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Chaos to Categories

Paper is a challenge to organize for almost everyone. In almost every case, a filing system is the answer, but I see a lot of people get dejected when they set up a filing system and it doesn’t seem to work well. One mistake I see a lot is that the file folder categories are too specific. People get so excited about labeling and filing that they make files for every single piece of paper. For example, if they have a lot of fashion clippings from magazines, they make files for “Skirts,” “Pants,” “Jackets,” “Blouses,” etc. Unless that person is in the fashion industry, those categories are too specific and a single category labeled ‘Fashion,” would be much easier to maintain.

Making categories too specific can also be a problem when thinking about storage containers. A good example is holiday decorations. Unless you have a major costume collection, you probably don’t need to have separate containers for “Sexy Witch,” “Mummy,” “Batman,” and “Cop.” One container for costumes, or maybe one for adult costumes and one for each of the kids, is likely to do just fine.

Having categories that are too broad is also a problem. Dumping a tangle of Christmas lights into a bin of decorations and holiday dishes is a scenario for frustration and breakage. Most people who decorate for Christmas tend to have many special items that deserve proper storage.

Where you need to go more specific or more broad in your organizing categories depends on your interests and collections. For a wine connoisseur, a jumble of stemware in a cupboard won’t work. He or she would divide the balloon Burgundy glasses from the slim sauvignon blancs. But for a person who just likes a glass of Whatever White while they’re cooking, a shelf of random wine glasses is just fine; separating the wine glasses from the coffee cups is specific enough.

Sometimes, little things need to be painstakingly separated to create a little sanity. I’m thinking of nails of various sizes, screws, nuts and bolts as a good example. Digging through a jumble of them to find just the size you need is time consuming and hard on a manicure. When they are separated — ahh! — a nice whiff of sanity and ease. It’s a tedious chore to separate them the first time, but once you do, it’s a snap to maintain.

The example of categories that are too broad in paper filing might be something like medical. If you and your family are blessed with excellent health, a file labeled “Medical” for each family member is probably plenty to hold annual checkups and insurance information. But if a chronic or serious condition strikes, more files might be needed to separate out lab results, drug information and specific doctors, so that you can find a single piece of information quickly when you need it.

The key is that when you find yourself unable to locate papers when you need them, your categories are probably too specific (and you’ve forgotten what you filed something under) or too broad (and the paper is “lost” in an overstuffed folder of miscellaneous items).

Each person’s categories should be personal and customized. Add some categories, cut some categories, play with the idea, and when you strike the right balance — voila! — you’re organized.