I once saw a musical called I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. It was about romantic relationships, but the title came to mind recently when I decided to modify one of my favorite organizing systems, my tickler file. Oh, how I loved my tickler in the early years! But over time, my passion cooled. My tickler and I got into a rut.

A tickler file, in case you don’t know, is an easy way to organize and track your papers. There are 43 folders: one for each month, and 31 for each day of the month. (Read more about the tickler file system here. You can make your own or buy one.)

tickler file

Using Aby’s suggestions, I created my own tickler with an inexpensive Itso bin from Target, some file folders, and a few sheets of scrapbook paper. I loved it immediately. The tickler file gave me a place to store and track my papers without taking up much space. I now had a spot for routine papers, plus the many types I hadn’t quite known what to do with, such as prescriptions that couldn’t be filled yet or tickets for an event later in the year. Since a tickler system only works if you check it daily, I set up a reminder on my PDA (remember those?) so I wouldn’t forget.

Saying goodbye to a beloved organizing system

It worked great for many years. But then I started using my tickler less. I had fewer papers in it, and most of them did not require immediate action, so I often moved the same items from folder to folder. I started to skip checking the tickler, sometimes for days, because I thought I knew what was in it. Occasionally this got me into trouble, if there was something I should have taken care of but didn’t.

What happened? My life increasingly shifted to the electronic realm. I replaced my PDA with an iPhone and used it, along with Google Calendar, to track and remind me of most tasks and events and to store related information, like directions. In addition, more of the things I used to put in the tickler started coming by email: reminders from the orthodontist, school forms, invitations, you name it. I nearly always read and responded to them online. With more stuff entering my home via computer, there was less paper and less to go in the tickler.

Still, I hardly got rid of all my paper. And even though I sometimes ignored my tickler, I still loved it!

I realized that if we were going to stay together, both my tickler and I had to change. I kept the monthly folders, which I still found useful, but got rid of the daily ones. I replaced those 31 folders with just two, labeled Action and Waiting. The Action file is for those papers I had been moving but not dealing with, because they didn’t have specific deadlines. For example, it holds a reminder about an event in the fall; I still need to decide if I will attend. (If something needs quick action, I either do it immediately or create electronic reminders.) The Waiting file is for things I need to keep but that don’t require an action. Right now, it has a return form for some clothes I’d ordered online. When the company emails me to say it has received them and credited my account, I’ll toss it.

Without the daily prompt of looking through a folder, I needed a new way to make sure I remembered and dealt with the papers in my Action file. So now I schedule periodic times to go through this new file.

I still think the traditional tickler system is a great solution, and I continue to recommend it frequently. But my situation changed, so it stopped being the right solution for me. I don’t yet know if my modified version will be a long-term solution. So far, so good, but it’s possible that in the end I’ll decide we have to part ways after all.

My experience shows that sometimes even a successful organizing system needs to be revisited. This can happen for a lot of reasons. In my case, my habits changed, and so did the way I received information. You might have other reasons. Have you taken up a new activity that comes with new equipment or supplies? Are your growing kids wearing more or bigger clothes? Have you moved to a house with a smaller kitchen? You may need to rethink your systems. Sometimes you may have to leave your old systems behind.

Have you had to change or say goodbye to an organizing system in your house? Let me know in the comments below.


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Nancy Vorsanger loves how her organized home makes her family’s life easier. She opened her own organizing business to help other families get—and stay—organized, with practical, no-fuss strategies tailored to their own needs and lifestyles. Nancy also loves coffee, word games, blogs, her husband, and her children—not in that order. She lives in central New Jersey.

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