Filing Heresy: One Box Filing

Filing Heresy: One Box Filing
This post was previously published. It has been updated.

I’m probably going to be called a heretic for this article, but I don’t care.

After all, heretic means “one who dissents from accepted belief”, and this is definitely against the accepted belief of a few of the major productivity systems out here. Here it is:

Not everyone can maintain a filing system.

Many people, otherwise competent and some even brilliant, cannot maintain a filing system. It has nothing to do with intelligence or organization or even self-discipline. I’m convinced it’s just the way they are wired.

So what is a filing challenged person to do?

(Get ready for the heresy)

File everything in a single box.

As long as you know where something is, and it is a reasonable amount of information, does it matter if it is in neatly labeled hanging folders? Or in a pile?

I don’t think it matters. So for all those out there who just can’t get the hang of filing, grab a small, empty box. About the size of a box that holds file folders, not one that holds a refrigerator. Throughout the year, toss in the things you need to hang on to for financial and tax reasons: paid bills, tax documents, bills.

At the end of the year, go through it and shred what you can. Then stick it on a shelf with an appropriate label and start a new one.

So my question for those of you who are horrified at this idea is this: the point of filing is to be able to find things again. Is it any different in a single box then in a file drawer?


  1. Mark

    Hear hear! I am unfileable. At my request, by boss bought me a nice filing cabinet so I could really start to GTD. Once in a while I open it up to stare blankly at my tickler file. Why does my tickler file not tickle me so? I do file an occasional work order in there when I call my vendor to replace a disk drive. Drawer 3 makes a great power cable and other accessories drawer. And I like to keep a box of Kashi Go Lean in the bottom drawer, in case I miss my breakfast. Three cheers for boxes!

  2. Riccardo Bartoli

    I use this method from 4 years and it works like a charm…

  3. Mike C.

    Exactly! I’ve been doing this for years with a slight variation. I have cheap metal cabinet from Ikea that has about six small drawers. (Find it here: . I throw receipts in one drawer. Tax stuff in another. And everything else in the third. No digging through files. No alphabetical order. Just three dumping grounds for stuff I might need sometime. At the end of the year, each pile is placed in a separate manila envelope with the year and tossed in a filing box in my storage. Easy as pie. Trust me, it’s the most the average person really needs in terms of a filing system.

  4. Caryn Martinez

    I totally agree! You can also perpetuate an even worse heresy: tossing your papers in file folders just as if they were a big, empty box. Then you have a MISUSED FILE CABINET. This really upsets people.

  5. Michael fitzGerald

    Here is a refinement for those who are uncomfortable with freedom.Use a ring binder. As you add items give them a sequential number. You can use a front sheet as a partial table of contents giving the page number of important pieces of paper

  6. Toenex

    This is such a valueable approach. How many of the things you spend time filing do you actually ever need to recover? Spend the time looking not preparing for looking. I apply the same approach to outlook mail. I don’t delete a thing but put it all in one folder, which I archive every year or so. If I need something I let the computer find it.

  7. Saya

    Perfect for certain kinds of things…like paid bills and insurance EOBs – you need them if something happens, but otherwise they’re just going to eventually get shredded after a couple of years…

    Another idea for smaller amounts of stuff would be some larger envelopes within that – stuff all your tax stuff into an envelope when you’re done with it and toss it in the box too – then if its the tax material its easy enough to separate out from the rest too…

  8. Rachel R.

    Oh, my goodness. There is NO. WAY. this would work for those of us who actually USE our files more than once or twice a year. I would go crazy trying to find things! But if your files are things you don’t really access often, go for it!

  9. Mr Bob

    Been using this method for 20 years. Havent lost any important papers yet !! I always know where everything is “filed”. However, I “clean out” my box 2-3 times a year. Its kind of fun to go back and see some of the stuff I saved. I also maintain what I call “obvious ” files, which is paperwork that most certainly has its proper and final resting place like tax data.

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