As much as I love paperless planning and Pinterest, for some things there is just no substitute for actual paper planning.
I love technology, but when it comes to things like holiday recipes written in my grandmother’s hand, family wedding invitations, and articles from the print resources I use, I find it is just more practical, even meaningful, for me when they are in their original paper form.
And, truth be told, even though I am a blogger, I like to have certain aspects of my life “unplugged” and power-cord free.
However, those bits and pieces of paper that serve as part of the tool kit I use to keep organized during the year could easily dominate my desk, kitchen counters, and my life if it weren’t for a simple system I discovered four years ago: the file crate system.
What is the file crate system?
My file crate system, as it is currently, is the results of layers of organization that get added to and tweaked year after year. It is still a work-in-progress, but it definitely helps me stay on top of things, so I wanted to share it with you.
Now, I should start out by saying that I can’t take full credit for this idea. My current system is inspired by Dawn’s from By Sun and Candlelight. I’ve taken her idea and run with it, personalizing it for my family’s needs, and I encourage you to do the same and make it work for you.
I’ve been using this system for years now and can’t imagine managing my home, or organizing life with small children, without it. I wonder if a system like this might not serve some of you in your homes as well?
Are you ready to hear about how to set up a home file crate system? Let’s get started!
- file crate
- 52 hanging file dividers and file folders
- that stack of papers, invitations, recipes, and holiday crafts you’ve been meaning to organize
- a map of your family’s year (more on that in a moment)
- a free afternoon to get your file crate set up
The file folders and hanging file dividers that I use were recycled from my husband and my mom’s office leftovers and the file crate cost us $2 at a back-to-school sale in Fall 2009, so this is a pretty economical system. Of course, pretty matching file folders are nice, too and can still be fairly inexpensive if you want to go that route, especially if you watch the back-to-school sales coming along right now.
Map out your family’s year
You can read more on my Rockin’ Granola blog about the nitty-gritty of how I use this system for homeschool, but the file crate system serves me in so many ways beyond school planning. One tip I will pass along from my homeschool planning that you may find helpful as you’re setting up a file crate system is to sit down and map out a rough draft of the year. In a nutshell, you’re giving yourself an overview of the year ahead.
When I do this, I take a piece of paper and fold it to make 12 squares, a section for each month of the year. I then make an outline of the year, including any family events, birthdays, vacations, festivals, and scheduled time off. This is not the space for details, but is meant an overview of the year ahead for our family.
Now I’ve got a guide when I’m doing my planning that helps me break down the year into the 52 weeks/file folders.
In the file crate
Been invited to a birthday party or a wedding? Stick the invitation in the correct week’s file and you’ve got the address and directions on hand. Fundraiser or church event? Into that week’s file. Found the perfect birthday card? Into the file crate it goes, reminding you to mail it at the correct time of year. A copy of Grandma’s taffy apple salad recipe (which no Thanksgiving is complete without) is in there, too.
I use it to keep track of recipes and holiday ideas. I write down what the kids get for Christmas and their birthdays each year and then just put it in the appropriate week’s file. (This is fun for me, too, as I often don’t remember from year to year so there is almost always a surprise waiting for me by the time that week rolls around again next year. Plus, I have a handy age by age record of gift giving ideas.)
Once a week, usually on Sunday afternoons, I sit down with a cup of coffee, a pen, post-it notes, and the upcoming week’s file. I jot down any notes or reminders and stick them on the file with the post-its. I use the contents of the file to help me with my grocery list, family calendar, and other weekly planning.
So, what exactly goes into the file folders for each week?
- notes, recipes, or craft ideas for special occasions and holidays
- any printouts needed such as teacher’s instructions, coloring pages, or worksheets for homeschool
- family and personal goal setting forms (I really liked Tsh’s 20 Questions for a New Year’s Eve Reflection)
- cards to mail, pictures the kids drew for Grandma to go into the next letter, etc.
- my grocery list (Simple Mom has a printable one for you to use here)
- weekly Little Acorn Learning themes
- a post-it note or two with any important reminders or notes that I jot down as I’m going through my schedule each week
- I write myself notes after each holiday and birthday of what went well, what didn’t, what I want to remember for the next year
- I follow the Holiday Grand Plan each year, only instead of a binder I use my weekly file folders for the printouts and forms. This would work for 12 Weeks to An Enjoyable Christmas or any other holiday plan, too.
I think you get the idea. It all goes into the current week’s file folder, which stays on my desk until next week, when it goes back into the file box to wait it’s turn until next year.
Then I grab the current week and the whole system rotates through again.
Once a year, usually around New Year’s, I sit down with the whole system and I go through each file, making a rough draft plan of the year and cleaning out any information or papers I know that I don’t need any more.
As we’re working through the year, if we don’t get to everything we need to in one week, I can just take it out and put in the next week’s folder. Found a fun holiday or birthday idea after the occasion has come and gone this year? No problem, just stick it in the file for next year. This is why I LOVE this system – it is easy to make changes!
Have questions? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer you. I’d love to hear how you organize papers, invitations, cards, etc, too.