DIY De-Cluttering with Cardboard Folders

15 Sep

Why, and how, to use box folders:

Like many craft/DIY people, I find myself in a perpetual battle against clutter. To make it worse, I have a hobby of dismantling things and saving the “perhaps one day this will be useful” parts. Many parts. Many, many, parts.

This is a quick tutorial in one of the things that helps me (almost) stay on top of things. Using standard commercial box folders for  storage – but not quite in the conventional way.

Here’s some standard box folders, being used the WRONG way.

And this is why I say it’s the wrong way – look what happens when you store “things” (in this case chunks of ribbon cable) rather than “papers” with the folder vertically.

However, store the folder on its side and all the “things” stay where you put them.

Even when you have a box with many small parts, like these spare drill bits.

You can stack them three or four folders deep. Of course, the one you want will always be at the bottom.

Even better, you can build some custom shelving that stores many boxes in a tight space. This photo shows part of my main box storage area. With 21 shelves, each holding 4 boxes, the unit stores 84 of these folders in only 1660mm (5′ 6″) of wall space. It took me a while to fill it!

A note on colours: I try to keep a colour coding system for the labels: GREEN is for technical stuff (e.g. small DC motors, gears, wire). YELLOW is craft (beads, polymer clay, tools for working paper). WHITE is for documentation (manuals for household appliances, financial papers – one box per financial year, computers – one per computer with driver disks / receipts / configuration info). It makes it quite quick to go to the box marked “\\Hastur” for that computer’s Windows CD or the funny cable that came with the video card. Similarly, I can go straight to the box marked “FY 2008 – 2009” for a receipt from August 2008.

Assembling box folders:

You can just follow the instructions, but a few extra steps makes for more durable and convenient box folders.

(1) This is a standard folder, as purchased at your local stationary store. Despite New Zealand being firmly metric, the folders are available in both metric A4 and imperial Foolscap sizes. You want the FOOLSCAP – it’s a much more convenient size. I buy about 20 or 30 at a go when they’re on special – usually down to somewhere in the $1 to $2 range.

(2) A squirt of PVA glue will make it last longer, locking the parts together. I use generic white wood glue.

(3) A critical step if you’re gluing – squash it square. This makes for tidier looking boxes and you can’t do it once the glue has hardened.

(4) Clamp the sides for 30 minutes while the glue hardens. Use a couple of spring clamps plus something to spread the pressure.

(5) Prepare a label with BIG writing. I use 72 point Arial which does limit the length of text but you can read it from the other side of the room. The text is on twice, once for the front face and the once wrapped onto the top.

(6) Wrap the label around the front face and top. Staple through the front face, twice.

(7) And staple twice more at the top edges of the label on the top face. Sometimes I run a strip of clear tape across the top. This stops the label from getting caught when pushing the box (perhaps a bit over-full) into shelving.

(8) Since the stapler was used opened out, the ends of the staples won’t have been folded over – they stick into the box as little sharp pins. Use a flat-bladed screwdriver to fold the ends flat. You may have to apply pressure to the outside of the staple.

An experiment in half-size:

A supply of un-folded cardboard sheets was damaged by water on one corner (I hate earthquakes). By tracing the outline of one side, moved over a bit, I made some half-sized boxes. By trial and error I got two of them to fit exactly in the space of one normal one. I don’t know how well these will work but they may come in handy.

Conversely, the stationary store also sells a double-height (or double-width, as they see it) box folder. Handy for PC cooling fans, my supply of heat-sinks, and various other “just too big” items.


These boxes, and this way of using them, has helped me greatly. There’s a saying I’ve come across – “If you can’t put your hand on it within 5 minutes, then you don’t really have it”. I can usually lay my hands on things quite quickly. I’m planning another large storage unit (or two) and that will help as well, by tending to keep each box in a consistent place.

Another major advantage for me, is that I have a bad case of  “out of sight, out of mind”. If I don’t see things frequently, I tend to forget about them completely. As I glance across the ranked boxes, I tend to be reminded. For instance, I made a box up the other day to hold sticky-adhesive hooks. Weeks later, I was cleaning out an old container (unlabelled and full of mixed junk) and found some more. Because I’d seen the “Sticky Hooks” box frequently, though I hadn’t had any occasion to use it, I instantly remembered where to stash my extra hooks.


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