Managing the Paper Clutter

August 30, 2019

When it comes to paper I learned two important rules apply.

  1. Use broad categories
  2. Manage it regularly

Paper is something that flows in and out of our home, and every piece requires attention. When paper sits around it attracts more and more paper and can be a constant source of overwhelm. Here’s how I manage paper at home.

In-bound paper

Where ever I can, I limit the paper that comes into my home. I sign up for automatic and emailed bill statements, unsubscribe to junk mail and opt out of magazines and brochures. I don’t hand out my email or home address to stores for coupons, info, deals, etc. And I recycle junk mail before I put the rest of my paper in its tray. The less paper coming through your door, the less you have to deal with.

Paper to process

Some paper is needed though, that’s a given. It is very easy to fall in the trap of housing your paper in multiple locations…thinking you are getting ahead of the game by presorting your paperwork, but when your paper has multiple homes and categories… it creates an extra decision you now have to make in the paper process. Not only do you need to determine what paper you need to keep and process, you also now have to determine where the paper temporarily lives prior to finding its permanent home. Keep it simple by creating one location for all paper that needs to be processed. One basket or tray or file for your paper pile to land until you can get to it. Be sure everyone in your family knows that if it needs action or your eyes, it needs to go in this one place.

Paper management

The singular paper pile only works if you make and KEEP a regular commitment to actually process your paper. I like to go through it once a week. It takes a few minutes to empty the file, categorize papers and work through it. My categories are paperwork to file, bills to pay, paper needing action (i.e. rsvps, school forms, etc.) and reference paperwork. After bills are paid and actions are taken, I shred papers not needed, archive papers that are important and place reference items on a bulletin in our pantry.

File system

When it comes to that final resting place for our papers, I tried many different systems. I became really overwhelmed with filing paperwork. There were too many categories, bulging files and it took forever to find anything because of the level of detail. So instead I went back to my rule #1 and simplified. I stuck to broad categories and use accordion files rather than individual file folders. It makes it so much easier to find documentation. Here are my file categories:

  • Personal files: One accordion file for each family member, with the following files: Important documents; Medical records; School / Work; Sports; Other personal info
  • Investments: including files for banking and each investment account
  • Home: including a file for mortgage paperwork, HOA community info, estate information and other home documentation
  • Auto: including a file for each vehicle
  • Insurance: including a file for each insurance policy we have
  • Tax returns are filed in individual plastic accordion files, up to seven years. I place tax source documents collected over the course of the year, right in the plastic file labeled for the current year.

Other paper

The regular household mail/bills/documentation are not the only papers that float through our home. Here are some other ways I manage paper:

  • Kids art: When my kid makes a masterpiece I take a photo and add it to my Artkive app. My plan is to eventually make a photobook once I have enough good pieces. I display some of the better pieces of art on a pin board in the playroom and recycle those pieces out as they begin to look crammed.
  • School papers: My daughter is only two, so we haven’t dealt with the massive influx of paperwork brought on by school, and fortunately our daycare does most of their communication via email. But if you have school aged children, you could consider creating an individual school file wall pocket for them to empty their backpacks at the end of each day and place all school paperwork in until it is time for processing.
  • Homework/Projects in process: I do have a craft station set up in our living room cabinet, where my daughter loves to color and do sticker books, she keeps her current “projects in process” in a tray next to the craft supplies. The plan is to have this eventually grow into a tray to store homework when she is a little older.
  • Receipts/Coupons: In our junk drawer (where we also keep our paper tray) I have two clear plastic envelopes. One for all receipts and one for all coupons/gift cards. The envelopes corral these items that can easily get lost and are also easy to throw into your purse before shopping – so all your coupons are at the ready. Every week we input our receipts into our budget, then shred them, and we check expiration dates on coupons to keep envelopes clean.