Writers Wednesday: Piles and Piles of Files and Files

An unexpected call came in earlier this week, sending me into frantic office cleanup mode. I tend to do two major sessions of office purging and reorganization each year, one in the fall as I catch up on summer work and get ready for year-end paperwork, and a second in the spring after all the tax jumble is ready to put to bed. It’s slightly early for the former still, but since I have a last-minute auditor coming first thing in the morning (along with the fellow who hasn’t finished making messes in my house), I’m chalking this one up to getting more prepared for year-end craziness. It’s nice to get things slightly more under control before the holiday insanity drives me to distraction.

As a college student, I spent a couple semesters working in my campus legal office, where two of my primary duties were copying reference and course materials, and following my boss around, pulling out staples from his messy stacks of papers and refiling everything. There was a bit of a friendly war going on, as the paralegal I answered to preferred everything to be neatly arranged, in reverse chronological order, and alphabetized, and my boss was a topical organizer, meaning that items relevant to a specific topic got chucked into a file of that name at random. Their truce of sorts mostly involved me spending a lot of time on student and client files and staying out of his personal office drawers until the rest of the office staff decided they couldn’t wait any longer to send me in there with a staple puller and a shredder bin.

In short, I am now very, very good at organizing a file drawer, and the system I now use seems to be something of an amalgamation of the two. I like things to be alphabetical in theory, but in practice, I tend to organize by topic. I have colored files, and a highly accurate ability to recall which color folder a given client or project’s file is in, and what the label will say, but I don’t typically “color code.” I like to break things up in the drawers visually instead of having rows of the same color. By nature, I am much more like my old boss. I’m not the neatest person you’ll ever meet, but at least my husband and most of my family have cut back on the biohazard jokes.

Whether you’re a born neatnik or a walking Pigpen,however, if you do any serious amount of contracting work or home office work, you’re going to generate a lot of paper. All that paper has to go somewhere, particularly since the government says you can’t get rid of some of it for a few years. And while I’m a big fan of digital storage, I still believe in maintaining backup copies. (I prefer to have backups of my backups of my backups, but that’s another story.)

If you work from home, you need a designated office space. Although there are a lot of things you can do to create a functional home office on the cheap, there is one purchase you shouldn’t skip. You need a file cabinet.

They don’t have to be expensive. You might be able to get by with expandable accordion files for a little while. You might find a storage bench or crate or some other unusual object to hold your papers. A banker’s box or a Rubbermaid bin might do the trick, short term. For long-term storage, however, you will need to come up with something that can hold a good deal of paper while keeping bugs, mice, and water out. I once found a standard metal cabinet used for $25, but I also like large, lidded plastic tubs, as long as they’re in a secure location.

How do you tackle your storage problems?


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