Filing Cabinet OR Cemetery for Paper?

I have often joked about filing cabinets being like cemeteries for paper. By that I mean most of the paper in filing cabinets is dead and should just be buried! The problem isn’t filing cabinets themselves but how we, the people, use them. Because the contents are out of sight, they are also out of mind. Because they hold so much we fill them to overflowing. Because we stuff them so much it’s hard to find things. Because they rely on indexing, we over-complicate and duplicate the labelling.

Photo of filing cabinet showing tabs lined up according to topic

Line tabs up according to category.


I was working with a client recently converting her overstuffed filing cabinet into lever arch binders. I asked her where files relating to her car were and this is what I found:


  • Under C for Car was one one document relating to the sale of a car she no longer owned
  • Under R for Registration were registration renewals going back more than 15 years with none relating to the current car
  • Under I for Insurance were an equivalent number of policies for old cars
  • Under L for Licence was one ancient licence renewal
  • Under M for Motor Vehicle were some receipts for car repairs…..

I think you get the picture…. loads of files and not a lot FILING really happening. Filing means things are systematically files so they can be retrieved easily and quickly.

So if you are going to use filing cabinets use them wisely and cull them regularly. Here are some tips to keep you on track.

  1. Colour code your categories. eg Blue for all banking files, Red for all car files and so on
  2. Line sections up. eg Utilities would include gas, electricity, phone, rates, water, home insurance etc. Keep the tabs for these all lined up
  3. Clearly label files
  4. Use a manila folder inside each hanging file and ONLY remove the manila folder when removing files from the cabinet.
  5. Never overfill a folder and cull annually, at least.

If you use these tips and others as shown in the Paper Flow book you cannot go wrong!

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