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Organizing Reference Material in Your Home Office

written by: •edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 7/6/2011

This article discusses how to keep reference material from taking over your life by organizing it.

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    There are several types of reference material you may have when you work at home: papers, magazines, books, and computer files to name a few. Reference material is that information we wish to keep, but do not need for an action item. Sometimes though, reference materials pile up and clutter desks, homes and lives. In this article, I will focus on how you can organize your reference papers. Before you start, you'll want to purchase or obtain hanging files, manila folders, a label maker (or pens), and post-it notes.

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    Take all of the papers you have sitting around and stack them up. You might wish to sit somewhere comfortable and do this. Also, make sure you have a recycling bin nearby - you will be doing some purging as you sort. Pick up the piece of paper at the top of the pile. Do not set it down again until you figure out what you are going to do with it. You have the following options:

    • It is an action item. You can use a sticky-note, write the action that needs to be taken on it, and put all of the action items in one pile to keep.
    • It is trash/recycling, You can throw it away.
    • It is reference material from an old project and you haven't looked at it in months. You can recycle it.
    • It is reference material for a current/upcoming project. You can label it with a sticky note and create a stack for that project.

    Keep sorting the papers, one by one, until the stack has been dealt with. Once you are done, place action items in your "inbox" and dispose of recycling immediately (this is important so you don't go diving for information you've decided you no longer need). You are now ready to start filing your reference materials.

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    Next, take a look at the sorted stacks you have created. How large are the stacks? Do you have multiple projects for one client? Each project should get its own manila folder within the hanging folder for the client. Do you have a ton of reference material on one topic? It should get its own hanging file, and each subtopic should have its own manila folder. If you are a writer, for example, you may have various topics you write on with regularity. Each of these topics should have its own hanging folder. Within each hanging folder, you may have several sub-topics, articles under progress, or contacts. The key here is to choose master categories that make sense to you. Where are you likely to look for an article on Greece - Travel, History, or Geography? Think about what the material will be used for and file it according to how you will use it.

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    Further Reading

    For more reading on how to organize long-term reference material, you may wish to consult the following:

    "Organizing Your Office Paperwork for Less" by VictoriaM on Bright Hub

    "Stop Shuffling Paper: Organizing Paperwork is Key to Productivity" by Susan Ward on


    "A Complete Guide to Efficiently Organizing Your Paperwork & Mail" by G.E. Miller on 20 Something Finance