, medical reports, and retirement info.

I do like hanging folders with tabs and a manilla folder(s) inside - it makes it easy to remove a folder from the hanging one and put it back so it is always in the same location.

I really need to scan some of this stuff and put it on rotating CDs to keep current, in the event of fire.


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RE: how do you organize a filing cabinet?

Thanks everyone. I just found a great site, hope it helps someone else.

Here is a link that might be useful: orgainze file cabinet


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RE: how do you organize a filing cabinet?

On file cabinets themselves:

never buy a cheap one; never buy a budget one.

Always buy one from a real office-supply store, and never spend less than $120.

Always get full-extension drawers w/ decent ball-bearing slides.

As for hanging file folders, I'm a big fan of the box-bottom ones.


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