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File This!

By Regina Hogsten
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #70, 2006.

Nitty-gritty tips for taming your clutter.
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Regina Hogsten

If stacking, piling, shoving, tossing, and stuffing wastes your time, energy, and nerves, then design a filing system. It is exhausting, frustrating, and a waste of time not to be organized. When things are in their proper place, finding what is needed doesn't involve searching in a panic through sloppy piles of papers or digging through boxes or bureau drawers.

Your investment of time, dollars, and work in setting up a filing system brings valuable returns in a short period of time. Panic might set in after the new washing machine, with a full tub of saturated towels, won't drain. Now, the payoff for your filing: Quickly and easily the warranty, model and phone numbers are in hand. Searching and finding something efficiently adds time, calm, and energy to your life.

There are many items you and your family may have never considered storing in a file.

Look in each room. Think beyond normal paper filing.

  • Children could use compact portable files for hobbies, Lego instructions, needlework, favorite magazines, photos, compact disks, and memorabilia.

  • Teens won't be forced to excavate their rooms to find pay stubs, bank books, transcripts, and receipts. Hobby items, electronic and video game manuals, music books, craft books, photos, and CDs will still be scattered about the room. But, if or when the urge to clean takes hold, file folders will be ready to load up.

  • A family file cabinet or drawers would give access to all family members. Take advantage of this wise move. Physically open drawers to show children, spouses, and others what is in each file and what is available for their use: warranties, instruction manuals, parts lists; stationery (cards, paper, envelopes, stamps, and labels); road maps (world, U.S., state); computer (printer and fax manuals, Internet provider information, and software manuals); coupons, telephone numbers, addresses, art, writing, certificates, and awards for children, spouses, and other family members for that year, church and club information, pets, and more. Bottom line: When they can find it, you won't be pestered to look for it.

  • A fire-resistant cabinet or locking drawers for household business can hold sensitive papers. File bills, cancelled checks, receipts, documents, bank books, statements, financial and medical records here. Set up files for each person with subfiles for medical records, copies of birth certificates, Social Security numbers, wills and passports. Keep originals in a safety deposit box.

Hobbies can take up a lot of space if not organized. Have a separate cabinet for photos, film, album supplies, sewing, craft, and music books, hobby articles, and supplies. My son put in order all piano and guitar books labeled from level one to advanced intermediate, and special music.

Set up files for school. Each student should have a set of subject folders for the current school year. This will make it easy to pull together materials for the year's review. Remember to designate separate files for cooperatives, community colleges, extra classes, group activities, and field trips. Organize booklets, workbooks, copies, teacher keys, maps, paper (loose leaf, tracing, graph, and computer), pocket folders, and stickers. Use desktop or magazine files for books and materials that are currently in use.

Choosing a File Cabinet

Check out the variety of file cabinets at an office supply store. Jot down details, especially height, width, and depth. Take home an office supply catalog. Search the web: www.filingcabinets.com is one source. Measure the area available and write it down. If needed, draw the width and depth on cardboard. Cut out and place on floor to visualize the space. Take care that the cabinet doesn't become an eyesore or an obstacle by sticking out into the room.

Think about the features needed most, and consider that a file cabinet is like purchasing furniture; you will have it for a long time. Buy something you like.

Metal cabinets are available in lateral and vertical styles and sizes with two to six drawers in four colors. If "furniture quality" is what you desire, lateral and vertical files are available in several laminated wood-grained finishes. Lateral styles provide a desk top while vertical styles save floor space. Mobile cabinets have casters, fit under a desk, and can be rolled out when ready to use.

Cardboard file boxes are not sturdy enough for year after year everyday use. They are convenient for long-term storage of items that won't be used for a while, but must be kept for the future, like children's memorabilia. Tape the lid and store in the attic or dry basement.

If you have an old cabinet that is worn, use it in the shed, garage, or basement, or change the look by painting it. I have a four-drawer vertical file cabinet that is 12 years old. It isn't beat up and works fine, but it was white and didn't fit my decor. I emptied it, took out the drawers, and removed the hardware. Then I slid it on towels to the outside to paint. If you want to try it, this is what I did: Lightly scratch the finish with steel wool. Wipe off. Spray paint with two coats of satin or gloss. Let dry between coats. Then, spray with American Accents Stone Creations. Cover with two coats, giving the cabinet texture so any small dents can not be detected. Gray gloss spray paint was used as the base coat to cover the old white paint. Gray stone (gray with tiny white and black flecks) was sprayed over the base coat. The hardware was sprayed with black gloss. Paint the entire cabinet, especially inside the drawer openings. When the paint hardens and dries, spray with a clear top coat, non-yellowing. Look into different colors and techniques.

Folder Tips

First, obtain all necessary supplies. Choose your folders: expanding, colored, marbled, CD, pockets, divided, or box bottom styles. Use manila folders for subfiling.

Labels are included with folders. Attach labels in the middle, right, or left. For example: all language arts labels on the right and math labels on the left. Once the folders are in the file, labels can be adjusted if a change is needed.

Think about color coding. Elementary science could be filed in orange folders, middle school in red, and high school in yellow. Separate science categories by color: a wide green folder for Health with manila folders for subfiles such as Anatomy, Food Charts, and Teeth; blue folders for Space with subfolders for Solar System, Rockets, and Airplanes. Each family member could have a different color for personal files.

Files need maintenance. De-clutter semi-annually or annually. Weeding out won't be overwhelming if you remove a handful of folders, sit on the floor, and tune into a show or listen to music. Just a few folders a night and the job will be done. Use cardboard file boxes for keeper items that don't need to be filed in the cabinet.

Don't think you can rush this process. Clean out and file one area at a time. For example: If working on a school file is your priority, then don't go back and forth from school to hobbies. Get one done first and then begin on the other. Keep a trash can at your side. If you don't need something, trash it or give it away. Use the floor to spread out papers into piles. File. Have on hand extra folders for things forgotten and later additions.

Create calm in your home by getting rid of clutter and chaos. Rooms with piled books, papers, and other paraphernalia can be cleared out and organized, opening places to walk. Empty spaces can be filled with furniture or left open. Realistically, desks will still be cluttered with papers and books, but the cleanup can be done quickly. Things will still get lost, but not as many and not as often.

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