Organizing and home keeping was a huge trend during the pandemic, but I’m beginning to wonder: was it as shallow as Zoom dress and décor where only the surface and immediate background had to look presentable? Many of my recent clients found filing to be a major roadblock in their organizing endeavors. Some have not filed papers for a year or more, creating a chaotic environment that too often spills far outside the designated home office space or room.

There are a lot of reasons for filing log jams. Here’s a few and how to address them.

  1. You never created a real file system. If you don’t take the time to create an A – Z file system that really considers the categories you need files for, you will always be playing catch up. People have all kinds of excuses for not creating a file system. It is time consuming. It seems like it should be easy, so people are often reluctant to pay for professional help. But the investment of time and possibly money for a pro to help with the initial set-up will bring organizational benefits for years.
  2. You created a file system but that was five or more years ago and your job or another major thing in your life has changed. A good file system has to be a living organism that is maintained. It’s like a drought tolerant garden—it’s lower maintenance than a lawn and flower beds, but still needs some regular attention.
  3. You are out of supplies. Nothing jams up work flow like being out of hanging folders, manila file folders and label tape. You don’t need to have a huge amount of anything, just notice when you are getting low and reorder. Also, avoid color coding. It takes a whole level of headache out of your supply needs. There are times to color code, but they are rare.
  4. Your files are too full. Please don’t hoard paper. Talk to your realtor, attorney, CPA or other professional about what you absolutely need to keep and what is ok to shred or recycle. Most everything financial is digitized, so you may not need to keep any financial papers at all, although I recommend you do because they are easier to read, so I keep the current year’s-worth in my file system. If your file drawers are too full, you will resist—or simply find it impossible—to add more paper to them.
  5. You don’t trust your system. If you pull files and don’t put them back, then make a new folder because you can’t find the old one, then find you have two of the same, etc. you will end up not trusting your system. This usually happens because…
  6. If you pull a file, and can’t put it back immediately for some reason, it is no longer a reference file but probably a project. In that case, make copies of the papers you need and label a new file with the project name and put the original file back. Project files shouldn’t go into your system until they are complete. Nothing with a “to do” attached to it should be filed away. Instead, keep project files somewhere else, like a box that can move around with you, a graduated file holder on your desk or a separate file drawer for projects only.
  7. Your file names are not intuitive and you forget where you file things. This is another reason people don’t trust their systems. If you think of your vehicle as “car” but file it as “auto” you will struggle a tiny bit every time you need to find that file. Don’t get fancy, just call things what you really essentially call them.

Last, please don’t break down your categories into minute ones. I wouldn’t break down clothing receipts into “tops,” “accessories,” “pants,” and so on, for example. Just create one folder for clothing receipts (if you save them). Also, people tend to divide up household bills. There’s not a huge advantage to having separate folders for electric, water, garbage pick-up and so on. The less categories you have, the easier it is to keep up with the filing and you will still be so much more likely to find what you need when you need it than a person who never files at all.