How to Reorganize a File Cabinet

If you're like the average person, you have at least one file cabinet in your home or office, and it's probably not as organized as you would like. Even if your file drawers consist of messy piles of papers, this article can help you face the mess, clear out unnecessary clutter, and make all your paperwork easier to find.


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    Think about how you want your file drawers to be organized. If a system comes to mind—bills in one drawer, tax information in another, et cetera-make notes on a pad of paper.
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    Go through each drawer one at a time, making a brief list of the contents. If you already have files set up, write down the names of the files and their contents.
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    Find a clean workspace such as a desk or table and take a preliminary look through any loose paperwork. Start sorting the papers into piles according to how you would like them organized: credit card bills in one pile, expense reports in another, and so on. This is a good time to set aside out-of-date items for storage or shredding.
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    Once all unsorted items have been separated, add any new categories to your list.
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    Look carefully at your list and decide on the most appropriate method of organization for you, your office, or your household. For work files, you might want a file for each project or department; for personal files, you might separate them according to type of bill. Keep in mind that you may want to sub-organize items by month or year.
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    Make a new, clean list of files you will need to label. Put each drawer on a separate page. On the left side of the page, list "category" files; these are usually hanging folders. On the right side of the page, list the individual files you want in each category; these are usually manila folders. For example, a hanging file labeled "Credit Card Bills" might contain folders labeled "MasterCard," "Visa," and "Gas Card," or you might have files labeled "Bills 2005," "Bills 2004," and so on.
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    Be sure you have all of the supplies you need. A series of hanging files combined with manila files, all clearly labeled, is a great way to organize any file system. Go to an office supply store and pick up the appropriate size files along with your choice of file folder labels.
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    Type up and/or print out your file labels. Apply the labels to the hanging folders and manila file folders.
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    Go through your file drawers, one at a time, and put in the new empty files in alphabetical order. Now empty all your old files and put the paperwork in the appropriate places. Do the same for any loose paperwork.
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    Put an appropriate label on the outside of each file drawer and throw away all the nasty old folders. Now you're finished!


  • Be patient if you have trouble finding things at first. You can always print out a list of files and tape it to the side of the cabinet.
  • When you're developing your system of organization, figure out how often you need to use the items in your filing cabinet. Put the files you use most frequently in the front of the drawer or in an easy-to-access location. You might even want a section of your file drawer devoted specifically to work in progress.
  • Don't be afraid to set up different filing systems in different ways. Your home office files don't have to have the same setup as your work files.
  • You don't have to file everything right away to be organized. Keep an in-tray on your desk or near your file cabinet for items to be filed, and clear it out once a week or when it gets full.
  • These steps work well for filing documents on your computer, too!
  • If you're worried about knowing where to re-file your folders, you can put a second line on your file folder in a smaller font size listing which hanging file it is in. Some prepackaged labeling systems provide this option in their software.


  • If you do need a new file, stop to think of the most logical place to put it, rather than just stuffing it into the first drawer you open.
  • When loose papers start to accumulate, don't just haphazardly start making new files; that's the road to chaos and disorganization. Check first to make sure a file doesn't already exist.

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Categories: Binders Files and Folders