paper-clipsMy Case Against Paper Clips

This isn’t the first time I have attacked a familiar office convention.  There was the accordion file, the spiral notebook, and the rubberband.Today, I take issue with the apparently harmless paper clip.

Let me start by saying I do use paper clips myself.  I believe they have their place.  It’s just that I find they are grossly over-used.  Here’s why.

Paper clips are guilty of doing three things: bulking, concealing, and snagging.

1. Bulking.  Files get fat sometimes.  It happens, but when there are too many paper clips shoved in, these fat files become bulky and misshapen, causing them to be overstuffed OR to slide, even with hanging files.  When the contents of one’s file cabinet are a mess, one is less inclined to use it and that’s a bad thing.
2. Concealing.  Filing needs to be all about FINDING.  Many is the time I have found a tab concealed because a piece of paper has caught on a paperclip in the folder.
3. Snagging.  If the clip is not pushing the paper up to block the tab, then it may be snagging a loose piece of paper behind an unrelated pile.  When you go to look for this piece of paper, you can’t find it even though you KNOW you put it in this file.  It is critical that your file cabinet is a system you can trust.


1. Staples.  I get it.  You probably want to keep your active notes to review, edit, and process in a paper clip.  Me too.  It allows for flexibility.  The more active a file is, the more flexible it needs to be.  When a collection of papers gets filed, however, it’s a good idea to staple wherever possible.
2. Project Envelopes.  I like to collect ongoing projects in large clear plastic envelopes.  You can maintain that flexibility you need for processing and save desk space by storing them vertically in an incline sorter.
3. Weeding.  If you’ve got one of those giant winged paperclips, you’re more inclined to think “I might as well keep these loose papers ALL together with this.” If, however, you give yourself the limit of a file folder, you will be more inclined to ask questions like “Do I really need to keep the advertising that goes with this invoice?” or “Am I EVER going to read this fat prospectus?” Weed them out.  Limitations breed freedom.
4. File Jackets. If you’ve got a stack of handouts, those big clips can damage the paper.  I recommend file jackets instead.  The flat ones can hold about 35 sheets and the one and a half inch ones can hold about 150 sheets.

I have a feeling I am dipping my toe in some controversial waters here, so I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the topic.