Trapper Keepers® & Diaper Bags–Keys To Organizing Mobile Paperwork (Intro)

Posted on: June 16th, 2009 by Julie Bestry | No Comments


Darling readers, do you remember the Mead Trapper Keeper?  Those of us of a certain age might recall the organizational equivalent of the 9th grade Holy Grail, a system whereby all of one’s important papers could get from home to locker to class and back again without getting lost, soiled or mishandled.

For those of you unfamiliar with the organizational magnificence of the Trapper Keeper, let it suffice to say that it was no mere three-ring binder.  Beneath that Velcro closure, the three-hole-punched Trappers, like traditional school folders but closed on the top, bottom and outer margins, kept papers supremely, serenely secured.  The ability to carry an artistically- (ahem) themed Trapper Keeper was an additional boon to image-conscious adolescents.

(Those of you unfamiliar with the I Love The 80’s splendor of the still-going-strong Trapper Keeper, there’s a modern-day 3D demo and a nostalgic video.  And yes, that is Lori Laughlin, in case you’re wondering.)

So, what’s got me thinking about how to keep my Home Ec notes and timeline of the Industrial Revolution sorted and tidy?

Recently, someone asked Paper Doll, “Where do you get the inspiration for posts?”  While I’d like to say that I’m so organized that I plan a year’s worth of blogs in a tidy editorial calendar, that’s generally not the case.  Often, a particular news event or happening might trigger an urgent need (like an ice cream craving) to post on a particular topic.

Sometimes, however, it seems that fate intervenes and is determined to tell me what my subject should be.  First, the day before heading to the National Association of Professional Organizers’ annual conference, the fabulous Erin Doland, editor-in-chief of the must-be-read Unclutterer blog, wrote about having found her perfect laptop bag for business travel.  To be honest, at first it was merely nice to know that Erin loves her Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer , but it wasn’t particularly useful to me, as I don’t carry a laptop.  However, the necessity of keeping one’s stuff organized and portable began to germinate an idea in my head.

Within that same conference week, overwhelmed by all the research material I’d picked up at the NAPO Expo, I dropped my serviceable but seen-better-days Mad About You backpack (leftover from Paper Doll‘s days as a television program director) on the expo floor and took time out for a stretch of my back and a quick breather.

It must have been apparent to all that I was in need of re-energizing, as I was quickly joined by a bevy of professional organizers, including Geralin Thomas (yes, the same one loyal readers will recall having led a NAPO pool-side session on Rickrolling).  Our little crowd began discussing the relative merits (and demerits) of various bags and systems for carrying our portable papers, both for events like our conference and for everyday use.  Geralin won the show-and-tell with her display of her Zca Business Backpack (of which, I’ll have more to say in coming weeks).

The fates continued to whisper to me.  A few weeks ago, as I worked with a client to help her organize her home filing and bill-paying systems, she recalled that she’d “just seen” her stamps…somewhere.  She knew they were in one of the many canvas bags she uses to tote groceries, library books, newspapers, receipts, documents…and apparently, stamps.  Unfortunately, narrowing down the main color (red) and theme (Southwestern) wasn’t enough to identify the right bag and quickly find the stamps.

The multiple canvas bag system is no system at all.

For the ladies reading, if you’re the type who moves from purse to purse, you know that unless you have a system in place, you’re going to end up having things you don’t need and needing things you don’t have.  It’s no different with mobile paper.

For the parents among you, recall what it would have been like (or imagine) if you had half a dozen or more diaper bags, each with its own collection of necessities.  Some bags might have had diapers (possibly in the right size/age group, depending on how long ago you schlepped the bag), some might have had wipes, some the “right” pacifiers and stuffed animals, the preferred (by parent and child) folding changing table covers and clean, season-specific, size-appropriate changes of clothes.  But what’s the likelihood you or your spouse would have picked a “totally right” bag every time, to suit all occasions?

Wouldn’t having one diaper bag (or one per parent, at least), fully stocked with the right materials work better?  Any mobile paper system must work along the same lines–after all, out-of-date paperwork for the wrong tax is year is as useless to you as newborn diapers when your little sprinkler is toddling.

The bare minimum physical attributes you’d want in either case need would be:

  • Defined spaces for each essential item
  • Enough space for all essential and preferred items
  • Not too much “open” space as to allow items to flop around, spill or get lost
  • Secure closures

A good system is more than just the right space; it requires adherence to particular procedures.  The diaper bag example, applied to paper or anything else portable, requires:

  • Loading all essentials, preferably according to a checklist so nothing is missed
  • Unloading all used, dirty, broken, sticky or non-essential items at the end of the day
  • Reloading essentials, once again, on a timely basis, preferably upon return to base (home, office, nursery, etc.)

Finally, while working with a client last week to organize her closet, she mentioned that her biggest frustration was that her “mobile office” was not sufficiently organized to constitute an office, nor did she think the fact that her papers went wherever she did categorized it as a mobile system.

As it was, items she brought from her office to her client locations, and those she acquired from her clients, sat in the passenger seat or the rear of the car…unless or until someone (a client, a coworker, a family member) had to ride along, at which point everything got moved to the trunk, where it all stayed until there was a significant trigger for retrieving it.

This is a common enough occurrence for anyone who drives, but it’s particularly devastating to the professional equilibrium of mobile professionals. We professional organizers see this all the time, and while the process itself can be problematic, it’s the end-result that causes real damage.

“The end-result? You mean, when I remember where it is and I look for it?”, clients tend to ask?  Well, yes, but there are many other less satisfactory reasons why the sedimentary rock-like layers of the mobile office trunk might experience some shifting plate tectonics.  From best, to worst, case scenario:

  • You need a document and remember you had it in the car, so it must now be in the trunk.  Unless it’s the last thing you tossed it there, it’s probably not on top.
  • You can’t find a piece of paper, so you hope it’s somewhere in the trunk, and go spelunking.  Lose one turn, do not collect $200.
  • A colleague, client, supervisor or neighbor gives you something and stands there, next to your car, waiting and watching as you put it “away”, forcing you to toss it in the back seat or expose your trunk to potential ridicule.
  • Your mobile office experiences what is technically termed a hitch in the giddyup and will go no further.  This might require extrication of jumper cables to help the vehicle (and those un-filed files) to move towards an eventual goal location.  This causes the files in bins and tubs and shopping bags to be moved to the left and right until the cables are located.  Worse, you may need access to a spare tire, which more likely requires removal of EVERYTHING from the trunk…and often untidy relocation to the back seat of the car.  If the end game is an overnight session with the mechanic, the contents of the no-longer mobile, not-quite-an-office, must be collected, retrieved, and taken home (or to the workplace).  (That headache?  It’s a bat signal to tell you this might be a good time to call in a professional organizer!)

For mobile office types who need to put their hands on client-specific papers as well as reference documents (either of which they might or might not have expected to need when the day started), a combination system would include:

  • A portable-if-you-must filing center (for reference material, one-sheets, glossies, etc.) for back seat or trunk storage includes file cratesor sturdy lidded totes 
  • One or more mobile file crates for when you have to repeatedly drag not only paper, but also supplies or samples, from headquarters to car and from car to various mobile destinations 
  • Front-seat portable file boxes , the equivalent of your non-mobile office’s desk-top file box, to keep the “next items needed” close at hand.

“Perfect” bags for each user, a diaper bag system model for reducing the number and improving the use of tote bags, or a peek inside someone’s mobile office trunk…you never know what might inspire a Paper Doll post.

Whether you’re a student or a business traveler, a busy parent or an overwhelmed mobile worker, it’s obvious that you need a system that lets you get your papers from point A to point B (and often, back again) without loss, damage or fuss.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at the challenges and solutions available in a wide variety of mobile paper circumstances.

Until then, feel free to write in with your own questions, concerns, tips and worries.

Yours in mobility,

Paper Doll

P.S.  For you younger readers, here’s a link to a 1990’s era Trapper Keeper commercial. There’s even a Trapper Keeper themed episode of South Park, but be forewarned that the language and content is not what Paper Doll would term family-friendly.


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