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The Noguchi filing system -- perverted

A couple weeks ago I announced my intention to impose the Noguchi filing system on the household bills and warranties and general detritus that's been piling up. I've made a lot of progress on the new filing system. There had been two to three years' worth of stuff built up in a desk drawer that was removed from my desk and sitting atop a bookcase. This has all been filed. There are in addition two standard filing cabinet drawers full of things dating back to 1993. These are already filed, but my intention is to go through them slowly and incorporate them into the new system. I've started on this.

noguchiAs I understand it--incompletely, I'm sure, from this article and a few similar mentions on the web--if you're filing according to the Noguchi system you put every single document into its own envelope, which is a 9x12 envelope that has had a couple of inches cut off the top (the flap and a bit more). The envelopes are marked by title and date. These items are then stored chronologically, with no attempt made at any other kind of categorization. They are stored right to left on a shelf--not in a filing cabinet drawer--with new items always put on the left. Older documents that are accessed are replaced in the system on the left. The natural result is that the most frequently accessed documents wind up on the left, while the right side of the system becomes a sort of graveyard. Items on the far right can be removed from the system and placed in boxes--or discarded.

In the end I chickened out and did not adopt all of these precepts. I was worried about not being able to find documents without a great deal of trouble when it came to it, and I wanted to reuse the same envelope for certain items as described below. But I have adopted a good many of these ideas, and the result is a much more efficient system than I had before. Here's what I've done:

I've abandoned the filing cabinet for filing in envelopes on shelves. The envelopes are much more accessible this way than standard filing folders buried in a drawer. Also, the envelopes keep things safer. Small pieces of paper are less likely to fall out. The envelopes are each titled, and when appropriate I've dated them. As you can see from the picture, however, I am not simply putting the items on shelves right to left, willy nilly. I decided to impose some structure on them, though less than I was doing previously. I have as of now six categories of envelopes: FINANCIAL, MEDICAL, UTILITIES, INSURANCE, MISCELLANEOUS, and WARRANTIES/RECEIPTS. I'm putting these in cardboard magazine holders. These holders in fact make it a little hard to access the envelopes. Ideally one would have some kind of shelf divider in between the sections that would not impede simply sliding the envelopes out. But unless and until I have such things, I'm sticking with the magazine holders. I've left some folders out of the holders, though--on which more in a moment.


In many cases I am following the practice of putting individual items in their own separate envelopes--particularly in the case of warranties and receipts. (These are in the larger box on the second shelf. I anticipate this section growing considerably as I go through my old files.) The separate envelope option is nice because it eliminates the need to think too much about how an item is best categorized during the filing process. But in some cases it didn't seem appropriate to use separate envelopes. In the case of monthly utilities, credit card statements, and bank statements I have envelopes designated for the year. Every month the new statements can be put in the yearly envelopes. And I've left these frequently accessed envelopes outside of the magazine holders (to the left of the holders in the picture) for ease of access. In the case of medical documents I've done something similar, with each member of the family getting an envelope per year. The current year's envelopes are likewise left outside of the magazine holders. Within the holders envelopes are arranged chronologically by year (i.e., not necessarily also by month).

Preparing the envelope
Use 9x12 envelopes. Cut off the top of the envelope right about where the perforated line is on the envelope pictured. Rather than do any measuring I used the flap as a guide: fold it down and cut along the bottom of it. Then you can use one envelope as a template for cutting subsequent ones.

The item title and date are written along the side of the envelope, as shown. I differ in how I date the envelope. In some cases (e.g., with yearly medical files) it makes sense just to have a year. Sometimes year, month, and date. And sometimes, for example with instruction books, you might not need any date at all.

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Perfekt system!

Regards Steve,
from Dresden (Saxonia, Germany)


How has the progress gone?


It's pretty much stayed as is. It works okay. My one regret--but I haven't gone to the bother of correcting it or thinking about it much--is that I'm using those magazine holders to store the files. This is annoying, because you can't easily slip the files off the shelf. Ideally I should get some kind of vertical separators to mark the different sections--financial, medical, etc. Something sturdy. And then get rid of the magazine holders.


This is what I was looking for. Keep it simple? I could even convince my kids to use it for collecting their ticket from various visits, pictures, a those little things laying around everywhere etc.

Only my wife is not yet sure if it is gonna work out. And I see one disadvantage. In case you have a fire or water in your house I imagine that folders are more likely to save.

And I will start Monday to organize my emails the same way. On top the ones you need again and again, on the bottom the ones you think you never need, once deleted, next day you just need that damn phone number. But how to enforce such an order - manipulating some kind of custom date. Need to check in Outlook.

I believe that this organization makes more sense than ordering by incoming date or any other grouping. Especially grouping of emails is not working out, because you can apply multiple categories to most emails. And yes I tag them already. So I do already 50% of Noguchi

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Reading Herodotus: A Guided Tour through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

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