19 Apr Paper Part 3: The File Files
I knew it. I had known it for a long time. And I was not looking forward to it. Yet I gathered my strength and descended the steps… slowly. There it was, in the corner next to the couch – the big, black metal beast I had haphazardly stuffed with files for the last seven years. It looked threatening. I could almost see its angry breath puffing out in hot, quick bursts. “No fear,” I told myself as I approached. I would not let my filing cabinet defeat me. I reached out a tentative hand, touching the cold metal. Growing braver, I closed my fist around a handle and yanked it open. “Oh god,” I thought as I looked within. “Oh dear god…”
So I may be being a bit dramatic, but the point is… I was not looking forward to minimizing and organizing my files. Who in their right mind enjoys filing? Certainly not me. There are many things I’d rather file than paper: my toenails, a knife blade, an official complaint. But I knew that my filing cabinet was a mess, my important documents were mingled with unimportant ones, and the entire cabinet was too large and clunky to remain in my wannabe minimalist house much longer. Here is what the cabinet looked like from without:
Lovely, isn’t it? Piled high with random clutter, it certainly accents the love seat… ahh! And here was the view from within:
There was no rhyme or reason to these files. They expanded as my life expanded. Have three kids? Make a file labeled “Kids!” Get a teaching job? Make a file labeled, “School Stuff!” Have passports, social security cards, and a marriage certificate? Make a file labeled “Important docs!” (The identity thieves will never think to look there!)
In case you didn’t notice, I used lots of exclamation points on my file labels to make them more important. But the truth was, this filing cabinet was a problem for two reasons: 1) I was only one fire or flood away from losing some very costly and hard-to-replace information, and 2) In the event of my untimely demise or incapacitation, anyone besides me would have a darned difficult time locating anything in there.
Enter Lori from Forte Organizers. Like a fairy godmother with a magic wand, she showed me her filing secrets…. and my life changed. Well, my filing life changed, at least.
Here is the first thing you need to know about organizing files: put it on paper FIRST. I don’t know why I’d never done this. It makes a lot of sense. So, before I touched my files, I split all my information into main and sub categories and wrote it all on paper. (Lori has a great link on her resources page, called a Residential File Index, with examples of main/sub categories. Check it out!) Here’s a pic of my first page:
Next, I got to work, weeding out my files and putting together my new system. I kept an ongoing shred and recycle pile, because my goal was to minimize my files, not just organize them.
Then, I got to the fun part… making the new system! I used Lori’s left/center filing system for main and sub categories. For example, one of my main (left) categories was Cars; the sub (center) categories were the names of the individual cars we own. Interesting note: if you go to an office supply store, you’ll find that most file folders come in three different positions (left, right, and center). The problem is, if you actually use all three positions, your files need to be redone every time you add or delete something. This is how files become disorganized! Who knew? With a left/center system, your files can easily change as your life changes. Buy a new car? Simply add a new center file behind the others. Easy.
Here’s what my completed project looked like:
Ahhh! Lovely, organized files that anyone can easily access! A thing of beauty! Because I downsized as I organized, I was able to ditch the bulky filing cabinet in favor of this portable file box. Now I can stash my files in a closet or cupboard, out of sight, when I don’t need them.
I also took all those important documents from my rather hilariously labeled “Important Docs!” folder and put them in a fire and flood proof safe. I bought this one at Target for around $50. A good investment, considering the cost of possibly replacing all these documents.