A beginner’s guide to a document filing system

When it came to filing systems, I was a complete newbie!  I decided to do something about it and realized I didn’t even know what to look for if I had to shop  for my filing needs! If you are like me, this primer will be of great help. There are so many options out there, it is easy to pick the wrong accessory. I’m not going to cover everything, just the basics to get you started.  This primer is more about filing hardware rather than a filing methodology.

A Filing System In A Nutshell
I always like to get an overall picture before I drill down to individual components.  So what does a filing system contain?  Documents that need to be filed are first separated according to some classification. They are then placed in what’s called as Manila folders.   A bunch of these Manila folders are placed in a hanging folder and a filing container like a filing cabinet holds these hanging folders.  This forms the basis of a filing system.

Within these, there are a whole bunch of options for you to choose from.  Let’s look at the most common ones.

1. Document File Sizes
There are two standard file sizes you should know about – Legal and Letter. Letter is the most common one and that’s what you should be looking for. Most of your mail is of this type.  Most office supplies stores will have different sections for Legal and Letter types. They are not compatible, so pick carefully. Letter size is: 8½ x 11 inches. Legal Size is: 8½ × 14 inches.

2. File Holder
You can store your files in various containers. The width is always the same size(letter or legal), the depth could vary depending upon the number of files it can hold.  A filing container has rails or grooves on the sides to hold hanging folders.  The most common ones are:
1. Filing Boxes
2. Filing Safes
3. Desktop File Holders
4. Filing Cabinets

Filing Boxes
Filing BoxesThese are plain cardboard or plastic boxes with a lid that can hold folders. These are for the most frugal!

Filing Safes
Filing SafesSafes are strong and sturdy and come with a regular or combination lock. Not all are fire safe, check before purchasing. This is a overkill for a house filing system, but maybe useful in a home office scenario.

Desktop File Holders
Desktop File HoldersThese are convenient and great space savers.  Obviously don’t use these to file ‘forever’ documents like titles or house deeds.  Great to file away everyday mail.

Filing Cabinets
Filing CabinetsYou could either purchase these separately or this could be a part of a workstation. These come with grooves or metal bars on the inside to hold hanging folders.

3. Hanging Folders
Hanging FoldersHanging Folders are basically a stiff card folded in half with hooks on each of the 4 edges.  The hooks go on the railings in a file holder.  File folders containing your documents are placed within hanging folders.  Each hanging folder can contain one or more file folders.

4. Manila File Folders
Manila File Folders
File Folders, also known as manila folders, is a open sleeve to hold your documents. You club these folders based on some classification (alphabetic, by day of month or subject) and place it into the hanging folder.

5. Hanging File Folder Tabs And Inserts
Hanging File Folder Tabs And Inserts
Each hanging folder can be labeled for easy retrieval of documents. Labels can be attached at different points along the length of the hanging folder for easy access. You use the blank insert to label your folder, place it in the insert and attach it to the hanging folder.

This pretty much forms the basis of a simple filing system. There are clever variations within these – for example, you can get file folders with hooks, eliminating the need for hanging folders! Or an accordian style hanging file folder which is quite useful since very often one tends to shove Manila folders between hanging folders!

In my next post I’ll share with you how I went from this—–> to—–> this

Organized file holder

Happy filing!

4 thoughts on “A beginner’s guide to a document filing system

  1. I blog on financial topics, and something I continue to run into is the goal to unclutter.
    To add to your list of hardware above, I’d suggest EverNote, a cloud-based software which lets you save documents (I use a scanner) to you PC/phone/laptop etc. Filing is fine, until you realize that big file cabinet contains years of stuff you don’t need.

  2. Thanks Joe for the suggestion. I would love to have a paperless filing system, but unfortunately paper is not going to go away, and for house, car deeds, certificates and such, we can’t completely get rid of paper. But for most other non vital documents, one should have a retention policy.

  3. I agree with Joe. Seriously look at how you can get the paper gone and put your stuff into electronic format. A small sheet fed scanner or a multifunction unit with a sheet feeder will really help. You can keep almost anything in electronic format and reproduce if ever needed. The paper is the hardest and in the end most expensive way to file. I use Evernote as well…super tool. But a connected large USB drive also keeps a pile of stuff for me. Critical stuff is backed up on another site as well. Retention policy is important, but getting it organized is even more valuable.

  4. the second system looks to be a bit more organized. i think if everything was on a computer instead of paper we could be a lot more organized than we are now.

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