Clean Break: Clear Out Your File Clutter as the Year Closes


We’re nearing the end of the year, and with the holiday season upon us, many web workers will be getting pretty busy. But with 2008 approaching, it might not be a bad idea to clean out the clutter in your paper and digital files, and start the year afresh and reinvigorated.

So let’s take a look at some simple ways to clear through your pile of old files — in your file cabinet, on your computer, and online.

Paper Files
The first thing to do is to look at the scope of work you’ve got in front of you: I only have a drawer’s worth of files, but if you’ve got several cabinets of files, you may want to limit your scope to the most active files or drawer. If you just have a drawer or two of files, you can do this in less than an hour (probably).

Now that you’ve figured out your scope, find an hour of free time and do the following:

1. Take all your files out and pile them. If you need to do it in 2, 3 or 5 piles, that’s OK. The key is to clear out your file drawer(s) and get everything in one area.

2. Go through the files one at a time and make quick decisions. Start with the top file, make a decision on it, and then go to the next one. Don’t put off any decision on any file. When you make the decision, you’re going to place it in one of the following piles:

  • Active. If you’ve used this file any time in the last 6 months (you can set the time frame to a year if that works better for you), put it in the active file. If the file looks bloated, you can weed out any unnecessary documents to thin it down if you like.
  • Archives. These are files you don’t use anymore, but you might like to keep for possible reference. But be vigilant about these files, as you don’t want to keep a bunch of files you’ll never use again. Financial documents are a good bet, as are anything else that’s not easily replaceable or that you can’t find online or somewhere else.
  • Trash. Try to get rid of as many files as possible. It feels good to clear out old files you’ll never need again.

3. Clear out your drawer. Now that your file drawer is empty, clean it good. It’s nice to start with a clean drawer.

4. Put your files in order. Trash the files you won’t need, and find another place to store your archives. Then put your active files back in your file drawer. It should be much less full than before. Alphabetize your files before putting them back.

You should be all cleared out and ready for a great new year!

Computer Files
If you’ve got a ton of files on your computer, it can be useful to clear out the clutter here too. Set aside 30-60 minutes for this.

Basically, you want to repeat the same process. Take all your various folders and put them in one place, if they’re scattered. Then go through them, one at a time, and sort them into three folders:

  • Active. All the projects you’re currently working on.
  • Archives. Within archives, you should have subfolders (unless you’re the type to search instead of file). Don’t keep archives if you’ll never need the files again.
  • Trash. Delete all the trash instead of creating a new folder.

What files do you have online? Take a quick inventory, and set aside 30 minutes for each type of file. Some of my examples include:

  • Email. Now is a great time to clear out those old emails, especially the ones with large files or emails before 2007.
  • Google Docs. I store most of my files online instead of on my computer.
  • WordPress. As I write a blog, I have a lot of files stored in WordPress. Whether it’s old image files I don’t need, old posts that are worthless, or plugins and themes that I’ll never use again, I can weed through the unnecessary stuff.
  • I store a lot of files online. Same process as above.
  • Flickr or Picasa. Whatever photo service you use, you might have ones you don’t want anymore. Same thing with YouTube or other video.
  • Or other bookmarking services. Are you ever going to need all of those bookmarks? Weed through them if you have time.


Brandie Kajino

Great tips. Another idea for filing is to use the same names for paper files as computer files. This keeps everything consistent and easy to find. Happy filing!

Eugene (Editor, Varsity Blah)

The most important thing for me is to remember that nothing is sacred. I finally got around to throwing out two years worth of old magazines that I thought I’d read again but never did. Man, it felt good!

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