Six Steps to an Organized Filing System

Keeping your documents organized and easy to find is super important! I mean, some of these are legal documents. That’s not something you want to lose or misplace! If you don’t have a filing system, let’s get you one! Keep reading for the perfect filing system! This article includes affiliate links.

Step One | Find A Filing Container That Works for You

Do you have a lot of filing or just a few papers? Does your filing need to follow you around? Do you want to customize your cabinet? These are some of the questions that you need to be asking when you’re picking a filing system. Here are some of the most common filing system containers, their pros and cons, and some examples as inspiration.


Filing Cabinet

Filing cabinets are the bulkiest option; however, they hold the most. If you have a lot of documents, then you probably need a filing cabinet. You can find standard-sized cabinets with three or four drawers at any office supply store. Similarly, you can find smaller one and two drawer cabinets. Size and appearance are up to you.

The good thing about Filing Cabinets (next to them being larger in size) is customizability! You can buy these in various colors and styles or you can paint them, and add detailing! Check out these 15 Fabulous Filing Cabinet Makeovers compiled by The Melrose Family!

Filing Box

The next option is the filing box. The filing box is nice because it is more mobile. I feel like I am moving at least once a year, so I have gone for the filing box. I have one that keeps my documents, and a second that stores my spare office supplies.

The filing box option is a little less customizable than the filing cabinet. To make up for customizability, the box comes in a dozen different styles and sizes. Check out some of the adorable and practical options I have found below! I prefer the lidded option, but a desktop option is great if you do not have a lot of filing.

Expanding Filing

The expanding filing sounds kind of silly but is practical for small amounts of paperwork. This option isn’t as sturdy as the other options. But it is perfect for easy-to-grab, often-used documents.

The expanding file can be both mobile and fixed since there are a variety of styles. Some have handles and others snap shut for mobility. Still, others are meant to sit on a desk or shelf. Check out some of the accordion filing systems I have found.

Desk Drawer Filing

This option only works for someone with a desk drawer that would fit some hanging files. The desk drawer is also not mobile and the size depends on your desk. Here are some desks that have filing drawers.

You can also make desks using filing cabinets. Check out this tutorial done by HomeTalk.

Step Two | Organize Your Documents

Organizing your files is the most important part of this whole process and it is the backbone of your entire system. But don’t let that scare you, organizing your files can be made simple with my FREE File Planning Workbook.

The first step here is to make a list of your main categories. These are broader categories that may or may not have subcategories (we’ll get to subcategories in a minute). Once you have made this list, keep a few notes that describe what exactly goes in this main category.

For example, in my main category, Finances, I keep anything related to my money, banking, and loans. Basically, if it involves my money, it’s in Finances.

Once you have your main categories designated then it’s time to figure out your sub-categories. Sub-categories are more specific categories that fall under your main categories. Sometimes you are able to figure out your subcategories by your description (like my Finances example). That isn’t always the case though.

Sometimes it is easiest to figure out your subcategories by looking at all the documents that you plan to put in your main categories. If you see a trend, then it is probably subcategory worthy!

There are cases where a subcategory isn’t necessary. For example, my Taxes file doesn’t need any subcategories because it is already so specific and archive-ready (archiving is Step Four, stay tuned!). Not having subcategories is perfectly okay!

Now that we have all our categories sorted we need to file it! That leads us to step three

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Step Three | Decide How You’d Like to Keep Your Files Organized

You may be thinking, what do you mean decide how to keep my files organized, we already decided our categories didn’t we? Deciding how to keep them organized is another layer and there are a few ways to do this. The first way is to use different colors.

Color Organization

When you use different colors for each main category, it is much easier to navigate your filing at a glance. At-a-glance navigation is so much quicker than staring at your files trying to find something.

Color Coordinated Labels

One way to organize by color is to label your categories in certain colors. This is nice if you already have colored pens or markers to use. If you don’t happen to have colored pens lying around but would like to color coordinate your labels, check out my favorite labeling pens!

Colored File Folders

Another way to organize by color is will colored file folders or hanging files. You are able to assign each of your categories a color based on colored hanging files. Doing this allows for extremely easy to scan files.

A Combination of the Two

You are also able to place only very sensitive file categories in a color such as red, and files that do not get archived (keep reading to learn about archiving files) in another color such as purple or blue. You can then leave the rest of your files in generic hanging files and use color coding on all your labels. This method allows for easy archiving.


Deciding the order in which you file your categories really depends on what is most functional for you and your files. Here are three ways to sort your files.

Sort by Topic or Category

Sorting by topic or category is the easiest way to sort your files because you have already organized your files into categories. All the work here is done, just plop your files on in by the categories you’ve already picked alphabetically.

Sort by Relevance*

This is the sorting method I use, I find it most handy when reaching for my documents. When you sort by relevance there are three sorting categories to keep in mind. First, you want to keep your most frequently used categories at the front. This means you refer to them more often than your other categories.

Second, your almost-never-used files go at the back. If you don’t need them very often, you don’t need them blocking the files you do use a lot. These categories might include Memory Items, Misc., and Instruct. Manuals.

And last is everything else gets placed in the middle.

Sort Chronologically

Chronological means that the categories are sorted by most recent at the front and least recent at the back in the order in which they occurred. Timelines are a great example of something chronological. Chronologically is most handy in archived files because these files are kept by year. If your filing categories allow for chronological sorting, then go for it!

Step Four | The Rules of Labeling

One of the most important ways of organizing your files is with labels. There are different labeling products to choose from, here are some of my favorite labels.

When you are writing or typing up your labels, be very specific. The label is only so big and you want your labels to be readable, and being specific makes it easier.

Write one or two-word labels for maximum benefit. Using one or two words allows the label to be kept on one line. This also allows the label to be bigger and more readable. You want your labels to be seen without getting close or squinting, so the bigger you can write them, the better.

Like I mentioned, keep your label on one line. Doing this allows for greater readability. Sticking to the 1-to-2 word rule makes keeping your label on one line really easy.

Sometimes the words being used on your label are too long and you need to use two lines. FALSE. If the word is too long, shorten it. For example, Instruction Manuals is pretty long even though it’s only two words. You can keep this label on one line easily by shortening it to Instruct. Manual. This shortens it just enough to fit on one line!

You might also shorten your label by taking out small words like the, of, etc. or replace small words with symbols (i.e. and becomes ‘&’, inquiries become ‘?’—get creative).

Label in all capital letters. This, again, just makes the label easier to read at a glance because the letters are all the same height.

My last labeling rule is to use good handwriting or type it. The reality of it is, that if you don’t have good handwriting, then your labels won’t be easy to read at a glance. So, if your penmanship isn’t great, try typing out your labels instead to keep them readable. To make typed labels easier, try these label sheets. They fit into your printer like a normal piece of paper and come with a website that provides the Microsoft Word template.

However, if you have good handwriting, then there is no reason you can’t write your labels out.

Step Five | Archives

The archives are everything in your main categories for the previous years. You don’t want all your finances from 2012 mixed in with your finances for 2017, that will just cause chaos. With archived files, you can be assured that each year’s information is all in the same place, allowing you to go back a year or two if needed, but also allowing you to find this year’s information more easily.


How to Archive

Archiving is super easy. At the end of each year create a subcategory for that year (under the main category: Archives). For example, this subcategory might be 2016. Then you create second level subcategories using the previously determined categories. Are you following me? Perhaps the graphic in my FREE File Planning Workbook can help you to follow along, I’m a visual learner too.

You can choose to keep your subcategories by allowing them to become third level subcategories, or you can choose to remove them all together. This is up to you. I keep my original subcategories, as is depicted on page 10 of the Workbook.

Categories That Don’t Need to Be Archived

I keep a file labeled Information. This file is comprised of mostly handouts and printouts with information that I found helpful or wanted to keep handy. These documents do not need to be archived because they are relevant every year and if they become irrelevant, I probably need to go and find an updated version to replace it.

Another category that might not need to be archived is Instruction Manuals. These are manuals that come with all your appliances, toys, and electronics. These are nice to keep around (assuming you still have that product) in case you need to figure out a setting or learn how the product works. But these, again, are not relevant to only one year. The Manuals are only relevant as long as you have the product, and if you don’t have the product, then trash the manual.

Step Six | The ‘To-Be Filed’ Bin

A To-Be-Filed Bin is a place or container that you keep on your desk or on your filing system. The purpose of the bin is to keep handy documents that you are still using, but that need to be filed when you are done without damaging or losing them. Keeping this bin within reach of your desk or filing system is important to prevent damaged or lost documents. Check out These paper trays.

Read more about desk organization here.

The Filing Essentials Shopping List

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6 Ways to Declutter Desk Space | A Guide to An Organized Desk

Piles upon piles of papers, sticky notes, and who knows what else can make your desk space stressful and cluttered (aka impossible to use). Your new year’s resolution was to “get organized” but you just can’t seem to figure out where to start and it’s discouraging. Lucky for you, I have just the cure! Here are 6 ways to declutter your desk spaceThis article includes Amazon Affiliate links

Keep Writing Utensils Accessible

The first step to organizing your desk requires attention to your pens, pencils, and other related supplies. There are a million ways to organize your pencils and pens (and rulers, and tape, and scissors, and paper clips, and… well you get the idea). It can feel nearly impossible to figure out what works best for your space.

Pens and Pencils

When it comes to figuring this out, there is one rule: Keep writing utensils accessible. One of the worst things that could happen is to sit down and find that you don’t seem to have a pen or pencil in sight! Not even a crayon! This happens when writing utensils are stored in clutter drawers, or don’t have a place to belong.

Keeping your pens and pencils in a handily accessible location is essential.

Now that you have a spot located for the utensils, you need to figure out how to keep it from getting cluttered again. I use jars to keep my pens and pencils organized. For my scissors, rulers, paper clips, etc., I use a drawer shelf below my desk. You can use whatever method you find works best for you.

Pen Jars

(Don’t be intimidated by all my jars and pens, I am an overachiever. You only really need one or two jars to store your writing utensils.)

Your method of organization is up to you. Just remember, no matter what you chose to keep the different items separated. One way to keep the utensils separated is to use drawer trays (small food storage containers like in the photo below work too).

Drawer Organization

Have A Place for Everything

When I say that everything needs a place, I literally mean EVERYTHING. If it doesn’t have a place to belong and you can’t find a place for it to belong, you probably don’t need it.

Creating a specific place for everything at your desk helps to purge your desk of all the unnecessary documents and knickknacks you have been collecting. If you are finding that your clutter is primarily important documents, try investing in a filing cabinet or filing bin. Your filing does not need to be located at your desk, I chose to store mine underneath my desk.

Check out my post on creating the perfect filing system here!

Filing Bin

Once you have sifted through those nasty piles of paper and you have filed the necessary documents (purged others), it is time to avoid future paperwork-clutter. The best way I have found to do this is to invest or create a tray to put urgent documents in. Urgent documents are those that need your attention before they can be stored in your filing storage. This tray can be placed on your desktop or fastened to the wall, just make sure it is within reach and view so that it can be dealt with in a timely manner.

Generic Desk Tray

Another way to avoid future clutter is to have a cork board to pin important documents too. A cork board can only hold so many papers which force you to periodically tackle those papers before they pile too high. Here is my cork board. It may look cluttered, but mine is used primarily for reminders and decoration.

Cork Board

Leave Some Desk-Top Space Open 

Now that you have found a way to declutter your desk, keep it that way. This isn’t going to come naturally and will probably take some discipline. But you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t down for the challenge, would you?

One rule of thumb is to always have enough empty space to fit items that you use on a daily basis. For me, these items include my laptop, mouse, a coaster, a notebook, and my cell phone. These are items that I find to get moved around often but are also very important to have when sitting down to work. You can choose whatever items work best for you.

Laptop on Desk

Reduce Cord Clutter

Your desk is now clutter-free, yay! Except we forgot to look underneath it…oops.

Cord clutter is easily the most annoying and frustrating clutter that exists. Luckily there are quite a few ways to tidy them up.

The first you need to untangle and unplug everything. Once you’ve figured out where on earth all of these cords go, grab yourself a power strip. Plug the power strip into the bottom outlet and your desk lighting into the top one. These two items go straight into the wall because, generally, they don’t ever get moved around.

The cords for your lamp and power strip are probably way too long. This is an easy fix, grab a twist tie, alligator clip, hair tie, rubber band, or even a ribbon and tie up the unnecessary length of the cords.


Now just repeat this process for all your other cords! Simple!

Be Sure to Have Good Lighting on Your Desk

Now that we’ve mentioned the light source, let’s tackle it. A good lighting source at your desk is incredibly helpful if you plan on doing any working during the evening or night hours. Just having the room light on will probably not be enough to properly see your work. If your lighting is too dim, you could strain your eyes.

To fix this probably, a simple desk lamp will do just fine. I enjoy simple lamps but have been using one with an additional outlet and small storage space at the base as long as I can remember, and I love it.

Desk Lamp

Enhance Your Desk with Inspiring Decoration

The final step to a successful and decluttered desk is to enhance the space. This can be done in whatever way works best for you. I personally love photographs. I have an entire wall next to my desk dedicated to my family and keep other more inspirational pieces on the wall next to my cork board.

Another decoration piece that I think every workspace should have is a plant. I keep a hanging plant above my desk. I also try to keep one on my desk (though I keep killing it, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be). Succulents make perfect desk plants because they are easy to take care of and don’t require a ton of attention.

Desk Plant

Any other decorating you do is completely up to you. I have a tank on my desk dedicated to my beautiful baby gecko, Kaida. Despite the fact that she is nocturnal, she is a huge contribution to my productivity.

Decluttered Desk Shopping List

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