Spring Cleaning Your File Cabinet

by Ramona Creel

Clear Out The Clutter

Your filing system is a lot like your junk drawer. Every time you find something that you think might be useful, you stash it away. Some of those things come in handy later on — others just take up space. But every once in a while, you have to clear the decks and start fresh with your storage. Now, here's your chance!

Empty every folder out of your file drawer and start by asking yourself if that category is still meaningful and relevant to your life. Completed projects, old client files, and obsolete reference topics may be able to go away. You can then sort through each “keeper” folder and clean out unnecessary and outdated paperwork. Remember, only current and relevant documents should reside in your active files. If you don't use it all the time but might possibly need to refer to that information again in the future, place the item in your archive files. If not, and there is no legal reason for you to keep it, toss or shred.

A New Coat Of Paint

While you've got your file system emptied, take a minute to look at your supplies and see if they pass muster. Are your folders getting old and raggedy, coming apart at the seams and losing their grip on your hanging file rails? Why not replace them with new, clean files. Are your labels a mess? Too many cross-outs and write-overs make it hard to find the folder you need — so get some fresh labels and neatly type or print the correct title for each file. Are your filing cabinets dysfunctional, with dented and hard-to-open drawers? If you have to fight with your cabinet every time you need a document, it's time to consider a replacement.

Also examine your naming convention and make sure that your files are labeled in a way that makes sense. The goal is to start each file with the name of the larger category to which it belongs (ex: utilities), then add on the descriptor that lets you know exactly what paperwork that folder contains (ex: utilities — water or utilities — electric), moving from general to more specific. Color-coding your files and/or labels is another great way to distinguish categories of files from one another.

Put It All Back In Order

Finally, it's time to get each document back in its home. Once you have all of your file folders labeled and placed in the drawer, check around your home or office to see if there are any loose piles of paper sitting out — on a desk, shelf, countertop, or credenza (don't forget to look for homeless papers stuffed into drawers or boxes, as well!) Go through each stack and clear out any junk — papers that you thought might be useful, but now turn out the be outdated, obsolete, or no longer relevant to your interests.

Once you've trimmed the piles down to only what you know you want to keep (and will use in the future), file those papers one-by-one in your existing categories. Don't just ask yourself where it should go, but also where you would LOOK for it when you need that document down the road. And if you don't have an appropriate category (or subcategory) for that item, create a new file.

By the time you are done, every piece of paper should have a home and be easy to locate whenever you need it. If you missed spring this year, don't worry — you can clean up your paper management act any time you need to. Don't put it off until next spring!

© Ramona Creel, all rights reserved. Ramona Creel is a modern Renaissance woman and guru of simplicity -- traveling the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of radically downsizing, and inspiring others to regain control of their own lives. As a Professional Organizer and Accountability Coach, Ramona will help you create the time and space to focus on your true priorities -- clearing away the clutter other obstacles and standing in the way of that life you've always wanted to be living. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a travel writer, social commentator, and blogger, she shares her experiences and insights about the world as we know it. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at www.RamonaCreel.com. And be sure to follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.