Clutter and Productivity: Purging Reference Files

I am taking two weeks off from blogging. Enjoy this article from the archive! This article was originally published on 30 May 2007.

Photo by psd

This task of decluttering may take a while if you haven’t done it before, or perhaps not so recently. I recommend you do it in five minute increments. Nothing too long.

After you complete your first purge, make sure to do it regularly! I do my purge every January. Today we’re looking at Refernence Material.

Reference Material

Ah, yes, the stuff we save because we may need it someday. Unless there is a legal reason to hang on to something, every scrap in your reference material needs to be scrutinized to see if it still has the right to be part of your life.

There is no secret to this. Grab a folder, the recycling can and the trash. Go through each item and ask yourself if a) you actually still need this and b) can you easily find it on the Internet should you need it again. If you don’t need it, toss it. If you can get it again or the material is kept up to date on the web, toss it.

What I found when I did my filing cabinet was amazing. I had kept indices of articles from magazines that I didn’t read at the time I subscribed, and never referred to again. I found outdated eyeglass prescriptions, notes for projects I did over a decade ago, reference cards to extinct computer languages, software on 5.25″ floppy discs (!) and a copy of my high school graduation invitation. All in all, I was able to free up half a drawer of reference material. This is a great amount when you realize I only have one drawer total of reference material.

What do you have in your reference material?

Photo by psd


  1. says

    I have gotten into the habit to conduct such a systematic purge every year during the week between Christmas and New Year.

    More recently, I have introduced the following practice: every time I file a new reference materials item in my filing cabinet, I purge one … or, even better, two!

  2. LJ says

    If I have a rolling period of documentation (like bank statements), I will purge one as I file one. Do you apply this method to whole groups of reference materials, like if you file one folder you get rid of another folder?