Sorting through your email takes a decent amount of time, and this is just one type of document you deal with on a daily basis. Add in medical information, tax forms, and even a few of your kid’s drawings and it’s easy for everything to get buried or cluttered very quickly if you don’t have any file storage ideas implemented. The easiest way to curb this mess is to make a very straightforward organization system for your paperwork.
To help you get started, we’re going to outline how to set up this organizational system to help keep everything neatly sorted when it comes time to do taxes or if you ever have to double-check something. We’ll also throw in 19 file storage ideas that you can implement to put your newly organized files in to keep everything neat.
It’s easy for the papers to get out of hand, especially if you have a busy home office. This is why you need a dedicated file storage idea to stay organized.
Set up and Organizational System for Your Files
Before we dive into file storage ideas, we’re going to give you a few easy ways to sort and organize all of the papers you have on hand so you can slip it into your new system in a way that makes it easy to find things.
Assess and Reduce all Your Paperwork
Before you file anything, it’s important to double-check and see what needs to be organized in the first place. Start your organization process by going through all of the loose papers in your office or home. Consolidate these papers into set categories like tax records, insurance records, pay stubs, invoices, and so on.
Once they’re categorized, go through each pile and weed out anything that doesn’t need to be in there. If you’re not sure on how long to hang onto your sensitive documents, do a quick search to see if you should keep them or not. Shred and recycle anything you don’t need anymore.
Create a Clearcut File System
You have a lot of options here, so you should take your time and figure out which type of office filing system works best for your needs. Start by filing everything in the set category, and then customize it. You can do so by:
Alphabetically or Chronologically.
Store your documents in your file storage idea. If you don’t have a dedicated space to store your files, it’s time that you get one. A filing system is important whether you have your own business or simply run your home and need to stay organized.
- Color code your files so that each category has a different color assigned to it. This will make it easier to figure out what you’re looking for at a glance, and where to put your new files.
- Scan and digitize as many files as you can so you don’t have hard copies laying around.
- In the instance where you don’t have to keep files over a year, label them with an expiration date so you can remove them when the time comes to stop them from cluttering up your file storage idea.
Once you develop an organization system that works for your space, use a labeler for shelves or folders. This will reduce further confusion on where things go.
Develop a System for Processing New Paper Items
It’s a huge accomplishment to get your existing papers organized. But, until you figure out how to deal with incoming papers, your file storage idea won’t last long. The best approach you can take is to commit to processing and filing any new documents that cross your desk the same day you get it. If this isn’t your ideal solution, consider putting an inbox on your desk, and an outbox may be a good idea to have too for outgoing documents until you’re able to handle them. View your inbox as a holding space for your papers that you commit to processing in 24 to 48 hours, not as a storage unit itself.
Each time you process a new piece of paper, apply the same rules you used in the first step. First, determine whether or not you should keep a document or shred and recycle it. If you need to file it, place it in the appropriate category using whichever office storage idea struck your fancy. You should have labels and folders on hand at all times.
Invest in Safety Measures for Sensitive/Important Documents
Some documents are so important that they need more care. This includes items like marriage and birth certificates, tax documents, social security cards, estate planning documents, and any other paper that would complicate someone’s life if they lost it. There are several ways you can ensure these documents stay safe, including slipping them into a fireproof safe, putting them on a password-protected disc, or in a safety deposit box.
Commit to Weekly Maintenance
Once you get your file storage idea up and running, it’s important that you commit to regular maintenance. To this end, consider setting aside 30 minutes to an hour each week to process papers and make sure you stay organized. If several people are maintaining this storage system, make sure everything is following the same rules and protocols you are.
Picking out an organization system before you set up your file storage can help you trim down how many papers you have to file to make the job easier.
19 File Storage Ideas
Now that you have your papers all organized, it’s time to figure out which file storage idea is best for your needs. There are many options available, and we picked out 19 of the best options that you can have right on your desk, on the floor, or hung on the wall.
1. Canning Jars
If you think mason jars are strictly for canning food, you may be surprised to find that you can use it as a file storage idea. After you’ve used them for things like salsa or jam, you can easily repurpose them as caddies for your office. They also make unique coffee mugs. Find a big, durable jar for your pens, pencils, scissors, and other tools you use frequently. You can then line them up on a shelf or hang them on the wall to add a hint of style and personality to the space.
2. Categorize Items
Organize your papers and items into categories, and put like items together. By doing so, your office will be more functional as soon as you implement this file storage idea. A few of the most common categories include:
- Budget – checkbook, calculator, and bill calendar
- Labeling – abeler and label tape
- Mail – envelopes, address labels, and stamps
- Stickies – sticky notes, tabs, stickers, etc.
- Tools – staple, straight cutter, staple remover, and hole puncher
- Writing Tools – markers, pens, and pencils
3. Color-Coded System
A very well-organized file storage idea is to use a color-coded system to get a more functional space. To organize, you’ll separate your filing system into five color-coded categories and label each section according to your needs. Popular categories include: hanging folder according to your needs.
- Blue – House
- Green – Financial
- Orange – Personal
- Red – Medical
- Yellow – Insurance
Along with being handy for toy storage, crates are also a nice file storage idea. Many crates come with lips on the inside that allow you to hang file folders. They’re also very durable, so if you have kids that like to roughhouse, these crates will survive with your files, but your files may scatter. You can find this file storage idea in a range of colors, so you can easily match the crate color to the category color to make it easy to tell at a glance which category you’re looking at. It looks great in a space with a lot of straight lines, and they’re both cost-effective and stackable to take up less floor space.
5. Dresser Upcycle
It’s very possible that you never looked at any type of dresser and thought that it was a great file storage idea. But, think about it. It’s a neat and large solution to help you store a decent amount of files. If you have extra drawers free after you get all of your files in, you can dedicate them to other office-related storage areas. It’s a very convenient practice that allows you to upcycle existing storage spaces in your home. If the drawers are deep enough, you can have hanging files too.
However, this file storage idea won’t work well if you have a large amount of files. If you want to replace a full cabinet, this isn’t a great choice. However, you can get a new dresser for your office and store all of your files in it instead of making room in one that has your clothing too. The top of your dresser can double as a desktop to hold useful items or decorations.
If you have a more limited number of files, a few drawers are a lot better than getting a whole new filing cabinet. These are also much simpler when it comes to aesthetics. Just remember that while it’s an elegant solution, it’s not perfect. You can store your papers vertically to store as many files as possible while making it easy to tell them apart with separators and labels or tabs.
A dresser makes a very versatile space to store your files or larger books that is out of sight and neat.
6. Dry Erase Calendar
If you have a smaller desk that feels cluttered due to the size, this file storage idea can be nice. A dry erase calendar can easily hang on your wall, and they usually have plenty of room to write notes on the sides for important events or appointments you need to be at. You can write deadlines too, and this can open up parts of your desk.
7. Hanging Magazine Racks
It’s very common to see magazine racks in medical offices, but they’re also a handy file storage idea to have in your home office as well. Keep your less used files, like your records, invoices, and agendas right at your fingertips by using wall-mounted magazine pockets. Or for documents you need to look at frequently, keep a v-shaped corner stand on your desk. This will help declutter the desk while keeping space in your filing cabinet.
8. Life Binders
Organize the most important papers in this file storage idea. It’s a grab and go idea that you can have in case of an emergency. For example, if you have a medical emergency, you could grab the medical binder with everything you need right away. A few of the top binder categories are:
- Auto – This binder is just for all of your car repairs, car insurance papers, and maintenance records.
- House – Store all of your house-related information in this binder, like pest control, maintenance, security system information, and contact numbers for your preferred contractors.
- Manuals – Store all of your manuals nealy in one place in this binder. You can even separate the binder into sub-categories, like electronics, appliances, house, and garden.
- Medical – This binder is where you keep all of your medical records and information. If you ever need to go to a new doctor, or if you have a more complex medical diagnosis, everything will be in here.
- Personal – This binder is for anything that doesn’t really fit into any other file or category.
- Pet – This binder should hold all of your pet’s medical records, medications, and shot records or certificates like rabies.
9. Magazine Files
Cheerful and cheap, this file storage idea is a great way to keep your brochures, magazines, documents, and pamphlets in your office organized. But, rather than going for plain-colored or a budget idea, consider printing off designs that fit into your decor to get a coordinated look. You can get sage and forest green magazine files online that cost slightly more than the standard plain options, and they’re handmade with a sturdy wooden board. They come lined inside and out with patterned paper to make them look fancy.
10. Mail Station
To keep control of all of the paper coming into your home or business, create a mail station using this file storage idea. Make one folder for incoming mail, one for outgoing mail, one for mail to file, bills, and a folder for every family member. As soon as the mail comes in, file it. Once a week, take a few minutes to go through each folder.
Having a separate mail station will ensure that you don’t miss out on your bills or important documents because they won’t get lost in the piles of papers.
11. Multifunctional Furniture Pieces
If your desk or space feels cluttered, you need to invest in a few multifunctional furniture pieces. Floor lamps that have built-in shelves can replace a standard desk lamp. Plus, they give you a home for your plants, photos, or decorations. Since you’ll have fewer items on your desk, your space will feel productive and tidy. A fun file storage idea some people have is an ottoman that is largely full of empty space, is the perfect spot to hang files.
Having a multifunctional furniture piece that is on wheels in your space makes it easy to move it over to your desk to help you organize everything and get at your papers when you need them. Otherwise, you’ll need to take all of your papers to your storage space, and this makes it unorganized or lose something.
12. Murphy Desk
A murphy desk is a great option for flat file storage ideas if you’re really squeezed for space in your office. It’s a desk that folds up flat to the wall when it’s not in use, and you can quickly fold it back down when you need it. Since it doesn’t fit tight to the wall, you can add a few flat file storage ideas to the back of the wall on your desk.
13. Open Shelving
No matter if you’re in a living room, kitchen, or home office, an open shelving system works virtually everywhere. Any bare wall will do, and you can easily place neat file storage ideas and sizable items along the bottom shelves. Meanwhile, keep the upper shelves and middle shelves open for frequently referenced books or tools and decorative options to keep you motivated. Leave a small amount of negative space between watch time to prevent the shelves from looking untidy or messy.
14. Portable File Storage Baskets
This type of file storage idea is built specifically to get stacked into your bookshelf. You can get ones that are made out of a hard plastic material that have hinged tops to make them more durable and secure. The main advantage of this idea is that you can quickly stick them on a bookshelf or toss them into a closet to get them out of your way. You want to keep your file storage ideas close so you’re not tempted to allow your papers to pile up for weeks at a time, and this is one way to do it.
15. Printing Station
Designate a small portion of your home office to your printer and printing supplies. If you have a wireless printer, it doesn’t need to go on your desk. By putting it in a cabinet or in another area in your office, you’ll get much more space on your desk for other items.
16. Rolling Shelves
Do you have binders, heavy books, and bulky items wreaking havoc in your space? All of this clutter can really make your home office feel smaller than it is. A utility cart or bar is basically a rolling shelving unit, and this makes it easy to push out of sight when it’s not in use. So, for items that you only use once in a while, put them on a cart shelf and tuck them away. If you have carpet, look for carts with big wheels so they’re easier to move.
Rolling shelves can give you a space to put your items that you don’t use as much and move them out of the way when you don’t need them.
17. Storage Containers
Storage containers, especially those that feature a plastic design, are very cost-effective and make a great file storage idea when you’re on a budget. You can get them in different colors, sizes, and patterns. However, this isn’t the choice for aesthetic appeal as they’re meant to be plain and purely functional to keep your files organized and safe. Some of them work just like a traditional filing cabinet. You can put your files in them vertically and get a very affordable storage solution. It also requires no major setting up. The downside is that they don’t look fabulous, and they may not be durable enough, depending on how you handle them. They can have a professional look, but this is a stretch.
18. Storage Cubes
Transform your cluttered home office into a tidy one when you take advantage of cube file storage ideas. Because they’re so customizable, one cube organizer can have as many functions as more traditional cubbies. Use some compartments and shelves for decorative objects or books, and the others can hold boxes or bins. Foldable cube inserts work well for lightweight objects, like charging cords. Meanwhile, more rigid woven baskets or crates work to store electronics or heavy books.
19. Utensil Tray
Using your desk drawers to their full potential is a great solution to help clear out a cluttered desk. Assign a different office item or cleaning tool to each compartment on your utensil tray, so rubber bands, rulers, and paper clips all have a designated home. If you have a lot of drawers on your desk, turn them into paper trays using adjustable dividers. The, label each section as something like to-do, deadlines, and in and out boxes.
Digital File Storage Ideas
Now that we’ve talked about physical file storage ideas, what about digital ones? Imagine you’re getting ready for work in the morning. You need to find clothing so you open a drawer and find three socks, a sweater, and a hat. You open another drawer and find an old holiday costume. It takes so long to find a full outfit you’re running late and stressed out.
Your clothing is most likely more organized than that, but your files may not be. It’s just as time-consuming and frustrating to find documents you need, when you need them. The good news is that you can save time by having a file storage idea in place for all of your digital files. The key is to decide on a system, communicate it with everyone who needs it, and be consistent.
Set Goals for Organizing Your Digital Files
Organizing your digital files can take over your life if you let it, so start by getting very specific at what you want to accomplish. This way, you’ll prevent this project from taking more resources and time than you need. Start by asking who, when, and how.
- Who – Who needs to understand your file storage idea? The obvious answer is “everyone,” but consider the needs of anyone who isn’t tech-savvy and people who will only need the files once in a while.
- When – When will you start this project and how much time can you spend?
- How – How will you know you’ve been successful?
Here’s an example to consider. You have 22 employees that need to understand your new file storage idea, but especially the graphic designers and writers since they make the files. The office manager may start by spending on Friday afternoon on this project, followed by one hour each week. You’ll know if it worked if it’s easier and quicker for your project managers to find the latest files for client projects.
Pick a File Naming Convention
Once you’ve landed on a file storage idea for your digital files, decide how you’d like to name them. Avoid vague names like “draft.doc. The more specific and detailed you are, the easier it’ll be to search. Ideally, all of your file names should be detailed enough that you know exactly what you’re looking at at a glance. Start the name with the broadest category and narrow it down.
- Date – If you want to organize by date, your file name structure may be YYYY-MM-DD for year, month, day. You follow this with details you may search for like 2022-09-29_Lawnmower-for-Hills-Article.
- Name, Project, or Department – If you want to organize by name, project, or department, start with this and follow it by anything you may type in when you search. So, it could be Happy-DIY-Home_Lawnmower-for-Hills.
We included underscores and hyphens in our examples, but you don’t have to. It’s okay to use spaces in your file names, but some companies don’t, because you can’t have a space in the URL or you’ll get an error message. If you’re naming files that will go into your organizations’ website, like your logo, you want to avoid spaces and special characters. No matter what you decide, just be consistent.
You now know 19 file storage ideas that you can take and try out in your own home office and see which ones fit best. Some will work better for your needs than others, so don’t be afraid to mix and match to get the perfect setup to keep you productive.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.