Active vs. Archive

When to archive
photo credit: Hindrik S via photopin cc

Recently, an article in Getting Organized Magazine referred to the principle of distinguishing between items that are active vs. those that should be archived. This is a fundamental concept which is important to embrace if you want to be organized.

Active refers to anything we use on a regular basis, such as every day or weekly. These belong in our easy-to-reach spaces (eye level shelves, nearby desk drawers, bottom level kitchen cabinets, etc.) 

Archive includes belongings we need to be able to find reliably when the need arises, whether periodically, seasonally or seldom. Archived items can be stored in locations that take a bit more work to get to, such as down the hall, on the top shelf, in the attic, etc.

Sounds simple, right? Yet sometimes we mistakenly fill our active workspaces with possessions that should be archived. Below is a chart showing examples of active vs. archive items, along with ideas for where to store them.

ACTIVE ARCHIVE
2 blue pens, 1 red pen, 1 highlighter, 2 pencils

➢ Keep in a cup on your desk or in the top drawer
The large boxes of pens, highlighters, and pencils from Staples

➢ Keep in an “office supplies” area, such as in a spare dresser or in a supplies box on a shelf in a closet.
Roll of paper towels


➢ Keep on a stand on the counter or hang from a paper towel holder in a convenient location in the kitchen.
The shrink-wrapped 12 pack from of paper towels from Costco

➢ Keep in a “bulk supply” storage area in the garage, a hall closet, or on a rack on the back of a door.
In-season slacks and blouses

➢ Hang in the most easily accessible part of the closet.
Out of season clothing

➢ Store in the “far reaches” of the closet or move to a spare closet or bins in the attic/under a bed.
Current files

➢ Keep in the file drawer at your desk or in a portable file box that you keep near your desk.
Old tax paperwork

➢ Box, label and store in a safe, dry space, such as in an attic, under the eaves, in a window seat, etc.
In-season sports gear

➢ Keep in a rack or on hooks near the door in the garage, mudroom or entry.
Out-of-season sports gear

➢ Hang up high in the garage or put it in a labeled bin that can be kept on a high shelf, in a shed, or even in an off-site storage area if space is really tight.
Charger for the phone, iPad, etc. that you currently use


➢ Set up a charging area where you can charge your devices each night. Invest in an extra phone charger for the car if you frequently on the road.
Cords and chargers for items you are holding onto for a future use, but aren’t actively using now

➢ LABEL THEM, and put them into a dry storage container on a high or low shelf. DISCARD cords for devices you no longer own.
The piece of artwork your child just brought home

➢ Display in an area for new & current pieces
Artwork you like, but that is 3 months old


➢ Remove from display, store in a large folder for review at the end of the school year. Or, photograph and upload it to be made into a photo book.
Cookware you regularly use.


➢ Store in the front of drawers/cabinets for easy access.

The turkey platter or meat grinder you use once a year.

➢ Store in a basement or in the back of a deep corner kitchen cabinet.

Get the idea? If you’ve got an area that is overcrowded and isn’t working, odds are you’ve got it filled with at least some items that could be removed to an archive location. Keeping your prime real estate filled with only active items could make a big difference in the functionality of your space.

What items do you think might be clogging up your active zones?

18 thoughts on “Active vs. Archive”

    1. I seriously find this problem in almost every space that clients have. Just open the junk drawer — you’ll be amazed at the space you can free up! Have a great day, Janine!

  1. Ahh, that’s cool! I have some old wires and cables on my desk that are for devices I no longer have! Totally archivable.. or more likely – throw outable.
    I have old post-its too. I recently cleaned my desk with this active vs. archive method in mind, actually.
    REALLY helped.

    1. I love the phrase “throw outable”… I think that is a powerful phrase that we all need to embrace. I think the whole world has old cords stuffed in a drawer. That, and old paperwork. Way to go on the clean desk:)

  2. Wonderful examples, Seana! This is one of the reasons why POs should ask lots of questions to their clients, like “How often do you use this?” I can’t tell you how many times, they tell me they use it once a year and place it in an area where frequently used items should be.

    Making the distinction and going deeper with the questions helps immensely. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Excellent point, Sabrina. It is our job as POs to help clients understand how they are actually using things. I find that very often they haven’t seriously considered the question at all:)

  3. Thanks for reminding me I need to go through our charging cables, we have had a few phone changes lately, I have been meaning to do that, it just went on the to do list.

    1. You bring up a good point, Janet. It is an ongoing process. Items that may be active at one point may now be candidates to archive. Thanks for the thought!

    1. That’s it, Savanna. Get that stuff out of the active work zone and free up a little space to create and work and play:)

    1. That means so much coming from a fellow pro! I thought making the chart might bring the idea to life by giving a few concrete examples. I think it is exactly as you say… just doing a bit – but doing it regularly- can help to keep your spaces working smoothly.

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