How to Deal with Duplicate Paper Files

posted in: Organizing 2

How to Deal with Duplicate Paper Files You reach into a filing cabinet or file holder on your desk for a file.

You pull out what looks like to be the file you’re searching for, but then it hits you: it’s not the file you want.

It’s a duplicate.   

You do a little bit more digging and, thank goodness, you find the file you need.

The only problem is that you now have two files that are strikingly similar.   

It doesn’t make sense to keep everything, and you definitely don’t want to throw everything out.

How do you reconcile two different, yet important files?

In this post, I show you how to easily process and deal with those duplicate paper files.

Follow these tips the next time you come across a duplicate paper file in your home or office.

Find a workstation.

You’ll want to fully concentrate on what you’re doing and you most certainly don’t want to mix papers together even more! Find a large, clear surface on which to work. You could use a large conference room table, a long and wide countertop, or a kitchen or dining room table. Have a yardstick, measuring tape, or some long ribbon or twine handy, as well a recycling bin or paper shredder.

Create a demarcation line.

This step helps to visually and physically separate the documents from one file from another. Here’s what to do: lay down the yardstick, measuring tape, or ribbon or twine vertically in the center of your workstation. You’ve now created two sections on your table or counter: a left section and a right section. The idea here, is to work in one section at a time so you can easily reconcile duplicate items. You’re going to start working on the right section first.

Start with one folder.

Choose one folder to work on (we’ll call this Alpha Folder) and leave the other folder (we’ll call this Beta Folder) where it is for the moment. We’ll deal with Beta Folder in just a few moments.

Pick up the contents of Alpha Folder. You are going to carefully work your way through each document, look at each piece, one at a time, and then place each document carefully on the right side of your workstation.

Any easy way to keep things organized is to arrange documents in chronologic order. Start at the top left corner, and arrange papers from left to right, row after row. The process is kind of like if you were reading sentences in a book; you start at the upper left hand corner, finish the line, and then move on to the next until you reach the bottom of the page. Continue arranging the documents in chronologic order until you’ve worked your way through the contents of Alpha Folder.

Sort through contents of the second folder.

It’s time to pick up the contents of Beta Folder. You’re now going to be working in the left hand side of the workstation. This step requires careful concentration, so be prepared!

1. Pick up the first document or piece of paper from Beta Folder, and carefully check it against the carefully organized contents of Alpha Folder.

2. Is there a duplicate or match in the Alpha Folder section? If there is, compare the two documents against one another. Identify which document version should be kept, and place that document in the Alpha Folder section. The second, or duplicate document should be placed in the recycling bin.

3. What if there isn’t a duplicate in the Alpha Folder section? If there isn’t a match, but it looks as if the document in question should be kept, and placed in the file, place the document on the left hand side of your workstation.

Now, continue going through the contents of Beta Folder one at a time, matching up documents against the contents of the Alpha Folder.

Combine remaining documents.

When you’re finished sorting through the contents of both folders, and have identified documents to keep, you simply incorporate the documents of Beta Folder into Alpha Folder. Ta-da, you’ve reconciled your folders into a singular folder!

Lastly, to make sure you don’t get caught off guard with duplicates ever again, it’s important to follow these two important finishing steps:

Properly dispose of duplicate items. You temporarily placed duplicate items into the recycling bin. Now it’s time to shred, or otherwise carefully destroy the document you no longer need. You don’t want to have to deal with duplicates in future!

Label or relabel your folder and file it. Clearly label or relabel Alpha Folder to suit your needs. You should have a pretty good idea now as to how to label the folder, based on its contents. Make sure to place all the documents neatly inside of it, and then properly file it away in a filing cabinet or on a file holder on your desk or countertop.

What about that other folder (Beta Folder) you found hanging out in the filing cabinet? Don’t tempt fate; completely erase, black out the name of the file with a marker, or use corrective fluid to blot out the name and reuse it for another file or set of documents. If you really don’t want to risk any sort of confusion in future, you can tear up and recycle the folder entirely.

How about you? Have you ever had to deal with duplicate file folders? What was the experience like? How did you reconcile items? If you’re currently dealing with duplicate items, are you going to try the above technique? Join the conversation and leave a comment below!

Follow Rashelle:
Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant who helps people get organized so they can stress less, have more fun, and be happier at home. Her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 3 Smart Steps to Organizing Your Home, by clicking here.

2 Responses

  1. Marcie Lovett

    This sounds like a complicated way to deal with the folders, but it may work for some people. My best tip is to create a file index, listing every folder in your drawer, box or other container, so you can see exactly what you have and not re-create files.

    • Rashelle

      A file index is a good way to prevent duplicate paper files from the start. I wrote this post for those times when chaos happens. This could be either when you come into a scenario where there are no file indexes, or perhaps a file was accidentally misplaced, or duplicated. Thanks for your comment.