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A File System that Actually Works

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Are you organized? Do you want to be organized? Yeah me too. In our last 2 houses we had a filing cabinet and an efficient file system. It had folders for all our important papers and was organized so perfectly. The problem always was that I never put the paper into the filing cabinet! It sat on the edge of my table or counter top until one day I couldn’t stand it anymore and took an hour or more to sort everything out.
In this house, for the past year, our filing cabinet has been in the closet of our guest room. Guess how many times I’ve opened those drawers? My actual filing system has been chaotic. Piles everywhere and a bookcase in our dining area that collects anything of importance. It was time to do something about it!
a file system that actually works: piles not files

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I have learned a few things about myself over the years.

1) I don’t do well with traditional files. I cannot and will not take the time to open a drawer and file a paper away.

2) I keep too much paper. I need to purge and only keep what I really need.
So I came up with a file system that has actually been working for our family for almost a month! Woo hoo, that’s a record folks!

I’m going to show you a before of my bookcase. Don’t judge, this is not staged in any way!
bookcase before
That mess was getting a little much. And if I needed anything of importance I had to dig through the whole pile.  I had good intentions with this cabinet.  The bottom 2 cubbies hold seldom used warranty and home information and are covered with pretty yellow fabric.  I also picked up 3 magazine files a while back at Target that held my coupons, insurance paperwork, and bills.

The cabinet stayed, but it needed help.

I bought a 12 pack of very sturdy banker’s boxes on Amazon. You can pick up a pack and get organized too!  Bankers Box Stor/File Magazine Holders 

These can hold a good amount of weight and stand up straight even when empty.
I am a piler, not a filer. I like to go through the mail and put it in a pile. If that works why not build on it.

I first came up with a list of common and important piles. Just about everything that comes in the mail or into my home that I need to keep fits into one of these piles.

  • Coupons
  • Insurance (health)
  • Bills (only the few that still exist in hard copy)
  • Receipts (just the important ones, everything else gets shredded)
  • Investments
  • Taxes (after taxes are filed the completed paperwork does make it’s way upstairs to the file cabinet)
  • Home & Car
  • Kids (miscellaneous items, not school related, that I need to keep on hand)
  • Work (for my husband, my work papers are in a separate room)
  • Magazines (if it doesn’t fit in here I either need to read it toss it or stop subscribing)

At first, I just wrote the categories on my file boxes with a Sharpie to see how this system would flow.  My husband and I both really liked it!  Once we knew it was a keeper I dressed up the area and decluttered the rest of the bookcase.

a file system that actually works

To decorate the boxes I used 12×12 yellow and gray light weight cardstock and spray glue.

glue and paper
Fast Tack Spray Adhesive 

This glue dries fast and holds well.  I cut a 12×12 sheet in half and sprayed the back with glue.  I placed it on the spine of the box and folded it over the sides.  It was dry by the time I was done.  Great for working with cardstock, I didn’t have to hold it in place worrying it might move around.

yellow and gray magazine files

This bookcase is our command center of sorts.  On the opposite wall I added a command center for actionable items.  This helps keep everything off the counter.  

I’ve bared my organizing soul to you, now tell me how do you stay organized?

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Friday 18th of January 2019

I am looking for a new filling system and this looks great I have a load of magazine files that don't match and will use your idea of decorating them so they all look the same.

Dianne Harris

Sunday 8th of January 2017

3 months , decluttering the monster paperwork of 30 years , phase one , from my loft ,into loads of a4 (large) files almost complete , two bins full of paperwork, magazines , etc, including plenty of shredding waste , there goes the rain forests. Phase two converting an old wooden bureau / former offices military desk, into you idea style folders , wish me luck, great idea , yes also archive stuff in other room, valuables in a cheap metal fire proof old military filing cabinet, just needs to be (home converted, pretty like your files ) Thanks for shedding your great idea, it has gave a lot of us a kick up the stationary, to get on with it , Many thanks Dianne Harris Gosport , England

Declutterathon Day 16: Work on Your Filing System -

Tuesday 27th of September 2016

[…] A File System that Actually Works […]


Monday 7th of March 2016

how do you keep your papers upright? do you use any file folders in the boxes? a photo of the front of them would be helpful. did you put the cardstock all over the boxes or just on the spine? . . . i like your system - it would be so much easier to move around than a filing cabinet (we move every few years), and is so much cuter. this is a very old post - how has this system worked out for you, are you still using it?


Monday 7th of March 2016

Brianna - I am glad you like this system. I am still using it, just in a different room. As for paper standing up right, they don't unless the box is full. Since all the boxes are pressed together on my bookshelf it keeps the papers upright. The decorative cardstock is just on the spine of the file boxes. Hope that helps, thanks for visiting!


Monday 11th of August 2014

What a beautiful filing system! We have everything in a less-than-pretty filing cabinet. I'm terrible, though, about filing things away....I let them pile up until I have a huge mass of papers to file! Stopping by from the Pretty Pintastic Party.


Monday 11th of August 2014

Oh my gosh we sound so much alike! Thanks for stopping by Bev.

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