Do you guys have any advice on general purpose filing
systems for office use?
Do you feel that hanging files are the only way to go?
Or do you feel the old fashioned manila file that sets
in the drawer and has a adjustable "compression" slide
that holds everything in place is better?
Neither, nor a combination of the two!
Hanging files fall down under the rest, lots of wasted space in the drawers.
If you overfill them with manila folders the manila folders ride too high
in the drawers. And since they do have open sides, sometimes the most important
part of a paper gets damaged, such as the signature lines.
We switched to manila pocket folders eons ago, now no papers that must be
kept on file get damaged or lost.
Everything else is scanned and stored on accessable electronic media with
an off-site backup.
Also, by using scanning and electronic storage media, certain files may be
duplicated and stored under various topics.
This can be very useful, especially for paid receipts that may contain more
than one tax deduction item on the same receipt, such as a prescription and
a work expense.
For paper files, pocket folders come in single, three, six, twelve and higher
sections. Great for active files that have different components dealing
with the account.
Developing a heirarchial filing system that works best for your situation
is where the nightmares come in. Having a document on hand that you cannot
readily find is not good.
That sounds like carelessness, poor folder design, or poor drawer design.
Do all kinds of documents need pockets? It sounds like you gain bulk
and expense and lose flexibility.
A scan yields a big image file, and the only way to find the image is by
the information in the file label and the folder label.
Do you mean scanning with OCR? That's time-consuming and error-prone,
and you probably still need to file the original as proof.
You fill your drawers with pocket folders for all sorts of papers?
Twenty-five years ago my responsibilities included filing approximately
100 papers a day. People phoned me all day long for the information on
those papers. In the few cases where I needed to show an original, I
could retrieve it in less than a minute.
The secret was in the implementation of a database. Typing alphameric is
slow and error-prone. I set up my database so all input was numeric.
As I looked through the papers with my left hand, I could key the data
with my right. The database was compact and allowed me to sort and
retrieve data in all kinds of ways. It also made it easy to locate the
Each time I finished inputing a batch, I'd bundle it and put it in a
file drawer. I can't remember how I bundled batches.... rubber bands?
I can't remember if I used folders. If I used hanging folders, I didn't
use many, for too many would have cluttered my files. The database told
me the date of each document I'd filed. That made it easy to pull a
bundle and find the paper.
I was working with MAPICS in inventory control. I numbered the items.
It had nothing to do with filing.
A factory may deal with 50,000 items. It might take more than 30
letters, punctuation marks, and digits give each a name that described
it specifically. Those long names are hard to read and type, and it's
easy to make errors. Also, when you try to describe an item with its
name, there may be variations in the way it's written. Records might
show you were out of the item when in fact you had plenty, listed under
a slightly different name.
The telephone company solved the problem before 1900. If you tried to
dial a person's name and address, it would take a long time and you'd
keep misdialing. So they gave every phone a five-digit number. That's
how I set up MAPICS. On the computer screen or any paper generated by
the computer, an item's description would appear beside its five-digit
number, but the number was all a person typed.
Anyway, I filed papers in the order they arrived. It was a simple,
compact system without much opportunity to file a paper in the wrong
place. It was easy to find a filed paper because the computer could
tell me when I'd processed it.
Ah yes MAPICS. We just had an online demo of the
software for a new parts bin we are building here at
However.....I'm still a bit fuzzy on how you filed your
personal papers. Did you just assign them a sequential
dumb number....enter that into a database along with
information abt what the paper was..... and keep the
papers in a big fat single file?
I didn't use MAPICS for personal papers. The subject seemed to be
filing a large volume of papers with immediate access to the
information. In that case, if you transfer key information to a
computer database, you can file the papers in a simple, compact way.
Personal receipts can be bunched chronologically if you have check
registers and credit-card statements to determine the date of a
particular paper. Items that come with manuals get their own folders.
The only thing in my home where filing is complicated is my collection
of Armstrong CDs. I may have 100, each with 20 songs or so. I used a
database program to create a record for each song, with the name of the
song, the name of the CD, the recording date, the original record
company, the original recording number, the city, and the other artists.
Because the information had to be input only once, there was no need to
create numbers. For a given CD, much of the information remained the
same for several songs, which meant I didn't have to retype it. I store
the CDs in alphabetical order, and the database puts the information at
So you keep ALL papers in one file or expanding
pocket.... and then you number them sequentially,
Then create a computer database using those sequential
numbers and adding any needed info. And use that
database to find what you need?
I might get more into an expanding pocket if I had a stretcher.
By simple, compact, filing, I mean one level of hierarchy and lots of
documents in each partition.
I once worked in a library. When somebody checked out a book, we'd pull
the book's card, stamp it with the borrower's number, put the card in a
pile, and put a date slip in the book. At the end of the day, we'd sort
the book cards by author. Even if there were a thousand cards, we'd
file them in the same partition, the partition for that date. Because
the system was simple, we didn't misplace cards.
If we'd had a computer, we could have used it for quicker access to
information in the files: for example,in which date partitions were the
copies of a certain book and what books a certain borrower had.
I didn't create sequential numbers for the papers I filed. I'd sort
them according to the information on them.
My experiences as well. And exactly why I posted the
question. Looking for other ideas on filing system. It
just didn't seem like hanging files were making things
that much easier or neater for reasons you cite above.
How do you store the pocket folders tho? Just have
them laying flat in a file cab? Or are the setting
Based on the questions that seem to have arisen, I thought I would expound
a little more about my filing system.
Pocket Folders are not used directly in place of Manilla folders, Manilla
folders ARE used, but they are placed INSIDE of the pocket folders. Current
files are in 2-drawer or 4-drawer filing cabinets. Archived files are in
cardboard file boxes with lids. Each cardboard file box contains only a
certain type of file, that must be retained.
FWIW - The ONLY hanging file cabinets that I have found that actually work
well are wooden with brass rails that the files hang from. All the rest
seem to drop the front and/or back file all too often. Those with wire hangers
either bend or the wire comes loose from it's mounting dropping the whole
rack of files into the bottom of the drawer.
A question was asked about the expandable files, multi-pocketed files and
whether or not they had cover flaps. In our case, only a select few have
the flaps for closing them, the rest are open topped and fairly rigid. They
are large enough to hold a couple of pocket folders filled with Manilla folders
inside of each section, yet they compress quite easily not to waste space.
The expandable files are only used for daily access papers on projects that
Here is an example of how we used the expandable files.
I was in the historical home renovation business for over 25 years. There
is one heck of a lot of paperwork that goes with real estate that must be
right at your fingertips.
In the back section of the expandable file we had two pocket folders. The
rearmost pocket folder contained a Manilla folder for purchase contracts,
a Manilla folder for Appraisals and a Manilla folder for legal documents.
The second pocket folder contained a Manilla envelope for plat maps, original
architects plans and detailed measurements.
Also in the rearmost section were brown sealed Manilla envelopes that bore
only the year they pertained to. These Manilla envelopes contained receipts
for material purchases and other expenses that were claimed on that years
In the center section of the expandable file there were also two pocket folders,
each with Manilla folders inside. One of the pocket folders contained any
information that should be passed on to the buyer when the house was sold.
Warranty papers that went with appliances, doors, windows and fixtures,
etc. The other pocket folder contained renovation and service notes, items
that were completed and what adjustments had to be made from the original
The front section of the exandable file was used to hold daily access files
and receipts. One of the pocket envelopes would contain a folder named
and another for paid receipts. Another would contain permits and inspection
But the very front pocket envelop contained all the renovation activities.
Order of events, schedules, etc. Every paper that had to do with one particular
address could be found within this one expandable file.
When the house sold, all the pockets would be removed from the expandable
file (which could then be reused for another property) and placed in a larger
pocket file with a top flap. This file then went into our Tax drawer where
it would be audited. Depending upon the time of year, it may need to be
kept for each quarterly report. After the yearly taxes were completed, the
file would then be sealed and moved into the archives, which were cardboard
file boxes in storage.
Since we kept every original document in a single expandable file, it was
no problem to grab this entire file when we had a meeting that was related
to this particular property. Such as a planning and zoning commission meeting
or for closing. Or even for an audit. Everything was there and in one place.
You were never missing something from another file cabinet.
Every important document was also scanned and archived.
Daily work orders, schedules and the like were all computer generated, so
normally only the completion reports were placed in the paper files.
We also took a lot of pictures which were either scanned or digital to start
with. When we found defects that needed attended to, these were shot in
close up detail both before and after the repairs or corrections were made.
In essence, we kept Before, During and After photo's of almost every stage
of a project.
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
You would not believe the number of people who make false claims about certain
aspects of a construction project a few years down the road. Such as a bad
deck rail, reuse of original wiring, etc.
When these claims arise, the photo's show the original, the original removed
and the new installed and usually in enough detail to show it's quality.
Keeping all of these photo's sorted as to which room and wall they pertained
to can be a nightmare if we didn't have an excellent system for doing so.
In addition, each photo must bear some recognizable location key in the
image. If not, it could be a photo of almost any wall in any house. So
each image has some unique distinguishing feature that can prove it is the
photo of the object in question.
Since every document is on electronic media, only in rare cases do we need
to dig out the original archived paper files.
Before computers, we used to discard old paper files to make room for new.
Because of our storage area, a 14 year cycle worked quite well for us.
But everything from 1977 forward has a scanned copy that can be accessed
from our computers.
Another great aspect of storing scanned copies of everything, is that you
can store duplicates under different titles.
As an example, let's take a scanned photograph that belonged to your grandmother
and after her demise was then given to one of your aunt's, but you have no
idea which one or even if it survived.
The photo contains 3 individuals, your aunt Hilda, your Grandmother and an
unknown person, plus a Cocker Spaniel named Heather.
A copy may be placed in the photo's folder containing images of aunt Hilda,
another copy can be placed in your file for images of your Grandmother, and
a special file for images of unknown individuals. The unknown images file
is sorted by who might know who this person is, if you ever bump into them.
Then we go to the PETS files. There is a copy under the person's name who
owned the pet in their pet's file. Another copy might be placed in a file
named Pets that are listed both by pet names and by pet breeds.
In other words, you can do a search for relatives that own(ed) Cocker Spaniels
and all the images of Cocker Spaniels would come up, showing who owned them
and when (if known).
The same thing applies to scanned receipts. If you file a copy by vendor,
a copy by item, and another copy by where used (if applicable). You can
at a glance find out how many items were purchased from so and so vendor.
You can do an item search and find out a certain item and which vendors
they were purchased from. If you filed the items also where used, you can
look up the location to see which items were most commonly used at that
This does not necessarily mean that you have to physically store a large
image more than once. Many programs allow you to apply sort keys to files
and use as many sort keys as you want to use for that file. As far as images,
whether they are a photo or a document that was scanned. Each has a scan
header associated with it. A simple text document that can be printed with
the image. This text document is searchable with almost any program, including
the FIND text in file feature of Windows itself. So it's not necessarily
extra work to include the search codes if you are documenting an image.
It's not hard to put Aunt Hilda, Unknown, Grandma and Heather over the photo
image mentioned above. Only I normally use the full and correct names, including
maiden names and nicknames in the header.
Home filing is often much harder than business filing, due to the number
of things you would like to have at your fingertips.
The only trick that I can pass on regarding the filing of diverse items is
to try and use some heirachial system that works best for you. One that
would be easily recognized by someone other than yourself as well.
Don't be afraid to bury something too deep in a heirarchial type of filing
system. I think you will find it actually makes finding things a whole lot
easier in the long run.
Those who place EVERYTHING in like what is called the Root Directory on a
computer, can never find anything, because they cannot remember what they
called it and why.
Whereas those who used a few specific topics as the Root Directory with
as a sub-directory, can find theirs much more more quickly.
Fantastic info Gary!!
I will have to print out your reply and read it...and
get my head wrapped around your method.
May main complaint with hanging files is that every
brand of hanging file I've tried the metal rod that
they hang from comes unglued form the actual folder.
And they will fall from the rails.... basically fall
apart in your hand.
So.... that's why I'm looking at alternatives to
hanging file methods.
I will try the pocket folder idea. I like the fact
that it has a flap that lets you "enclose" all the
papers in one secure "envelope"..... especially for
grabbing and taking all with you.
More questions later ..... but let me REALLY read your
Sometimes I wish mine were bigger. Have you used a stretcher?
Then why did you recommend it? Storing copies in various folders to
make them easy to find is self-defeating because you have to look
through all those duplicates to find what you're after. In the
confusion, you might delete the last copy of an important photo.
Conventionally, they have been called database programs.
Nobody uses Windows anymore except in Appalachia.
You can do the same thing by putting a DB or WP file in the folder with
the photos. Besides the subjects in a photo, it can be useful to
include dates and places.
The only reason to add a level is that you have too many documents at
one level. When I get too many papers in my Electric Bills folder, I
staple them in bundles according to the year and put those bundles in my
Electric Bills Archives. That's why I'm thinking of trying a stretcher.
A stretcher is a piece of canvas wrapped around two poles. The
advantage of sleeping on a stretcher is that you can be moved out of the
way if necessary. Otherwise, I wouldn't allow employees to sleep in the
Choreboy, if your stretcher isn't long enough, try sleeping with your
feet up on a rabbit hutch.
Barbecue Bob Serving family-style roast bunny
at fine restaurants
I'm very particular, I just won't put any old trout in my mouth...
I am fond of a particular fish from the Bay of Biscay, it translates into
English as "groper"...the French name I can't pronounce, it has a french
letter in it's name that I can't quite get my tongue around.
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