I love to use hanging files for storing important papers. They all sit tidily at the same height on their frame, behave nicely, and don’t get lost. The labels stick up above the files, like surfers riding on top of the ocean. This makes it easy for you to see each label at a glance. But where it all falls apart is if those labels are hard to read, because then it will be unnecessarily difficult to maintain your files.
Maintain your files? I hear a shudder out there.
Actually, maintaining is easy. The time-consuming part is paring down your files to only those papers you want or need to keep. After that, maintaining means:
a) putting papers back in the folder where they live, when you are done with them, and
b) taking out the old files when replacing with new ones (such as with insurance policies)
I am inherently lazy, and I don’t like to struggle with managing my things. If it is a hassle for me to find the right file, I am simply not going to use my files efficiently. That is a rather formal way of saying that those papers are just going to live in a pile somewhere. Trust me on this. Making your files easy to use and maintain is marvelously simple, and it involves making those labels marvelously effortless to see and read. No squinting! See below. Do your labels on your hanging files look like this? Are they hand-scrawled, and faint, and hard to read?
Let’s take a closer look at these files. Some of the words are in cursive, some are printed, and some are tiny. See how the one in front says “auto” in teeny letters? If you squint you can see it. You shouldn’t have to squint.
I hear what you’re saying. At least these labels were written, and stuck on the files, right? I applaud the effort.
However, if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it (no, not perfectly – perfection is not the goal) in a way to make managing your files easier.
This is something I do for my clients: I love transforming their paper piles into organized files! It’s such a good feeling to know that my clients can now find anything they are looking for in a matter of minutes.
But if you want to do it yourself, see below for my tips on labeling your files.
Make the labels marvelously easy to read.
See below, how clear and readable these labels are? My clients are always pleasantly surprised at how much easier it is to file papers away, when the labels are large and consistent like this. It doesn’t matter if your vision is so good that you can read tiny print. Putting papers away is always a bit of a chore. Why not make it as easy as possible?
Use a labelmaker
I used a labelmaker for those printed labels above. You can also buy packages of already made categories and labels, but I don’t recommend those for most of my clients. By definition, those label names were created for general use. You will likely only use a fraction of them. They may not be the categories that fit your life or your work. And the whole point is to make it easy for YOU to find YOUR papers when you need them. Click here for more labelmaker tips.
Use categories that make sense to you.
You don’t have to copy the specific categories you see here. In this particular client’s home, these labels made perfect sense to her, and she is the one the labels are for – not me or you. You might have completely different papers to store, and completely different label names for them. The name you give them has to be useful to you. The point is to make the label easy to read, so that putting papers away in their folder, where they live, is a breeze.
Make the labels generic for their category.
This client had some insurance files in a hand-lettered file named “Aetna.” But what if she changes her insurance company later? I can guarantee that if she starts getting insurance policies from a different company but the folder is still called Aetna, it is going to be confusing for her.
When Confusion and Lack Of Time get thrown together at a party with a cocktail or two, they will produce little baby paper piles all over the place. To avoid this, use generic terms like “insurance,” or “bank,” or “doctor.” The particular companies or individuals can come and go, but the related papers will always be easy to fetch, and (even more important!) easy to put away.
But don’t go too broad and generic, like “Documents.”
See the one in the middle below that simply says, “Documents?” Well, which kind of documents? Tax documents? Medical documents? House documents? School or work documents? The label “Documents” might as well be called “Miscellaneous.” There is a reason why I tell my clients not to label anything as “Miscellaneous.” That miscellaneous drawer or file or box doesn’t give you a clue about what is actually in there. And, it’s too easy to simply start dumping all kinds of things in there.
Think ahead, to how you will search for that file in the future
Pretend that it is months from now, and you made those file labels so long ago you can’t remember what you called them. What category or name would you look under, to find those papers? For you, would it make more sense, or sound more right to your ear, to call it “Car Insurance” instead of “Auto Insurance?” If you have multiple types of insurance, would it be more logical to you to label them as
“Insurance, House,” and so on?
What matters is how YOU will find those papers easily, long after the labels were made.
Go crazy with the rainbow if you enjoy color.
You can get creative and use colorful hanging files for different types of reference material. We used red for the insurance files above, to make them easy to find. You could use red for all of your files if you want! Some people like to keep their tax and bank papers in green files (green for money), or their household papers in blue files if their house exterior is blue. If you are a visual person, having colorful hanging files for different categories of papers will brighten your mood and make you smile every time you open your file drawer.
Use letter size rather than legal size hanging files.
Some file cabinet frames give you the option to store either the longer legal-size or shorter letter-size hanging files. See below, how the longer legal-size folders take up so much more space in the drawer? It’s nice to have that option, but unless you are a lawyer, your files are almost always going to be letter-sized. To use your file storage space more efficiently, I recommend swapping out any legal-sized folders for letter-sized. You’ll get a lot more bang for your buck, in terms of precious storage space for your paper. Those legal-sized folders can be put in the recycling bin.
Drawer file illustration from leevalley.com
Enjoy the peace of mind of well-behaved, easy to use files.
One of my clients had a file cabinet, but the drawers had no frames in them to hold hanging files. All of his papers were stuck in beige manila folders that were drooping down in the file drawer, with nothing to support them. The labels were hand written and hard to read. To put a piece of paper in any of the drooping manila folders meant struggling to paw through them to find the right one, and then pulling it open against the weight of all of the other folders. I proposed buying hanging files and the proper frames to hold them, and creating big clear labels for each.
He was skeptical that it would make any difference. He had lived with those droopy files for all of his long career. Why bother doing it differently? I had to suggest it a few times before he let me do it. Now, every time I see him, he tells me that this transformation of his files was like magic! For the first time in his life, he was able to easily find what he needed, and maintain his papers.
I love this kind of file transformation project! If the very thought of tackling your files makes you feel overwhelmed, please Contact Me to see if I can help.