Get Your File Cabinet Organized Like a Pro

Paper is probably the bulk of your household clutter. It finds its way into every nook and cranny of your home and before you know it, you can’t find what you’re looking for when you need it! Getting your paper problem under control is easy, and will only take a few supplies! Everyone has a paper pile, or a “sort” bin somewhere in the house. Now it’s time to deal with it! Round up all of the paper clutter in your house, and let’s get started!

file cabinet organization tips & ideas | free printable labels | end the paper clutter mess | organizing paperwork made easy

File Cabinet Organization

SUPPLIES:

Once you have all of your paper in one place, we are going to do a quick organization to identify each paper into one of these categories:

  • Shred
  • Recycle
  • Keep

I recommend getting three separate boxes, and organize your paper that way. This initial step in the file cabinet organization process will help minimize the amount of papers you are dealing with at a time, making it easier to tackle the large stack you started with. Once you’ve sorted your papers, go ahead and recycle the ones in your recycle pile, and shred the ones in the shred box. Do this first, so you’re not tempted to move any of your papers from their existing piles, only to end up with a giant keep pile of things you don’t need.

At this point, you should only be left with items in your keep pile, so it’s time to organize it! Using this method, we are going to organize all of your papers into a filing system. To do this you will need some labels, hanging files and  file folders, and either a filing cabinet or few file storage boxes (how many will depend on how much paper you have left).

If you don’t have an inbox for your papers, you should start by making a place to put your incoming paper clutter. Until you have had time to sort your papers, you need to make sure all of your items go here.

file cabinet organization tips & ideas | free printable labels | end the paper clutter mess | organizing paperwork made easy file cabinet organization tips & ideas | free printable labels | end the paper clutter mess | organizing paperwork made easy

Next, take a look at your remaining papers and organize them into categories. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Finance
  • Medical
  • Insurance
  • Personal
  • Bills

Then, take the categories you’ve created and make labels for your file folders or better yet, use the free download from below (bottom of the post) and print on to your labels for the hanging folders. I recommend further subcategorizing as well, such as medical records and HSA for medical if you want!

file cabinet organization tips & ideas | free printable labels | end the paper clutter mess | organizing paperwork made easy

Finally, take your file folders and add them to your bins or file cabinet. You can either choose to have a bin for each category (if you have a lot of papers to organize) or put them in a single bin in a way that makes sense to you. As you continue to receive or need to get papers, you can easily find the ones you need thanks to your neatly organized file cabinet! I love to organize my kid’s school papers following a similar process.

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16 Comments

  1. Hi Heather,
    I love your file labels and have downloaded them. Thank you for sharing! I would like to add more for myself only. Would you be willing to share the font names? I ordered the labels you suggest, but it looks like they are stick on address labels. Is this correct?
    Any help you can give would be much appreciated.
    Gretchen

  2. One of the problems I used to have with keeping papers organized were household items and their owners Manuel’s and receipts … when filing these items, I found it helpful to label my folders by rooms and place the paperwork in the files by the room they are in. So… snow blower goes In garage file, new dining roomi set goes in dining room, vacumn cleaner goes in laundry room file, treadmill goes in basement etc. love your site !

  3. What did you use to create the template you’ve shared in PDF? I downloaded the Avery 5276 template in Word format but I’m curious as to how you created the text overlaid on each other. For example, “home owner’s” on top of “INSURANCE”. Can you provide some insight? Thanks!

  4. Each page normally has me put my name and email and it sends it to me but this one on my phone just pops up and you can’t see or access the area to do that and now it’s pulling a different file to download. I’ll try from a desktop and see if it works

      1. Hi Heather! I love these can you do a custom run for me? can you private message me I would like to get organized with all my work files. Or if you can make me a editable file with this layed out so I can alter and print as I like

        Love all your organizing tips!!

    1. I found the comment above in which you named it as well as alternatives. Thanks!
      For some reason searching the page for “font” yielded 0 results when I tried it, so I just decided to read all the comments on the chance it was in fact there and it was!

  5. i recieved as a PDF. Could it be sent as a Word document so that I can modify it and add subcategories and colors?
    Thank you

  6. I love reading articles about filing. There’s nothing more satisfying than being able to lay your hand on a piece of paper when you need it instead of having to hunt for it. Very nice, very well organized article.

    I also wanted to share my favorite filing helper, which is the Freedom Filer system. It takes a little more thought on the front end if you have a complicated array of papers to deal with, but it helps you to file things in a way that helps you logically purge or archive papers on the right timeframe. You can buy the labels from the company that’s called Freedom Filer, which makes this process a breeze. Plus it comes with blank sheets of coordinating labels and you can use their template to print personalized labels to fit your needs, all looking seamless.
    OR
    You can simply adopt the system and create one yourself that does the same thing.
    I have done it both ways, the conventional way for me, and creating a special color palette version for a loved one. What can I say? She likes pastels!

    The process is very similar to what is described in this nice article. The difference is that you categorize your papers with colorful tabs (it’s easier to use one color of folder and just change the tab color, by the way). In the original system, it goes like this:
    Gray tabs for active things and supplies. So… Things to pay, invitations to find quickly, estimates that you are collecting for a repair at your house, receipts or statements to reconcile before filing them, your filing labels, your organizer pages, mailing labels, whatever you need to have on hand in reach.
    Red: this designates the section for permanent things, things that you keep for the life of the person or object or pet, until it expires or is destroyed or sold.
    Dark blue: archive. This is usually a mix of things that need to be archived permanently, mixed in with folders labeled zero through nine: this is a convenient way to know what you can purge after a certain number of years up to 10 years. The last digit refers to the last digit of the year.
    Light blue: taxes, whatever you need to pay your taxes. You make two sets, one for the even year and one for the odd year, and that way you always have a set of folders during that period after the new year And before you actually finish filing your taxes and can archive those supporting documents.
    Green: this is for financial paperwork that is also filed into two sets of folders, even year and Odd year. A lot of people just have two sets of January-December Folders, and they put all of their miscellaneous bills in there, utilities, credit card bills, receipts they might need to refer to in the future but which are all OK to dispose of after a two-year cycle. Some people set it up for different time cycles, like every other month, or every six months. Basically it keeps unnecessary papers from backlogging in your file cabinet. Or in a pile. Some people like to separate these by category and that’s fine also. Maybe you want to archive your utility bills for the future for some reason, for example, or your bank statements if you have a business.
    Orange: this is for things that come and go, things that are updated. This might be the terms and conditions that change for your accounts, it could be for your home lease or your car lease, it could be for the contact information for your neighborhood that gets updated periodically, current professional license information, current auto insurance policy and proof of liability, mass transit schedules, holiday trash pick up schedule, contact information for your elected representatives, your current travel packing list, contact information, may be the most recent addition of your favorite catalog that you want to have handy in case you want to order something. That sort of thing. When it is time to replace something in the orange section, You can either archive or purge the item all together.
    Purple: this is for your special interests, if you have any. You can create partitions that help you purge this section also. For example, you could do an even year/odd year partition. Whenever you refer to something in this file, you move it to the current year. Anything left in the previous year can be looked at with a more critical eye and disposed of if it is not something you are going to use again.

    This is such a timesaver. it has saved me so much frustration, because I had to go through every single page and make decisions about what to keep and what to toss the way we had filed things all together, everything to do with insurance all mixed in.

    They have come out with a version of this using labels for binders and pockets for binders. This is a really nice option for people who don’t have or don’t want to file cabinets.

    The one thing that I would change about the system now that I am older, and use progressive lenses that make it hard to read something in the bottom drawer next to my desk: I would use the 1/3 cut labels and use a bigger and bolder font, or I would switch to a binder system. If you like the hanging folder version, and you like big font, you can simply order the blank labels and go to town. I think you could do something similar with Avery brand color-coded labels, but I’m not sure that it would actually be cheaper. Especially if you buy the purple ones. Anyway, I don’t know if anyone will read this but… If someone does, I hope it’s helpful!