Lots of my clients put off purchasing organizing tools because
they aren’t sure what brand or style to get. Who wants to add to
their pile of clutter with more stuff that doesn’t work or fit or
is otherwise not up to the job in some way?

File cabinets are a great item to purchase early in the
organizing process because before you start sorting all your
papers, you need to have a place for them to go. If that place will
be file cabinets (and, as I’ve said before, I think everyone over
18 needs at least one two-drawer file cabinet) you have got to have
them ready and waiting when you start organizing.

My favorite brand for file cabinets is HON, available at office
supply stores and online. I have encountered many file cabinets in
my work and the HON mid-range cabinet is excellent for the
construction and appearance. 

The main thing I look for in a file cabinet is smooth and solid
opening and closing drawers action, which depends on a good
suspension system. They need to glide evenly, close firmly and
completely and have a counter-weight feature so that the cabinet
won’t tip over when the top drawer is completely open. Expect to
pay $175-$200 for this caliber of file cabinet.

If possible, don’t buy lateral file cabinets. Even though they
sort of look more like furniture, which clients sometimes
appreciate in a home office, they are a pain to work with because
often you have to file from the side of the drawer. If you are
already stuck with them, there are racks you can buy to hang your
files facing front, but if you are buying new cabinets, go with the
front loading style.

Don’t go for the cheapest file cabinet just to finally get a
file cabinet — even HON makes a cheapie that is flimsy and wears
out quickly — you know, the kind that makes the horrible screeching
noise when the drawers are opened and closed. It’s a sound that
will definitely deter filing and the goal is to make filing a
breeze. If you can’t afford the mid-range or high-end cabinets, buy
the clear plastic file boxes by Iris or Staples that you can stack
in the meantime while you save up to buy the better file

Several of my clients have wanted cabinets in designer colors,
but it is very difficult to find both good construction and
attractive colors in one cabinet. I always suggest black, ivory or
white. The cabinets I have sampled in decorator colors, such as
olive, cranberry or robin’s egg blue are either extremely flimsy or
exorbitantly priced. For me, it’s worth it to stick with a

If you have the extra cash, you could have a file cabinet
powder-coated in a custom color. Martha Stewart did just that in
her famous minty “Martha” green. The powder coating costs about
$200 a cabinet.

You could also try spray painting them yourself, if you’re handy
at that sort of thing. I’ve seen some artist’s file cabinets spray
painted in tie-dye and graffiti-style and the effect is really
cool. Just because it’s a file cabinet doesn’t mean it can’t be
beautiful — it just has to function beautifully first.