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

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.