Are You a Paper Packrat? Here's a Creative Solution

 


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Are you incapable of throwing out a piece of paper because you’re afraid you may need the information on it later? Do you have piles of paper on your desk, boxes of magazine articles and brochures in your closet, and heaps of magazines and newspapers tucked in a corner of your bedroom?

Writers, artists, and other creative types especially have a hard time sorting and filing information, partly because just having it around can provide a creative spark - until you’re so inundated that you can’t even get to it when you want it. Luckily, you don’t necessarily need to get rid of all that clutter; you don’t even need to categorize it before you file it. You just need a good way of quickly and easily storing and documenting it so that you can put your hands on it when you want it.

First, gather a few simple materials:

  • An assortment of standard three-ring binders; 1-inch binders are a good size. If you want to create large categories for your papers, get several colors of binders: green for gardening, blue for crafts, yellow for health information, etc.

  • Several boxes of 8½ x 11-inch clear plastic sleeves, punched for a three-ring binder

  • A package of small white stickers (for page labels)

  • Pens

  • Labels designed to fit on the spines of three-ring binders

  • A computer word processing program such as MS Word or WordPerfect

  • A box of 8½ x 11-inch file folders

    Separate magazines and newspapers and set them aside for now. We’ll work on them later.

    Stick a label on the spine of each binder, and mark it: A, B, C, etc.

    Count out plastic sleeves, fifty at a time, and put them into the three-ring binders.

    Add a sticker to the bottom corner of each side of each plastic sleeve. Mark the labels with the letter designation for the binder and the page number: A1, A2, etc. You’ll end up with 100 pages in each binder.

    Turn on your computer, grab a handful of paper, and start filing. Label the first piece of paper with A1 in one corner and slide it into the first plastic sleeve.

    Now you’re going to start an ongoing index for your papers. Think of some categories for the piece of paper you just filed. Say it’s an article on herbal remedies for colds. Type:

    colds
    health
    herbal remedies

    Think of as many categories as you can; make sure they make sense to you, and make sure you alphabetize them. Now expand on the categories, using your Tab key to indent the subcategories:

    • colds
      • herbal remedies for colds
    • health
    • herbal remedies
      • herbal remedies for colds

    Now add the page number to the subcategories:

    • colds
      • herbal remedies for colds, A1
    • health
    • herbal remedies, A1
    • herbal remedies
      • for colds, A1

    Continue adding papers to your binder and indexing the pages as you go. You might want to go through the above process for each page, then cut and paste the various listings into the alphabetical index:

    • baby booties, A2
    • clothing
      • baby booties, knitted, A2
    • crafts
      • baby booties, knitted, A2
      knitting
      • baby booties, knitted, A2
      patterns
      • baby booties, knitted, A2

    is created first, then added to the index:

    • baby booties, A2
    • clothing
      • baby booties, knitted, A2
    • colds
      • herbal remedies for colds, A1
    • crafts
      • baby booties, knitted, A2
    • knitting
      • baby booties, knitted, A2
    • health
    • herbal remedies, A1
    • herbal remedies
      • for colds, A1
    • patterns
      • baby booties, knitted, A2

    When you’re done, or periodically throughout the project, print out the index and put it into its own labeled binder.

    This may seem like a lot of work, but the beauty of this is that you can work on the project a little bit at a time, and at the end you’ll end up with several binders full of pages of information, plus an organized index of every piece of paper you’ve filed. If you need to refer to the paper - say you want to use the baby booties pattern to knit some booties for your new nephew - you can remove the page and know exactly where it goes when it comes time to put it back. This method keeps your papers organized and accessible, but you can also browse through them for inspiration any time you want.

    You will undoubtedly come across papers that you don’t use anymore; if so, toss them out. You’ll also come across items that call for a different way of handling them – business cards, addresses and phone numbers, for example, and recipes clipped out of magazines. Create a file folder for these categories and drop info into them as needed. Later you can create another set of binders for recipes, with a separate index; you can add the addresses, phone numbers, and business cards to your address book at a later time.

    Now for that pile of magazines and newspapers! If you like keeping entire magazines, categorize them by title, file them in a magazine holder, and label the magazine holder (NHG1, NHG2, etc. , for instance, for Natural Homes and Gardens). Go through each magazine and index the articles you want to refer back to; if you’re keeping the magazine, incorporate the date of the magazine into the listing:

    straw bale houses, NHG1, Jan 2005

    If you’ve decided not to keep the magazines, rip the articles you want out and file them in your regular binders, indexing as usual, then discard what’s left of the magazine. Go through this process for each magazine and newspaper you’ve saved. You can also file and index appliance and computer manuals this way, by storing them in magazine holders and indexing them.

    You can file an entire magazine article in a single sleeve, or you can file each page in its own separate sleeve. The second method is great if you have a habit of collecting home decorating ideas; that way you can browse through the whole article without removing it from its sleeve.

    You’ll find, as you move through this project, that you tend to collect certain types of information more than others. You may find, for instance, that you’ve managed to accumulate a whole collection of valuable information on natural remedies that until now was buried underneath a pile of miscellaneous papers. A side benefit: All these binders fit neatly into standard sized file boxes ; so if you have to store them or move them, it’ll be a simple matter. (Don’t forget to label the boxes!)

    There’s pure gold in those piles of papers stacked around your house! So stop punishing yourself for your packrat tendencies, go with the flow, and use these creative organizing techniques to give you access to all the valuable info you’ve collected!

    Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. She has written numerous articles for local and regional newspapers and for a number of Internet websites, including Tips and Topics. She expresses her opinions periodically on her blog, http://beyondagendas.blogspot.com She may be reached at amfredenburg@yahoo.com

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