Office Progress Week 1: File Drawer | From Overwhelmed to Organized: Office Progress Week 1: File Drawer

Friday, March 8, 2013

Office Progress Week 1: File Drawer

Do you ever have trouble finding a document that you need?  Do you have so many papers that you can't find what you're looking for?  Are you overwhelmed with paperwork?  Then read on for tips on getting your files organized!

I told you last week that I'm going to be organizing my "office" this month as part of OrgJunkie's 31 Day Organizational Challenge.  

I'll be giving you updates throughout the month as I work my way through both of my desks, several file cabinets, and the areas above and around my desks.

If you didn't see my unorganized office pictures, (or an explanation of why I put "office" in quotes!), check out that post first and then come back.  As I organize each part, I'll show you more detailed before and after pictures.

The first thing I really wanted to tackle was the file drawer in the dining room desk.  This baby wouldn't even stay closed on its own because it was so stuffed full of documents!  And since I need to get working on my taxes, I wanted to get all our files organized so I know I have everything I need.

This is what the drawer looked like a few days ago.

When we used to have an office upstairs (before kids), I had no problems keeping on top of all our paperwork and files.  When documents were ready to be filed, I put them at the bottom of the stairs going to our upper floor, and then the next time I went up (which was many times a day since our bedroom is also up there), I'd take the pile up and file it away in the file cabinet.  About once a year (usually before taxes) I'd go through the files and purge things that weren't needed anymore.  

I wasn't very brutal about purging though, so over the years things began to accumulate.  I started having a current drawer (for the current year's paperwork) and an archive drawer (for things that I wanted to keep still but that I didn't need to refer to very often - like old tax documents).

Here's my current archive drawer to give you an idea.  {I'll be purging and organizing this drawer next!}  

When we moved our desk and file cabinets to the basement, I kept the same system as I'd been using in the office upstairs.  It worked for awhile, but over time papers started piling up in the basement instead of being filed.  

The first problem with that was I was touching papers too many times.  
  • I'd look at them when they came in the mail.  
  • Then I'd have them sitting somewhere until they were dealt with (bills paid, notices followed up on, etc.).  
  • Then they'd be put at the top of the basement stairs to go down.  
  • Someone would bring them down to the basement {usually my hubby or eventually my kids - at the time I was working full-time and my hubby was our stay-at-home parent}.
  • The papers would usually be put in a pile on one of several surfaces down there, waiting for me to file them {for awhile I had a "to be filed" basket for them to go in, but then it began overflowing because I wasn't keeping up with it}.  
  • At some point {theoretically} I'd go down to the basement and file all the documents.  
It just didn't make sense to have to deal with each piece of paper that many times!

And clearly the second problem was that I didn't stay on top of filing the papers.  Some of that was because I wasn't spending much time in the basement when I was home.  So initially I didn't see how much was piling up.  But then over time it snowballed into chaos and I just didn't make time to deal with all the piles of paperwork that built up.  The more things built up, the more overwhelmed I felt at the thought of dealing with it, and the less motivated I was to do it.  But those papers just kept accumulating :)

{I wish I had a picture or two of how bad it was but I know you all have great imaginations and can picture piles of paperwork everywhere!  Or maybe you've even been there yourself?}

The third problem was that I wasn't taking the time each year to purge old documents.  And as our family grew, and the years progressed, my file system was not keeping up.  Those drawers were packed.  So even if I made time to file the piles of "new" paperwork, there wasn't enough space in the drawers to put it all!  

I was completely overwhelmed!

Until a little over a year ago.

I bit the bullet, and spent several days sorting and purging all the paperwork in those file cabinet drawers and the piles all over the basement.  Then I spent several days shredding old documents.  It felt good to get it under control again :)

I decided then that if I was going to stay on top of filing paperwork, I needed my current files to be kept on the main floor or upstairs.  Since we had set up a second desk in our dining room, I decided to use one of the file drawers for our current files. 

Much better solution!  I stayed on top of filing things all year and I loved that I wasn't touching each document so many times.  I also got better at dealing with things right away and then filing them so there was less paper clutter in general.  

So how did it get as bad as it is now?

Well, when I did all that purging last year and brought these files to the dining room, I planned to spend some time organizing this drawer better as well as the cabinet downstairs with our archived files.  I never did that though (other projects took priority).

So, while it functioned better than having all the files in the basement, it still wasn't the best system.  Which brings me to where I am now, with a file drawer that's bursting at the seams again and needing an overhaul.

Now on to the progress I've made this week.

I've been purging up a storm for the last few days!  I'm being much more brutal than I was last year.  I'm more aware of what I can access online so I'm not keeping paid bills anymore.  I also now complete many more tasks online than in the past, so there's no need to keep some of the papers that I used to keep (like address change cards for utilities or licences).  

Here's what the file drawer looks like now!

It's hard to see in the picture, but I'm using less than half the drawer now!  Isn't that amazing?  And the drawer stays closed now!  

These are my piles of papers to shred or recycle (mostly shred since these documents had a lot of private information on them).

And I've got a bunch of files that need to be relocated to the basement to our archive drawer (still need to purge and organize that one!).  

Now that I've been using the file drawer in the dining room desk for over a year, I'm making a few changes to what I'm keeping in it.  
  • I know what kinds of papers are coming in the house that need to be filed regularly, so I'm keeping folders for them.  
  • I'm also keeping folders for things we need to access from time to time or in a hurry, even if I don't have incoming paperwork to add to those folders.  
  • I now know which folders I don't really need to keep up here because we rarely look at them, so they're moving to the basement.  I can always go down there if I need to find something.  
I also signed up for online billing for most of our bills so I won't have as many papers coming into my house anymore.

[Update: I HIGHLY recommend this, as it's eliminated most of the paper clutter in my home!  And it's so much easier to maintain our files when there's less to file, less to store, and less to shred.]

I'm so happy with the progress so far, especially with how little is in this drawer now!  There's actually enough space for me to add work folders once I get my professional organizing business up and running.

I made the labels for the tabs using my label maker.  And I replaced several of the plastic file tabs that were yellowed or cracked.  I like how streamlined it looks now and it makes me smile when I open the drawer :)

So, that's my progress so far!  What do you think?

Stay tuned throughout the month for more posts on how I organize my "office" spaces.  I'll be sharing tips as I go.  You can also check out my Offices post from the 31 Days of Organizing Tips series.  Or my Office Organizing board on Pinterest if you're looking for more tips and ideas.

How do you organize your files?  What paperwork do you keep and what do you purge?  Have you ever had to rethink a system that no longer works?

Happy organizing!

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Update: Here are all the posts in this series: