Creating a Life Free From Chaos

Conquering the File Pile: 7 Tips for Paper Management

I have a File Pile. A large one. I hate filing. I put it off as long as possible. But when the file gets too big, it’s overwhelming to even think about getting started. So how do we do this? Let’s break it down.

    1. As with any good decluttering project, it’s best to start with eliminating the unnecessary. Why file it if you don’t need it? I put everything in one big pile on the floor. I go through each piece, trying to talk myself into tossing as many as pieces of paper as possible. My recycle bin fills up, as does my shredder. I end up with a significantly smaller File Pile. Yay! Progress!
    2. A simple filing system is key. I like to name file folders with a “keyword” description, such as “Utilities,” then put in a subtitle that describes exactly which utility the folder is for, “Utilities/Electricity.” I then organize the folders by type, such as all the house files together, all the medical files together, etc. Another popular technique is straight alphabetically — name the file and put it in ABC order. A friend of mine uses a large filing folder that’s generic (Utilities), then fills it with subfolders for each specific type inside (Electricity, Water, Internet, etc.) Pick whatever method works for you.
    3. Now file something. I “know” the key to keeping the filing system current is to always file right away. I’m not very good at that. I’m trying to make it a habit. Instead of letting it all pile up, can you at least file weekly instead of uh, semi-yearly? Just as bad, don’t put items in a pile or a folder marked “To File.” Seriously, opening the file drawer and putting the document in the correct folder should take all of 5 seconds, then you’re done. It really shouldn’t be hard to make it a habit, right?
    4. To make it easier to file right away, keep a supply of manila or hanging file folders and labels someplace handy. If you have something that needs to be filed but doesn’t have a folder for it yet, you can create one on the fly and get that document in the filing cabinet where it belongs.
    5. Slowly reduce your filing needs. Instead of paper files, try to store information online or on your computer. I have a virtual filing cabinet on my computer, literally called “filing cabinet,” and it’s set up just like my paper filing cabinet. Contacts, budgets, ideas, kids’ school info. Just make sure to back up your computer often. Since I tend to forget those kinds of things, I gave up the worry and signed up for Carbonite to back up my computer regularly. I also use Dropbox for a lot of my files, and Dropbox automatically backs up for you anyway. You can ask people to email you important files instead of giving you paper copies — most documents are created on a computer anyway. I also use eFax for receiving faxes, so I can save them electronically instead of having the printed page. And, of course, the biggie is to stop printing stuff! Do you really need a hard copy of that document? Make pdfs your friend!
    6. With the stuff you do need to keep that’s in paper form, can you scan it and save it digitally? I do this with my sons’ artwork. They bring home a ton of it. I scan it all into the computer or take a digital photo, save only my very favorite pieces in their original form, and send the rest of to grandma and grandpa. The grandparents love it. I love that I don’t have to store it. Yet I still get to “keep” it all.
    7. A note about why stacking doesn’t work. When you just stack your papers up, then the pile gets a bigger and bigger and more intimidating and then you have a huge pile that you never want to go through (that was always my M-O). You can’t find anything when you need it, and you’re frustrated that the organizing thing isn’t working for you. Plus, the unsightly pile clutters up your desk, distracting you from your real work. Trust me, been there, done that. Stop the stacking.

When More is Less

Photo from Creative Commons

Photo from Creative Commons

What is “enough”? We often neglect to ask ourselves that question. How much “stuff” is enough? How much money? What do I really need to be happy?

We often want more than we have. But what happens when we get more? We’re still not satisfied because there is always something newer, something better, something more. In this tight economy, you hear so much about economizing and downsizing. But that’s always about how to get more for less — new ways to find a bargain. We shouldn’t be asking ourselves, “How can I afford that?” We should be asking, “Do I really need it?”

More money and more stuff don’t contribute to happiness. Cheaper isn’t better — sometimes cheap is just cheap. Quality matters over quantity, especially when your goal is to live with less. The most economical thing to do is to break the consumer cycle. Before buying something, see if you already have something you can make do with. Do you already have what you need? Get creative — can you make what you need? Is this a want or a true need?

If it’s a want, wait at least a week after you see something that you want to buy. Most of the time, you won’t go back to buy it. It’s helpful to keep a list on your smartphone or in a small notebook you can keep with you. If you check your list and realize you had forgotten about the item, great! Cross that thing off your list. If you check your list and you still have a need for the item, take a few minutes to search your house for a suitable substitute before you hit the store. Being intentional with what you buy, what you keep, and what you get rid of is the key to turning Less into More instead of the other way around.