I recently acquired a vertical 4-drawer Letter-Sized hanging file cabinet. I thought it would free up so much space, seeing as I had so many bankers' boxes of files. It didn't work out that way. With file vetting, I ended up using two of the four drawers, and only partially. One advantage to my previous use of multiple individual bankers' boxes was that I could stack them differently to optimize my use of space, balancing that off with the amount of surface space that I want from the boxes, on which to put stuff.

I can probably somewhat compensate for the now-suboptimal storage by using the remaining drawers for non-files. I would need a box that can fit inside the drawers, as the their bottoms are not flat, and has openings. I thought that exploiting file drawers for non-files would be quite standard, and that there would be ready-made bins specifically for this. However, most boxes that are close to the Letter-Sized width are for storing file themselves, whereas the solution I seek is slightly less wide so that it can fit inside drawers designed for Letter-Sized files.

I'm somewhat limited in the actual hacking that can be done, since I live in a 1-bedroom apartment in a highrise. I don't have the tools and surfaces to cobble up a solution that requires woodwork, such as can be found on youtube. I've created my own custom size boxes in the past by cutting up cardboard into a pattern for folding, but a box that's big enough to make good use of a file drawer would require quite a large piece of stiff cardboard that isn't interrupted by cut-outs at the corners and edges. My past experience with this approach has been that the tape holding the box together disintegrates over time, and flakes, making a bit of a mess.

Would anyone be able to point me in the right direction toward a solution? Maybe with luck, there is a source of boxes that are meant to fit inside file drawers. As I said, I would have thought that many people would want to use excess file drawer space like this.

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    Can you explain more why you don't have the means of making a box yourself? I frequently take larger boxes (like your bankers' boxes), make a few cuts with scissors or a box cutter, and tape them back together as a smaller size. Jul 30, 2018 at 14:24
  • I've editted the question to clarify that I don't entirely lack means, but also being more specific about my restrictions. Jul 31, 2018 at 0:01
  • I currently uses boxes that can fit inside, but they are considerably smaller, and hence, do not use the space efficiently. I was hoping that the wish to use use file drawers for non-files would be prevalent enough that more optimum bins would be available. Looking at external dimesional specifications of more generic bins is a risky approach because it's not clear whether the dimensions include any protrusions, e.g., handles, hinges, etc. Why is it not a life hack to fin a way to use file drawers for another purpose? Aug 5, 2018 at 0:01
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    There is no picture, so I can't see how your cabinet is made. Can you dismantle the extra parts for hanging files?
    – RedSonja
    Oct 8, 2019 at 10:41
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    @user2153235 - Agreed that a market should exist for box dimensions for unused file drawer space. Not everyone needs four drawers of files, but locking feature is desired overall.
    – tblue
    Oct 15, 2019 at 2:30

5 Answers 5


I'd be making the boxes out of corflute (lightweight plastic sheet in two layers), and then taping the edges with a strong wide tape like a gaffer tape, and then glueing a layer a cheap fabric over the whole lot, inside and out.

Light durable and easy to work with. Strong. Cheap. No flaking. Once you make one of these, use it as a template.

All you need is a tape measure, a good blade, a strong straight edge to cut against lie a long steel ruler, and a surface you won't damage to work on.

Not sure what glue you would use to glue the fabric on: I suspect craft glue would work, but you would have to read some labels to find the one the works with plastic and fabric and is not messy, dries quickly, and lasts.

  • Thanks, Stefan. The text of my question describes custom boxes made with cardboard and packing tape, which flakes after years. I didn't say this, but I'm also hoping to cobble a solution without fabricating from scratch due to lack of tools & work space (even a cutting surface and cutting edge for large pieces). If I had those facilities, I could adapt some of your approach by gluing fabric over taped cardboard to prevent the flaking. It may be a matter of finding tape that doesn't disintegrate with the years, and whose glue doesn't dry up. Maybe that's gaffer tape. May 18, 2019 at 12:35
  • Perhaps lay a piece of cardboard or two on the floor as your cutting surface or work on a landing or balcony. Another approach is to modify existing boxes. Gaffer tape seems eventually dry out if it gets hot, but is fine otherwise. Gorilla tape is advertised as lasting etc, but I have not tried that. On an entirely new tack research packing cubes for travelling. If you’re lucky you might blind in the right size.
    – Stefan
    May 18, 2019 at 21:02
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    I could just cut cardboard on my rug. No balcony/landing (1 bedroom apartment). And the next few years could be an experiment with Gorilla tape. I'm just surprised that there don't seem to be ready-made boxes, as that suggests very little demand, i.e., few people would want to use file cabinets in this way. Of course, finding ready-made is best, and packing cubes seem like an alternative, but they really seem to be sized for travel rather than portioning off a drawer the width and height found in a file cabinet. Though I appreciate the suggestion. May 20, 2019 at 13:49
  • Bought boxes often use staples (tacks) instead of tape. I also have some which are glued at the corners, and seem to last forever.
    – RedSonja
    Oct 8, 2019 at 10:39

After doing some research, I see a pattern in the available office storage furniture and supplies. You are the "victim" of normal workflow. Your need is counter to the requirements of the general office furniture requirements.

There are myriad of accessories and supplies to convert general purpose filing cabinets from flat folders (and dividers) to hanging files. The bulk of filing cabinets that use hanging files have high sides, rails, or bars for supporting each side of the "hanging" file folder pocket. Alternately, low-sided drawers can be fitted with accessory rail kits.

As plain filing cabinets are more versatile, various kits are plentiful that can convert them for using hanging files. None that I could find go in the reverse direction—getting a special-purpose hanging file cabinet and trying to "dismantle and remove" the specific feature it was designed to accommodate.

What to do depends on what you want to store. You never said. Without modification, for example, you could probably put twenty or thirty collapsible music stands in one drawer. A number of different drawer organizers are available made from different materials from plastic, metal, cloth over a metal frame, fibreglass, or even baskets. They are all available in different sizes in hardware stores, apartment decor, or housewares specialty stores such as Ikea or StrucTube. There are organizers for art supplies which come in a variety of shapes and sizes that are chemically resistant. Last, but not least, office supply stores have containers suitable for vertical or horizontal storage of stuff. You can mix-n-match.

Do be aware that stationery and office supplies have their own "standard" sizes and formats. You, by going your own way trying to repurpose existing equipment, are "violating" an established standard for another which usually involves a hassle. You're discovering that.

There are components such as corners and sides that can be cut from thin wood and "clipped" together to form containers and other things for housing instruments, too, such as Playwood Connectors from places like "Lee Valley" for wood workers among others. (I don't know your budget limitations.) As well, most any shipping company can make or provide a container to fit your exact size requirements.

It's entirely possible there's an exact size to meet your needs under a different category from office filing system. You never mentioned the size you need or the number of containers. Be sure that when you do specify that metric as a "Do not exceed" measurement.


I wonder if you could keep clothing, bedding, and towels in the remaining drawers? Since the drawers are quite tall, you might find it helpful to use vertical cardboard separators. There are two approaches to making separators:

  1. For each separator, cut a big piece of cardboard according to the length and height, but with about four inches extra on the height. The extra should be split every four to six inches, to create flaps that alternate pointing to the left or the right. You can get precise folds by marking and pre-scoring with a straight edge.

    If you're not comfortable using cardboard, you could use thin plastic, for example large cutting boards that are made of thin plastic. These are available in large box stores in a package of three and are quite affordable. They can be cut to size. But these would have to be floating separators, since I'm not aware of any way of making a folded flap.

  2. Assemble a grid by making slits from the bottom to the center on all the horizontal pieces, and from the top to the center on all the vertical pieces.

  • Thanks, aparente001. I agree that I need vertical dividers, but I need to make them stay vertical. Also, the bottom isn't flat. There is a rail construct that's hard to explain, but its purpose to allow a sliding vertical back panel for cases where one's vertical hanging files take up only a small portion of the entire drawer's depth. For this reason, I envision the solution to be boxes fit within the drawer, but with variable depths. To minimize wasted space, the box should just fit within width and height of the (letter-size) hanging vertical file drawer. Aug 26, 2018 at 15:43
  • Suggestions of big chain stores have been made, but I was hoping that this jury-rigging was common enough that someone might be able to point out a specific product for this purpose so I don't spending weekends driving around the city. Not only would that save time, but it would avoid hurting the environment (not just for me, but for all those who would want to own less and optimize the use of such cabinets that they may already own). I initially thought this would be easy to find online, but not really. Aug 26, 2018 at 15:43
  • Textiles can be stored in there, but I have closet/shelf space for such higher volume items. I want to use the cabinet for office supplies because they are small, lose and need confinement for managability, and for electronics/media that I want to lock up. I'd also like to keep fluffy textiles away from the very greasy slide rails of the drawers. P.S. Living in a 1-bedroom aparment with wall-to-wall carpets, cutting plastic may be challenging. I'd have to saw it on the kitchen counter. I'll do that if needed, but I'm hoping to find a solution that avoids this. Aug 26, 2018 at 15:43
  • @user2153235 - if you ever want to trim one of these flimsy things that can be used like cutting boards -- for this or for something else entirely -- you can use scissors. They really are very flimsy (and flexible). (The package might say they are for kneading dough.) Aug 27, 2018 at 2:14
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    Hmmm....yes, that might do it....it would take less time than boxes, and I'm not constrained to the depth that I build the box with. Yes, it depends on the assortment of stuff to be contained. Thanks for that idea. Sep 4, 2018 at 2:08

These types of open top file boxes come in plastic or cardboard and are made to go into file drawers, you get them in various sizes. In South Africa, they are sold under brandnames Optiplan, Storafile, etc.

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  • Thanks so much! I envy you. We don't have such boxes here in Canada. A quick google search shows that the above boxes aren't sized properly for Letter-sized hanging file folder drawers here. I'm truly baffled by the absence of such an alternative here. Nov 22, 2020 at 17:56
  • The ones we use here are meant to file mostly A4, but sized to accommodate a "foolscap" page which is 25mm longer than A4 or a "file pocket" i.e. a plastic file pouch to hold & protect documents you don't want to punch holes in and so 12mm wider than A4. This means they can be used for letter, A4 and legal pages as well, as they are all slightly smaller (to varying degrees).
    – Gwyn
    Nov 22, 2020 at 20:49
  • Hi, Gwyn. I have to use boxes to create subcompartments in a deep drawer for Letter size hanging file folders. Boxes for taller paper (A4, foolscap) will not fit. The width clearance is 300mm. I suspect that unless an enterprising person starts up such a business/product in North America, the right size boxes will not become available. Also, the boxes will subdivide a rather deep drawer, so the narrow boxes for files will not be suitable. I appreciate the information nevertheless. It's as close as anything to what I'm seeking. Nov 23, 2020 at 0:00

From your question, and update, it seems as if you have discovered that your filing cabinet solution to your storage space problem was not as necessary or as effective as you originally thought. We get mixed results.

This often happens in life and love. We have to admit defeat, and move on.

All you had to do originally was to down-size your files. That's Done.

Now that you've trimmed the volume of the materials you want to keep, put your materials back into (fewer) of your storage boxes.

Get rid of the bulky filing cabinet which is unsuitable for your purposes. You don't need it and it's too much time and trouble to repurpose unused and unsuitable drawer space. Maybe "trade it in" for a two-drawer filing cabinet?

Good NEWS, you already have the storage boxes (that have flat bottoms I assume).

No lifehack is needed here. No cobbling necessary.

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    I have to correct the assumptions made in this answer. The move to a file cabinet was for security reasons, not space reasons. The suboptimal use of space is something I have to contend with and mitigate. Regardless of whether I got a 2 or 4-drawer, the footprint would be the same. It is also the assumed that I don't already eschew the acquiring of stuff if possible. I'm already living minimalistically. And I no longer have the old boxes, as continuing to use them was not an option. I'm having trouble seeing why finding a means to use a file drawer for a different purpose is not a life hack. Aug 5, 2018 at 0:03

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