I was walking to the drugstore the other evening and happened to pass a discarded computer table with file drawers that had seen better days.

The file drawers could be detached easily from the desktop, but the fronts of the drawers were made of a thin and very cheap laminate that had strips of material removed from them, so salvaging wasn't worth it.

I happen to live in a town that is the poster child for conspicuous consumption. They throw out really nice stuff to buy more nice stuff, I guess. A few years ago, a church put its outdated organ at curbside.

It did get me thinking about buying more storage - an unending occupation even in a so-called paperless society. Within a couple of months of purchasing a file drawer or other storage unit, I have it covered with things that just don't fit comfortably inside.

With that said, here's something to think about when you shop for filing cabinets:

Need to know: What you're filing, and what kind of space you're working with. File cabinets come in a variety of heights, widths, and depths, so you'll want to head to the store or Web site armed with the appropriate dimensions. Remember, you will need enough clearance in front of the cabinet to open and close the drawers easily.

What's your profile? File cabinets today fall into two types: traditional (vertical storage) and lateral (horizontal storage). The traditional file cabinet has two to five drawers, easily stores letter- or legal-sized files, and is ideal if your wall space is limited. A lateral cabinet spreads storage out along a wall.

Operating manual: Traditional models have less capacity, but their narrower, deeper drawers (15 to 28 inches) store file folders in a way that allows you to lift them up and let them slide back down into place. Lateral cabinets are wider (36 to 42 inches) and allow files to be stored either front to back or side to side in the drawers. Because lateral cabinets are not as deep as vertical units, they also can serve as partitions or credenzas to block off a home-office space. And some laterals come with hutches or cabinets above the files, offering still more storage.

Material world: The more use a file cabinet receives, the more likely it is to be damaged, so durability is worth considering from the start. Metal and steel cabinets, used in heavy-duty situations, might suit your purposes - and a more industrial decorating style. Then again, you might want to go with wood. If your home office is part of a guest room or a bedroom, you can look for a desk that has filing cabinets to match.

Safety first: When shopping for quality cabinetry, first look at the suspension system that holds the drawers. Even when filled with heavy files, well-built drawers should open and close smoothly. The highest-quality units use counterweighted drawers and internal locking devices that allow only one drawer to open at a time. Be sure, too, that the cabinet has a mechanism that will keep it from tipping over.

Hard wear: The first thing to go on a file cabinet drawer is the pull. The best are those built into the drawers rather than screwed in, since screws can loosen when you tug.

Rolling, rolling, rolling: If your needs exceed your available filing space, consider a mechanical system - rolling cabinets that can store many more files in a set amount of floor space. To access the files, you simply roll or move the cabinets apart to create an aisle.

Fire drill: Some specially made cabinets are fire- and impact-resistant. They can maintain an interior temperature of less than 350 degrees for an hour even if a fire around them is burning at 1,700 degrees. Some cabinets can even protect computer disks and videotapes, which must be kept below 125 degrees to avoid damage. But price is an issue: You can buy a fireproof safe for $50 to store your will and the deed to your house; a fireproof cabinet can cost $400 or more.

What will it cost? File-cabinet prices depend on material, the number of drawers, the size, and the lock. They can range from $30 particleboard units to $1,000 or more for fireproof steel.

Want Alan J. Heavens' advice on a home-improvement project or purchase? E-mail him at aheavens@phillynews.com or write to him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.