the shrink ‘rap: issue 16

the shrink ‘rap, Issue 16

In this issue:

File Ideas – Creating a System that Works

You do have a file system, don’t you?  Is it overflowing with useless documents?  Do the file drawers close? Do you have a million file folders with nothing in them? Did you set up a “great” system only to realize that you can never find a thing?  When was the last time you sorted through your files?

To create an efficient system for filing documents, let’s start with a few simple rules:

  • Only file what you NEED.  What is it that you need?  Any documents you need to support your tax return (donation receipts, business expenses, income history/paystubs, investment company year end summaries); documents related to your car (repairs, loan/purchase papers), medical history papers, work history documents (evaluations from employers, resume), legal documents, mortgage paperwork, house maintenance documents (repairs and upgrades to home), financial papers (some banking and investment statements).   Note: Vital documents such as passports, marriage certificates, Social Security cards, and birth certificates should be kept in a fireproof box or safe.  Please see archived ‘Shrink Rap articles for information on how to store warranties, user manuals and receipts, as there are typically too many to store in a file drawer; they just take up too much valuable space.
  • If you can find the information elsewhere, you probably do not need to file it.  For example, you can always look up all Toyota service centers online instead of keeping a paper copy of the same list on file.
  • Create file names based on how you are going to RETRIEVE the file.  Use words that are going to trigger your memory.  When you are looking for documents related to your car, are you going to look under Car, Toyota or Automobile?
  • If you share a file system with someone else in your home or office, agree on the file set-up and file names BEFORE putting a system together.
  • Do not overcomplicate your file system by using too many file folders.  If you rarely need access to information, consider combining it into one folder.  For example, I rarely need to access my files related to our two cars.   I have one file for each car, and the folder contains:  loan/purchase information, repair receipts and maintenance history.
  • If you use hanging folders, make sure they are wide enough to accomodate the file folders you plan to put in them.  Thicker file folders will require box-bottom hanging folders.
  • Use the same system for labeling each folder – handwritten labels, printed labels from your computer or labels from a label maker.  Every folder must be labeled.  There is no such thing as MISCELLANEOUS.  If it is important enough to keep, it deserves to have its own file name.
  • Align all tabs for hanging folders to the left, right or in the center instead of having them zig-zag back and forth.  Doing so will allow for easier filing and retrieval of documents.  It will also be easier for you to add a new file without having to readjust the zig-zag pattern of the tabs following the newly inserted folder.
  • Keep the files you access most frequently closest to you – in the top drawer, near the front.
  • Sort through files at least once a year to purge outdated and unnecessary documents.

I am a firm believer in keeping things the same if you have a system that works and it is efficient.  There are several ways to organize your file drawers.  If you have a system that works for you, it’s probably best to stick with it.  If you find filing to be a chore, often misfile documents and have difficulty remembering where you put something, then it’s time to reconsider your current system.

A few options for organizing your files in your filing cabinet or file box:

Alphabetical –  Alphabetize hanging folders by the tab name (Automobile before Insurance).  The file folders in the hanging folders then get alphabetized too (Porsche before Volvo file).  If you do not label the tabs on the hanging files, you can just file all file folders alphabetically.

Color-Coded – Assign each type of folder a color.  Financial folders are green; medical folders are red etc.  This is my preferred method of filing because you can visually target exactly where something is.  All files should be grouped together within the drawer by color and if desired, you can then alphabetize the folders within each color.

Numeric – Assign each category a number (100) and each sub-file a number (.3).  A file name/number would then appear as 100.3, 200.7 etc.  A cross-index (handwritten or computer document like Excel) needs to be kept to indicate that category 100 means technology.  This system can be time-consuming to set up but works well when the contents of the files need to remain confidential to people who might be working in close proximity.

Chronologic – This type of filing makes sense if you receive numerous documents of a similar type regularly.  For example, if you are in the construction business and have to keep track of permits, you might file permits chronologically with the most recent appearing at the front.

Putting together a workable filing system is an investment of your time.  You need to plan how you are going to set it up, how many files you will need, how much space you have available and who else is going to access your files.  I strongly advise you to think about your filing system as your resource for all important documents.  If you take the time to set up something that truly reflects your needs, you will be able to use the same system year after year.

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Water Cooler Rap

Simple Tips for Daily Living

Favorite Organizing Tips from Cluttershrink’s® Clients

“Hi Crystal – I just had to send you this one – although I don’t know if it is applicable to anyone but me…..NO MORE PAPER IN THE BEDROOM!  Also, you talked me (gently, and a little at a time) into canceling my subscription to the New York Times.  The newspapers used to accumulate to the point where I had to take time off from work to sort through them!  Even when I changed to a Sunday-only subscription and discarded all but 4 sections, I couldn’t keep up.  I wasn’t able to cancel my subscription until you told me I could subscribe online, so I knew I would at least have access to the articles.  It’s the best thing I ever did!” – Anonymous in Bucks County, PA

***Cluttershrink’s® thoughts on paper in the bedroom:  A bedroom is for relaxation and sleep, not work and surely not piles of papers.  A book or a few magazines to read before bed is acceptable, but handwritten notes and mail should be limited to your office or desk.

“Crystal, one thing that has been invaluable to me was given to me when I moved to a new/previously owned house.  The previous owner gave me a three-ring binder with all of the owner’s manuals for the appliances, etc.  I have moved twice since then and one of the first things I did was gather all of the manuals into a fat, three-ring binder.  Some of them already have three holes punched in them.  For those that don’t, I have clear sleeves with 3 holes in them and just slip the manual inside.  As time goes on, I add new manuals.” – Ann in PA

***Cluttershrink’s® thoughts on manuals and warranties:  Although Ann (client) received this three-ring binder of manuals from the previous homeowner, Cluttershrink®  recommends storing manuals and warranties in the same way.  See The ‘Shrink Rap November 2004 newsletter for more information on keeping track of your manuals and warranties.  It’s a good idea to staple the receipt to the manual as well.

“Crystal, There is one thing that you asked me to do that has helped me tremendously.  You asked me to “empty my brain” before going to bed at night by making a list of everything I need to accomplish the next day.  Putting my to-do list together the night before has enabled my brain to “sleep” so that I can actually get some sleep.  I no longer have that “oh, I hope I remember to do that tomorrow” feeling nagging me all night long.” – Kim in Montgomery County, PA

***Cluttershrink’s® thoughts on to-do lists and “emptying your brain”: If your to-do list is so long that you are afraid that you will forget something unless you keep reminding yourself all night long, it is definitely time to write down a REALISTIC to-do list. I recommend spending 10-15 minutes at night writing your to-do/task list for the next day.  Your to-do list should only contain tasks that you can realistically expect to get done on THAT particular day.

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Ask the Organizer

We’re excited to include another submission to The ‘Shrink Rap’s “Ask the Organizer” section. Please continue to submit your questions by e-mailing them to Every submitted question related to organizing will be included in a future issue of The ‘Shrink Rap.

Q: I have been looking for a way to store my daughter’s hair accessories.  We have a designated spot for them in her room.  However, they are all in a jumbled mess.  I’d sooner go out and buy new stuff than waste my time trying to untangle the ones she already has.  Do you have any suggestions?  Thanks – Mary in Delaware

A: Dear Mary in Delaware,

I also share the burden of living in a household with too many hair accessories.  My first thought was to try a drawer organizer unit with numerous small compartments.  Admittedly, this did not work for us.  Because my daughter’s little hands could not manage all the small pieces, she inevitably dumped it out to find what she wanted.  We have moved to a combination approach.  Hair elastics are stored around an empty cardboard toilet paper roll or on a carabiner clip (currently available at Wal-Mart for 92 cents!) in her dresser drawer.  Hairbands stand up in a small wooden box (from a craft store) on top of her dresser.  Hair bows with clips and barrettes are clipped to a long ribbon that hangs on a hook behind her door.  You could also try plastic or acrylic mini-drawer units (Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and The Containers Store) on top of the dresser.  The entire system is only 6-8″ high by 6-8″ deep and will not take up much space.  Organizing hair accessories is apparently so exciting in my house that I often find my daughter taking inventory and sorting her accessories when she’s supposed to be taking a nap.

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Need more help getting organized? Call Cluttershrink® for more information on receiving hands-on assistance organizing your home, office or relocation. Phone consultations, customized seminars, mentoring for new organizers and gift certificates are also available. Call 215.431.0590 or e-mail Crystal Sabalaske at

In the next issue

  • Moving? – Why You MUST De-Clutter First
  • Water Cooler Rap – Managing Kids’ Hand-Me-Downs
  • Ask the Organizer – Question & Response

Thank you for reading the 16th issue of The ‘Shrink Rap! Cluttershrink® welcomes feedback and questions. If you have a particular organizing topic you would like to learn more about in a future issue, please contact or provide feedback here.

If you like these tips and ideas and would like to share them with your friends, feel free to forward this newsletter to them.

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Posted in Accessories, Ask the Organizer, Filing, Kids, Office, Organizing, Paper Organizing, To-Do's, Words of Wisdom