How I Stopped Accumulating and Started Filing in Four Easy Steps

By Daryl V. Hoole

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    Most Latter-day Saints are expected serve competently in many demanding roles: husband or wife, parents, leaders, teachers, and speakers. One way in which we can be more effective in these callings is through the proper use of quality resource material: scriptural references, stories, poems, articles, editorials, proverbial and power phrases, and visual materials.

    Many of us are great collectors of these things, but few of us can quickly find what we need. All too often we spend hours, even days, searching through books and papers in forty places trying to find appropriate materials for a talk or lesson.

    We could well be more like Elder Adam S. Bennion, a late member of the Council of the Twelve, who could be prepared in just five minutes to give a talk on almost any subject. As his secretary for a few months prior to my marriage, I repeatedly saw this great man select several items from his files, spend a few minutes arranging them, jot down some notes, and be ready with another inspirational talk. It took about five minutes’ preparation—plus fifty years of wise filing!

    The most efficient way to keep track of the many papers of one’s collection is through a filing system. There are several methods of filing—some that lead to frustration and confusion (hence defeating their purpose), and others that really work well.

    The system that does the best job for me is called a “Master File System.” It is patterned after the card catalog system at the public library, which lists each book on various cards according to author, title, and subject. A number then directs you to the book’s position on the shelf.

    This principle also works beautifully in a humble home filing situation. I have a small master file (card catalog) in which every item in my file cabinet is listed on 4″ x 6″ cards. This is done according to title (if there is one), author (if the name is meaningful to me), and subjects—several if necessary. Then a number leads me to that particular item in my file cabinet.

    In the file cabinet itself, items are placed chronologically in the order in which they are obtained. A total of twenty-five items to a folder seems to be about right, making the folder neither too thick nor too thin. The first manila folder holds items from 1 to 25; the second folder from 26 to 50; the third folder from 51 to 75; and so forth. In one folder containing twenty-five items, there might be twenty-five different, unrelated subjects. The master card file indexes, and thus organizes, the filing cabinet.

    Even though this system may appear to be a little involved, in fact it is simple and fast to use!

    For supplies, you need:

    1. A container for your file entries (I prefer a legal-size filing cabinet that is two inches larger than the standard size, but a pasteboard box works well if you don’t feel you can afford one. Or a bit of looking around can help you locate an inexpensive second-hand cabinet.)

    2. Manila folders or more durable plastic ones found in many office supply stores

    3. Small file box for your master file

    4. 4″ x 6″ file cards

    5. 4″ x 6″ dividers with alphabetical tabs

    Let’s go through the actual steps of filing an item using the following quote:


    Spirituality is consciousness of victory over self and communion with the infinite.

    President David O. McKay

    1. If this is the first entry in my file, I would place the arabic numeral 1 in the upper right-hand corner of the entry.

    2. Next, I would make several index cards for the master file. Personally, I would index it under SPIRITUALITY, MCKAY, SELF-DISCIPLINE, and PRAYER.

    3. I would then place the index cards alphabetically in the master file.

    4. Finally, I would place the quotation itself in the first file folder in my file cabinet.

    Filing example

    Some of the advantages and bonus features of the master file system are as follows:

    1. It simplifies decision-making by enabling you to list an item under as many headings as you desire. (Many items don’t have a clearly defined subject; others are a composite of several topics; still others are just generally edifying.) This index system eliminates headaches and frustration in categorizing items and in locating them again. For example, in my file I have an excellent article on stewardship. I have also listed it under priesthood order, marriage, and obedience, because if it were listed under stewardship only, I might forget its significant application elsewhere.

    2. This system doesn’t require much time to set up and keep current. You don’t have to spend hours arranging little stacks of papers in order to get started. And think what a wealth of material you could file in five or ten years!

    3. It allows for materials of all shapes and sizes to be on file. Not only can the master file direct you to items in your file cabinet; but it can remind you of special passages in books on the shelf (listed by chapter and page on the index cards), games in a cabinet, posters or maps in a closet, or any oversized item that doesn’t fit in your file cabinet.

    The master file is also a handy spot to list storage items (clothing for children to grow into, holiday decorations, carpet and wallpaper remnants, etc.) located in your attic, basement, or other remote place.

    In other words, the master file can serve as a reference center to anything in your home.

    I have a schoolteacher friend who was frustrated because she had teaching supplies at school as well as at several locations in her home. Her problems were solved when she listed all her supplies in a master file. The next time Halloween came around, for instance, she just pulled the Halloween card and was instantly reminded of all her decorations and materials and where they were located.

    Musicians, seamstresses, genealogists, and professional people in many fields find application of this filing principle a great aid in their work.

    4. This system also allows for some items to be grouped together. For instance, if you have some similar things that are always used together, they could all be placed in an envelope and given one number. Decorating ideas for your home, road maps, warrantees, and instructions for appliances are types of similar things that can easily be grouped together.

    I also group most visual materials. I have a folder for Old Testament pictures, one for New Testament, others for Book of Mormon, Church history, principles of the gospel, nature, family, and holiday pictures.

    5. Indexes to the Church magazines fit into the same system, since all references are classified according to title, author, and subjects. The index for the Ensign is published as part of the December magazine, and indexes for the Friend and the New Era are available for a nominal price from the Church Magazine Office, 50 East North Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150. I store the magazines in cardboard containers (cereal or soap boxes) and keep the indexes in a looseleaf binder alongside my master file, where they work hand in glove.

    Of course, an article from one of the Church magazines that particularly impresses you can also be listed in your master file according to magazine, year, month, and page.

    6. This master file system provides a great idea source. When one of our children is asked to give a talk, we just quickly thumb through the master file together and within a minute or so, he’s selected a subject and is enthusiastically developing it. I usually flip through my master file for any lesson or talk I must give and just the right stories, poems, scriptural references, and thoughts come up.

    7. I keep a little card at the front of the master file upon which family members jot down what they take from the file to make certain that it’s returned. It’s easy to borrow something, use it, and then tuck it inside a book and forget to return it to the file. The little card helps prevent this.

    8. The basic master file system as has been explained here is open for individual application and further refinement in everyone’s home. One word of caution, however: be highly selective in what you file. Don’t file something just because it’s in print. Make certain that it’s worth keeping and using again. The “round file” (wastebasket) should play a leading role in your project.

    Some questions and answers:

    Q. Do you place more than one entry on each index card?

    A. I do; some people do not. By listing more than one entry on a card, it is much faster to see what is available and how much material is on file on a particular subject. Obviously, some cards are fuller than others. It also greatly reduces the number of cards needed in the master file.

    Q. How do you file bulky items?

    A. In most instances, bulky items, such as books, are left on the shelf with a reference to them in the master file. I have placed some small booklets directly in my file cabinet, however.

    Q. What about miniscule items?

    A. If something is so small it might become lost in the manila folder, I either recopy it on a large piece of paper or card or paste it on a larger paper or card.

    Q. Do you number over again with each drawer in your file cabinet?

    A. Yes, I do. Otherwise the digits get too high. I handle this by numbering each drawer with a Roman numeral—I, II, III, and IV. Then the file items go from 1 to 750 in each drawer.

    Q. Are you ever unable to locate something because you can’t remember the author or title and are vague about the specific subjects?

    A. Rarely. When this happens, I quickly flip through the master file (this takes about ten minutes) until I find it.

    Q. Do you file only gospel-oriented items in your file?

    A. Yes, but remember that the gospel is all-inclusive. We seek after anything that is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” (See A of F 1:13.) I have a separate file for my recipes, and my husband keeps a separate financial file.

    Q. Should children be encouraged to start files?

    A. Yes, definitely! I started my file as a teenager. A young girl in our neighborhood was excited last Christmas to receive filing supplies from her parents as a gift. Elder Bennion’s habit of collecting choice materials was lifelong.

    Photography by Longin Lonczyna

    Show References

    • Daryl V. Hoole, writer and lecturer, and mother of eight children, serves as stake Relief Society spiritual living leader in the Salt Lake Bonneville Stake. (The ideas in this article are expanded in Joys of Homemaking, Deseret Book Co., 1976.)