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File Cabinet Makeover: How Color Changed My Life!

Guest post by Kathy of Cornerstone Confessions.

This week I looked at my file cabinet and decided it was time for a redo.  A few years ago I had set out to organize our papers, yet afterwards, I was still the only one who could find things. My hubby would come to me and say, “Where is that paper about…” and inevitably I’d have to stop what I was doing to go find it.

So this week I decided it was time for an overhaul.  While I really didn’t change file names much this go round, I simply decided to add color.

The result: my hubby quickly glanced at the made-over files and very quickly knew where to find everything.


Now let me explain. First of all, I did not find putting those paper inserts into the tabs very appealing.  So instead, I used a Word template to create and print color coded return address labels which I then stuck over the plastic tabs.  This was so much easier!

Secondly, we have two drawers:  one drawer is a reference drawer and one drawer is a working drawer.

In our reference drawer we have files for our manuals and product information as well as other resources such as articles we cut out of magazines that we may want to refer to again.

In our reference drawer, each tab is color coded according to type:  pink is for my blog ideas, green for anything having to do with home life, yellow for children topics, red for hobby topics, orange for travel, and so on.  We then have all our product manuals and receipts grouped and filed alphabetically using a blue label.

In our working drawer, we have all that other stuff.  At the front of the working drawer is our go-to files.  These files are labeled in pink and include things such as address labels, bills, and stamps.  For our receipts and ink to recycle, we also have a Ziploc bag inside the file folder.  When it comes time to sort through receipts at the end of the month, we just pull out the bag.  If it’s time to take our ink to recycle at Staples, we just pull out the bag and we’re ready to go.

Behind our go-to files are our auto, finance, home and insurance files, all now color coded of course. Even our personal records are then color coded by name.  Since each of my children are already color coded in other areas of their life I just carried their colors over to their files.  Now anytime Goose needs to find his high school diploma or latest medical records he knows right where to look — the red labels.

Ahhh…life is getting so much better!  Not only that, my file cabinet now looks joyful…if you can say that about a file cabinet.  Now, the next question is whether or not my hubby could find the cleaning supplies if I organized them by color.  Hmm….

Kathy Gossen is a servant of Christ, wife, mom, musician, and author of Cornerstone Confessions. She enjoys spending time with her husband Goose, and their 2 precious little girls as well as reading, blogging, playing the piano, and pursuing life as a developing domestic diva drawing on the divine.

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  • Erica says:

    I have been looking for some filing cabinet inspiration and this is just what I needed! Thank you 🙂

  • i am currently in the middle of reorganizing my office and love this idea!! my goal is to eliminate one of my 2 filing cabinets. i just need to get rid of some stuff! but in the filing cabinet that i’m keeping for our legitimate, need-to-keep files, i think i’ll try this! thanks for the tip!

  • Michelle says:

    For my husband, color is a necessity. He is a synesthete where days of the week, letters, and numbers all have distinct colors. Each kid even has a unique color in his mind – so once I figure out the code, it makes organization for us much more smooth.

    If you’re wondering if you have synesthesia, ask yourself (or your husband) what color the number 7 is. For me, there is no association of color, or even shape/texture. With him, it’s very distinct and consistent.

    • :) says:

      !!! Weird! I didn’t know this had an actual name! I do something similar…For as long as I can remember, in my mind, each letter and number has a gender. And the months of the year have a specific color and position in a circle in my head. I always visualize holidays and birthdays, seasons, etc. in a certain place on the circle.
      I never really tell anyone that, but seeing your comment makes me feel better! lol!!

      • Michelle says:

        My husband didn’t realize that he was ‘different’ until he mentioned something about colors and numbers and I looked at him like he was crazy =)

        Just know you are unique and special! It’s an interesting trait to be a synesthete! Kristen, below, apparently shares your proclivity!

    • I have a different sort of synesthesia…no colors, but I see the months of the year, the years of history, and numbers in general in lines or circles in my head. For instance, the months of the year are arranged in a racetrack shape in my head.

      My mom has this type and so does my son.

      • Michelle says:

        It is neat that it is genetic. My husband’s mom and two of his three siblings have the same synesthesia. I suspect at least one of my children has it as well.

        Some of the most extreme cases involve seeing brilliant colors and even tastes associated with sounds. As for me…. nothing.

      • jodi says:

        Mine too! Not everyone does that? The months of the year are in a racetrack shape in my head, too, and they don’t each have their own color per se, but tones. The colors start and then fade lighter or darker as you go around the track. The days of the week are blocks all in a row, each with their own color and feeling.

        How cool is that that it has a name! 🙂 I just thought I was very specific 🙂

      • Heather says:

        Same here. I thought it was normal. How can you NOT pictures the months like that?

    • KimH says:

      Just curious… what color is 7? Blue came up for me, but Im pretty sure I dont have synesthesia.. Ok.. I just went & looked… hmn… the picture it shows on Wikipedia is blue.. lol.. Im assuming that its different for each person. I am highly sensitive to many thing.. perhaps its more of the same sort of thing. Maybe I do have it & I just dont know it. 😉 Thanks for the education. 🙂

      • That’s funny! I thought of blue too but have never thought of numbers having colors before! Wow! Fascinating.

        This color coding organization thing is a great idea. I think I may try it! Thanks so much for sharing everyone!

  • Angela says:

    I’ve been wanting to do this. Especially with starting homeschooling in the fall. My family is color coded too so it will be easy to pull over. thanks for the inspiration.

  • Carrie says:

    What a great idea, my ideas dont work so maybe I should try this. I am the queen of hunting for something when I need it and that doesnt always work.

  • Amber says:

    love your article 🙂 we also do our files this way t soo nice to be able to find the things we are looking for instantly 🙂

  • jennifer brown says:

    This is EXACTLY what I have been looking for. (and didnt even know it)

    Thank you!!!!

  • BethB says:

    I’m having one of those Why Didn’t I Think of That moments! Our file system is fairly well organized but it still takes me longer than I think it should to locate the file category I’m looking for. DUH! Color coding would be a great solution!


  • This is a wonderful way to stay organized. It looks great!

  • Kara says:

    THANK YOU!!! Crystal you always have perfect timing for any type of posts. I LOVE color coded items, it makes my life SO much easier, because of my personality. I will be working on putting my file drawer back in my desk this week. (Its been a file crate for the last year, because Ds liked getting into it and make a complete mess, so I bought the crate and put it upstairs in our old house)

  • Erica says:

    Thank you for sharing. It is one of my top goals of 2012 to get my papers under control. Your info will definitely help me!

  • Heather says:

    Just make sure other family members aren’t color blind first! It’s more common in men that people realize – about 1 in 10. There are quick online tests to determine this.

    And I am planning on redoing my desk and files today also!

    • Kathy says:

      Heather, that is so true! My dad is color blind so for him, I would have to choose another color besides red (that’s the color he cannot see). Most color blind people have selective color blindness (they can’t see only certain colors). If someone in your family is color blind, determine what colors they can see and go with those. Then it’s still a win-win for everyone. Good luck filing!

  • Emily says:

    Thank you for this great idea! Our file cabinet has a lot of outdated stuff in it and one of my goals while I’m on maternity leave is to clean it out and reorganize. This will be really helpful.

  • elizabeth says:

    Was wondering if you could list the things that you file tag. I get so overwhelmed because I never know where what files under???? I do like the color coding. green for anything to do with the house and so on.

    • Kathy says:

      Sure. I assume you mean for the working drawer as the reference drawer is really whatever topics you are interested in or manuals you’d like to save.

      Our Go-To Files are: Address labels (a place for all those free labels you get in the mail), Bills, Budget Cash Envelopes, Coupons (which I gather and cut on Sundays to put into my coupon notebook), Ink to Recycle, Receipts (we keep these for 30 days just in case we need to return something), Stamps, and Tithing Envelopes

      The rest of our reference files are grouped by type and then subcategory as such:

      Bank Records
      Credit Reports
      A separate folder for each investment type
      Repair Records
      Property Taxes
      Insurance Policies
      Personal Records
      Will (a copy)
      The below files are duplicated and color coded for each family member:
      Social Security
      Income Tax
      Each year has it’s own subfolder.

      Long answer but I hope it helps.

  • Carla says:

    Anything to help me think about becoming more organized is wonderful, so thank you so much.


  • Jennifer says:

    For all of you who want a color-coded filing system already made for you (with instructions, pre-made labels, extra labels you can customize, and a self-purging system), check out . I am not a salesperson – I started using this system about a year ago, and I couldn’t live without it! I’m a SAHM with a small business, and Freedom Filer CHANGED MY LIFE! I HATED paperwork, and this thing literally solved ALL of my paper issues! This color-coded idea is similar, but if you’re willing to spend a few dollars to purchase a system, Freedom Filer is the only one I recommend 🙂

  • Camille says:

    Thanks so much for the idea. I dread it every time I open my filing cabinet. This will surely make things easier to find, and it is time for some reorganization in that area. Thanks again. I’m going to add this to my list of goals for the week.

  • Oh cool!!! My filing cabinet is a mess!!! It needs a redo!

  • One of my goals for 2012 is to totally revamp our 2-drawer filing cabinet. I have been doing really well with it so far, and hope to have it done before Easter.

    I’m not color-coding, but that’s a fantastic idea!

  • KimH says:

    I just have one recommendation for you all.. Do NOT put your car titles, your insurance policies, your credit card & bank information in easy to reach, easily labeled locations.

    You may think your house will always be safe & secure, but it may not. Put these things under lock & key. Get yourself a fire proof security box and if you need to file, place your files in there.

    There are just some things you cant control, such as thefts, fires, tornados, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. A heavy lock box or safe will save you a lot of trouble in case of most of these.

    Better to be safe than sorry…

  • Caren says:

    I added some color to the outside of my filing cabinets to make them more exciting. You can check out some ideas at my post here:

  • Kerri D. says:

    I love the clean look of those colored labels!

    I do have one small filing cabinet for things like owners manuals and my file with originals of birth certificates, car titles, and ss cards – but we invested in a copier/scanner/printer with an automatic document feeder (sounds fancy, but it was only around $60 for one with good scanner resolution.) and I scan in all of our medical, financial statements (if I haven’t already signed up for e-statements), and other important papers.

    I used to have tons of paper clutter, now I have one paper inbox and my digital file (sub-divided of course). Taking the time to scan is the biggest problem, but with the ability to scan up to 50 pgs. at a time without having to sit with it, it’s really only a couple minutes out of my day, maybe once a month.

    Or I can let it pile up for a couple months and it’s still more than manageable. 😉

    Oh, and for kids papers (you know, the ones where you just can’t throw them away but there is no where to display all of them?) my friend had a great idea. You simply take a picture and put it on a digital frame or even in a screen-saver photo file so you don’t have the paper mess, but your kids can see their accomplishments any time they want!

  • Jonie says:

    I always wonder with this type of address labels, if I just need to add one more label with a particular color, can i just put back the same sheet of label (which I have not entirely used up) or I have to use an entirely new sheet of labels?

    Hope someone can answer my question.


    • Kathy says:

      Jonie, it depends what software you use and how you set up your page. If you use Word, for example, you can insert the half-used sheet of labels back into the printer, and then create your labels on the bottom portion of the page according to what you have left on your label sheet. Or, another option would be to insert the label sheet so that the bottom edge feeds through the printer first instead of the top, if that is where you have the extra labels on the sheet. Most label pages have the same margins on the top and bottom so it does not really matter which side you put in the feeder first. Hope this helps.

  • Julie says:

    Thank you! I have been looking for a system that I can keep in check. This is perfect and I have already started to revamp.

  • Jen says:

    Lovely labeling! Sometimes the simple changes are the best, aren’t they? Getting husbands to utilize the organizational updates can be tricky, so way to go!!!

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