All That Paper (and How I Organize It)

By Kate Riley May 4, 2011

Hey busy ladies and gents, I know I’m not alone in the constant barrage of papers that enter the house on a daily basis.  From mail to magazines to school notices, paper clutter piles up so darn quick you could drown in it.  Despite my best efforts to go paperless, I find there is still a constant stream of paper, paper, and more paper coming through the door.

It used to pile up in my house until I thought it would eat me alive.  It used to give me such anxiety, but I finally developed a system that really works for me.  The real key for me was eliminating as much as I could, and then finding a place for what was leftover.  I think that’s the key for keeping just about anything organized: purge often, and have a place for what remains, then you’ll stay sane.

My method for paper organization isn’t sexy and I’m no organizational pro.   I was asked about a month ago by a reader how I keep it all organized, so here are a few of the tricks I use to control my paper clutter.

1.  Identify It.  It took me years to figure this out, but now in hindsight it seems so simple.  The very best trick I ever came up with was sitting down with my piles of paper clutter and making a list of exactly each type of paper that was coming into my house, then creating a solution for each one.

types of paper


2.  Have a Tray for It.  I weed through my mail the instant it comes through the door.  Much of it goes into the recycle bin, if it’s junk mail or some unwanted solicitation.  I try to call catalog companies that I’m not interested in to take me off their mailing list.  Bills, notices, or invitations I need to respond to right way go into my kitchen ‘To Do’ tray that I go through once a week.

kitchen basket to do bin

If you’re looking for ways to reduce junk mail or catalogs, I mentioned a few resources here in this article about kicking clutter to the curb.

Another trick I use for invitations or anything that needs immediate attention is attach it to this custom sized memo board I built last year and hung next to my back door.

memo board


3.  Make a File for It.  My blog is a small business now, so I keep whatever papers, contracts, or payments I haven’t stored and backed up online in a simple file folder.

cg file folder


The same story for the credit card statements, loan papers, insurance documents, and bank statements I get in the mail (or print from my online files).  They’re stored in either plain plastic hanging file folder bins I mentioned here that I found at Target, or I file them in my office credenza.  Birth certificates, wills, and other important legal documents all have their own file folder.

4.  Make a Binder for It.  We’re a busy family, with school calendars and sports schedules to keep up with, so I keep a family binder next to my wall calendar filled with everything I need, and it’s easy to grab when I need to access that information quickly.   If you’d like a free download for how to create a command central family binder, be sure to grab it over at Simplify 101.

The same is true for my blog, I keep a binder with my calendar and all of my ideas stored in one place next to my computer, so whenever I have an idea or need to refer to a recipe, it’s all here.

cg binder


5.  Create a Basket or a Box for It.   I keep this coupon basket on a shelf by my back door, so anytime I know I’m headed to shop for groceries or retail, I’ve got my relevant coupons ready!

coupon basket

Receipts go into a big box that I keep for tax purposes and for entering into Quickbooks at the end of the month.

reciepts in box

All moms know kid art and schoolwork quickly piles up, so I sort through it and get rid of just about anything I know won’t make me tear up and go “Aww”.  I keep seasonal cards or artwork in art boxes, and minimal amounts of their proudest schoolwork in basic boxes in a drawer in the dresser in my entry.

kid schoolwork

Finally, I think it’s essential to . . .

6. Own a Label Maker and Paper Shredder.   My Brother label maker makes it so much more fun and fancy to keep my files organized.  I love my Brother label maker!

label maker

And it goes without saying, having a shredder is key for your own security, so I shred anything with a bank account, credit card number, or any personal information about me or my kids.  Plus a shredder makes great Easter basket or gift box liner with tissue paper, right?

Like I said, this is only my method, and I found it’s what truly works for me.  I like having anything out in the open in stylish trays, baskets, or containers, but if it’s hidden away, heck an old box works just fine for me.  It’s how I keep it all filed away and all straight in my head.

My system isn’t magazine worthy, but what’s much more important, it’s what works for me!  And I truly think that’s the key, find a place for everything and develop a method that works for YOU!


swirl snip

What is the one way you stay on top of of all the paper that comes into your home?  Do share, we could all learn from your technique!




  1. You “to-do-tray” is definitely one of the prettiest ones I’ve seen.

    Thanks for sharing all those tips. I find that the biggest challenge is how to handle that it is both digital and paper based information… I guess it requires two totally different systems, but I havent found something that work very well yet.

  2. Thank you! This is one of the BEST organizational articles I’ve ever read!

  3. Thanks for the great tips. I’m always amazed how much paper makes its way into our house and we definitely need a better way to organize everything.

  4. You were totally speaking to me, Kate! This time of year the stacks of paper just take on a life of their own! First on my to-do list when my teaching year is over– ORGANIZE MY PAPER! Bookmarking this post. :)

  5. Hi Kate –

    I love my Brother too! I keep a label maker at work and a label maker at home. That way, I am sure to be organized in both worlds. One thing I did for my son as he was growing up and I still do as he’s in college is create a separate filing system only for him which contains his birth certificate, passport copies, insurance info, sports information, school info, etc. It’s been a life saver when I need something quickly. Read about it her if you would like.

    Keep up the great blog! Renee

  6. I REALLY need to organize my paper. Didn’t even think about identifying it first–smart! Just pinned this on my board, “For the House Elves”. ;)

  7. Paper is my nemesis and at this very moment I have way too many stacks of it around my kitchen, mocking me. I know I need a better method – thanks for the tips!

  8. Thanks for the great tips! I went over to Simplify 101, and I like their idea for the “tickler” file. I’ll probably go ahead and make one this weekend with some great looking files and a basket that I have on hand. Having one file for each day of the month is intriguing, and I think that might help me with the steady stream of papers that seem to pile up out of nowhere.

    Awhile ago I bought three attractive flat wicker baskets from Michaels to keep on the dining room table, since that’s where I do most of my work. I stack the paper work in them according to three categories that worked best for me. I figured when I had company, it would be easy to simply stack the trays and move them to another room to clear the table off. And the method worked great, as long as I stuck to it! It takes disclipine to keep from simply stacking all forms of paperwork in those baskets. Within a few months, I had everything from party invitations to coupons and magazine pullouts mixed up with the rest of the papers. Not Good!! That’s why I like their “tickler” method; it might work better for me than the baskets.

    Or maybe the best idea would be built in shredders in the mailbox and at the front door, so you never have to bring the junk mail in the house ever again…. ;)

  9. I think your system is great. I’ll tell you what’s sexy–that label maker! I had one at my job before I had Natalie, and it was amazing. I had plans to sneak it out of the office in one of my giant purses, but it never happened. Your filing system is much better than my current habit of placing the paid invoices in a pile on one side of the stairs. That is NOT sexy. I need to do some revamping. PS. You have very nice handwriting!

  10. Thanks so much…this post comes at the PERFECT time. I just started creating a family binder yesterday! My goal is to be more organized and have a “command center” so I don’t feel so frazzled. I’m going to try the memo board you made next.

    (BTW, I made the board/ batten w/ hooks idea in my mud room–it has made life so much easier! Thank you for the tutorial!)

  11. Okay I need a coupon box. Our junk draw just isn’t cutting it anymore!

    I seriously need to do some major organizing with all of the paper in our home. Usually by the time we get home from work, I grab the mail, look through it and throw it on the counter and there – it – stays… ugh. I need to work on that!

  12. Thanks for the inspriation. I currently have no set system. I just recycle junk mail and the rest goes in a pile on my desk to be delt with once it get’s out of hand. Needless to say I need a system. Your post gave me so great ideas!

  13. iHeartorganizing blog just featured a series on creating your own Family Binder, along with colorful and relevant printables. Several were free at the time, not sure about now. I completed my binder and I love it. I have a separate recipe binder as well as other helpful binders (one for my upcoming trip to Paris and Italy filled with ideas and tips). Paper clutter has always been a horror for me but it’s becoming much easier with all the organizing tools, such as the binder, I’ve been able to utilize. I have a lot of organizing books but one I found particularly helpful for me was Julie Morgenstern’s “Organzing from the Inside Out.”

  14. I keep a decorative box on my counter for similar organizing! Not quite as organized as you but I am working on it:) Have a blessed day!

  15. Ha ha I think I need a Brother… I’m pretty sure I’d give it kisses and draw hearts around it too! Great organizing tips- I have problems with keeping old paperwork. Don’t really think I need a water bill from August of 2003 anymore, right? ; )

  16. Hello Kate,

    Great organizing tips! I really like the blog notebook idea…I need to do that.

    I have to laugh about the shredding thing…my mother-in-law is a compulsive shredder. She shreds ANYTHING with even just her name on it. I sat watching her one day as she went through her mail and paid her bills. She made sure to shred all the envelopes that the bills came in with her name on them…she wrote out her check to pay that bill…placed it in the return envelope…and then proceeded to slap a return address label on that bill.
    So in essence, she is sending out into the world what she just shredded?????

    I totally agree with shredding accnt nbr’s and such, but our names are out there…everywhere!

    I will be implementing many of your ideas and thanks for that.


    janet xox

  17. Great post–thanks!

    I highly recommend the simplify1o1 paper-clutter class too–it really helped me.

    For me, the most helpful things have been a tickler file (I love it!) & moving my filing cabinet. I would literally file 2 or 3 times a year, at most, when the cabinet was away from my desk. When I rearranged my home office & put it right behind my desk–so I could just swivel my chair to reach it–voila! I kept up with all my filing! It’s kind of pathetic that moving the cabinet just a few feet made so much difference, but it did. My desk is where I work, so it’s now hardly any effort to just turn around & put things away.

    I personally have found that I like file folders for most of my papers, since I just drop them in. A lot of people set up binders, but I guess I’m just too lazy. The one binder I use a lot is a recipe binder though (another simplify101 tip)–recipes I’ve clipped are in plastic sleeves, arranged by category. The keepers are up front; ones I haven’t yet tried are sorted in the back, & if I like them they get “promoted” into a plastic sleeve. I used to clip so many recipes that I’d never try–this organizes them & prompts me to test them. It’s also very handy to flip through the book for tried-&-true recipes as I’m planning my weekly menu.

    I also significantly reduced paper entering my house by using & making a bunch of calls & emails.

  18. You are inspiring me to get organized stat! I have quite large clutter pile on my kitchen counter..that seems to be growing by the day…I need to just go through and tackle it and organize!

    Delighted Momma

  19. You mentioned you call to cancel catalogs – have you ever tried Catalog Choice? I started using it about 6 months ago and it was to easy – and free! Now I only receive catalogs I really want – saving lots of trees! Great blog… Here’s a link to their site.

  20. Hey Kate! The organization nerd in my LOVES this! I’m going to try some of your methods. Despite the fact that I’ve got all the paper clutter somewhat under control, I know I don’t have a full handle on it. Thanks! :)


    P.S. I have the same ‘to-do’ tray!

  21. Thanks for the great tips. I so need to get a better system in place.

    Love your “To Do” tray. Where was it purchased or was it one of your awesome DIY’s?

  22. i like your file folder ideas, and your binder is just what I need to keep things better in order. Thank you so much! Also, thanks for the great link to Simplify 101. we’d never heard of it, and are sure to put to use any of the ideas there which would fit with our needs.

  23. How do you organize your garage? Paint, tools, sports equipment, holiday decor etc. I loved this post on paper!!

  24. I’m going to make a blog binder…I am one of those who has tons of post-its with my ideas on them all over my desk.
    I keep all of my daughters school work in a binder, that I try to put in sequential order. I make a new one for every year.
    And I have to say you have now inspired me to get the tape refill for my Brother after reading this blog.

  25. Kate, I think your system is fantastic! If it keeps the paper organized, and it’s easy for you to keep up with, then it’s a great system. I love the coupon basket! Now if I can just remember to bring the coupons with me. I don’t know how many times I’ve stopped at a store, and then remembered I had a store coupon at home.

  26. I use my scanner for tons of my paperwork. I like the needlearts and had tons of magazines, books. When I wanted to do a project, I would spend precious hours looking for something. Now I scan those articles and have them organized by type: Crochet, Craft, Knit, Sew. Then in each of those folders: know-how, holidays, children, home dec, etc. I can find it in a snap. I’ve started doing this with bills and receipts. As for junk mail, I signed up with Direct Mail organization and had my name removed. Now I hardly get any and process it (the circular folder) as soon as it comes in the door. I use Quicken for my banking so I can balance my checkbook in 15 minutes. I also indicate what the expense is for when I log it in. Then at tax time, I just run a report for my accountant. I can also use those reports to adjust my budget.

  27. Thank you so much for your organizing ideas. I seem to be fighting a never-ending (and losing!) battle with paperwork and clutter. I hate filing with a capital H, but it is one of life’s necessary evils. I love your pretty filing solutions – it seems like it might make this yucky task just a bit more lovely. :) I definitely want to try some of your ideas to see if I can keep papers from piling up all the time. Thanks!!

  28. thanks for providing all the great tips!

    I have just awarded you with the Versatile Blogger Award! I hope you can stop by and accept it! :)

  29. This is a great post! Thank you so much for sharing your awesome ideas! I am an organized woman at heart, but with two little ones, find it hard to be as “together” as I like to think I am. :o)
    Also, I must confess, my favorite line in the entire post….”you got something against parmesan cheese?” I don’t know why, but that made me giggle out loud. Love your *ahem* filing system there!

  30. About all those pages torn out of mags…. I used to keep them in a stack, too. One day I stumbled on very large cork bulletin board, and thought how wonderful it would be if I could pin up my most favorites ideas and illustrated pages-just like the beautiful bed on the top of your stack in the parmasan box- You don’t like sharp cheddar, or what?
    I then searched for a spot to hang it-discreet, but not TOO discreet b/c I wanted to see it often and be inpisred by these ideas. So, I hung it on the back wall of my walk-on closet. While I’m trying to come up with a fun and creative outfit, I gaze at my idea board. I find when I’m dressing to go out for the evening, I gravitate towards different pics than I do in the morning when the day is fresh. Somehow the combo of the fabrics, belts, shoes, scarves, etc. give me additional inspiration when I am looking at the pics. I even use some of my clothing in my designs…a scarf tied over the back of a chair, or an old skirt I cut up to make into pillows. Anyway, it works for me!

  31. What a great site. I too, struggle with paper. I tear out pages from mags and put in binders, and I am scrupulous about what I keep. I photograph my kids’ artwork that I like but know I need to dispose of after a certain amount of time and I sometimes do this with inspirational magazine articles, too.

    Every little thing helps!

  32. Thanks for the inspiration! I need to do that too! What is the model of the labeler that you have?

  33. This is great! We actually don’t have too much of a paper issue (except for the fact that I need to file more often). What about things? Like little things? Things that don’t really have a home since they are small but it’s a bit to much for a small junk/misc. drawer? We have lot of of these and I am constantly struggling to keep them off of.. well.. everything! lol

  34. a) I feel like a complete idiot for not making a list like you did. An idiot. Such genius.
    b) I’d also have to remember where I put my list because I’d be sure to forget what is where.
    c) I really need to commit to ripping magazines apart. I’ve pulled about 5 tear sheets in my lifetime ’cause I don’t want to ruin the magazine. I’d be smarter to grab the inspiration shots and throw out the rest of the magazines. But I can’t.

    Moral of the story? You’re a strong and smart woman. You should run for office. Or at least run one. Good job! ~ karen

  35. Thank you for the awesome tips! I really like some of these ideas. The love the thought about some of the paperwork being out in the open, but in a basket or tray. I have to find a pretty to-do tray like you did. Now that I can leave on my kitchen counter. Thank you! :)

  36. I have a cute orange box with vintage photos in my kitchen. I put in plastic wrap and stuff like. Your box is just fine…it’s not on the floor and all over the counter.

    thanks for sharing.

  37. Such a great post! We recently reorganized all of our paper items, too – between our files, coupon pouches, “in” boxes, and spreadsheets I use for my pet paintings. I’m a big organizational nerd (as in, I LOVE it), so I always enjoy seeing how others keep a tidy ship.

  38. I think all of these ideas are great. I use a magnetic clip on my refrigerator for “kid” papers. I have one for each of my children and find this to be a fast and easy way to keep field trip notices, soccer schedules, lunch menus and so on at my finger tips.

  39. I love the idea of the list of where things go for two reasons.
    1) Helps you brainstorm storage and incoming stuff.
    2) If you ever have a family emergency, Someone Else can get needed papers for you.
    ~ C

  40. This is the exact article I was needing! I have considered eliminating all furniture with drawers as they seem to get packed with paper-things; receipts, investment papers, church programs…

    Your ideas were very helpful. I think I may try to do a sweep, make your list of action items, and organize from there. My biggest challenge will be: GETTING THE HUBS TO COOPERATE! :)

  41. Love umjudis’s scanner method. Going to try to do that. Here I was just starting to pile up patterns to organize into a paper file too!
    I have a system already, but you all have given me better ideas for a more efficient way of filing.
    I do believe things make themselves at home where they belong, not always where we want them!!

  42. This is my first visit here and I love this method you have for tacking papers! Right now, my desk is a mess as well as the file cabinet and a basket next to it! I am going to attack it the way you did! I think one key will be to keep up with it once it is done.
    I will be sharing this link in my weekly roundup!
    Have you outgrown your space?

  43. Great tips! I LOVE the idea of writing out where every piece of paper should go. That will really help me get my paper pile (ok, ok, paper mountain) organized. And once it is attacked, to keep up with it so I have no more mountains. :)

  44. LOVE IT!!! starting to get organized… Bought by first Binder ( thats NOT school related) and repo’d some diaper boxes and otehr kinds from family and friends to repurpsoe as storage ( newspapers/ shred/ scrap paper, etc)

  45. What a great post! Your system is great – so many people (me included) seem to struggle with paperwork. I could not live without my scanner and software. I am a teacher and we also run a small fishing resort. I was OVERWHELMED with receipts and paperwork before my husband bought me Neat Receipts @ Bless him. I scan all our mail now, so there is nothing on the desk, and it takes just a few seconds to find anything. LOVE.

  46. Great post!! thanks so much for sharing!! Love, love, love the mail tray…. Can you tell me where you picked that up?? Need to get one!!

  47. Wow!!! I loved your blog and really excited to follow you. I’ve only checked a couple of posts, but wanted to comment. I recently made a little post in my blog about magazines ( I still subscribe and love my magazines. It’s so hard to get rid of them….but I really want to organazie them nicely? Do you have any ideas? Thanks, Katie.

  48. Thank you so much for everything on your blog! I’ll start following now that I’ve found you. I’m new to looking/reading blogs and I’m hooked. How do you start a blog?

  49. What type of tape do you use to make labels for your file folders? I have a Brother P-Touch label maker.

  50. I have a good tip for sorting through children’s school/art work. I took 3 UPS medium-sized boxes (free from UPS dropbox in my building), unfolded each box, secured just one end, cut off the flaps on the other end, and wrapped each one in the same wrapping paper (candy-striped was all I had on hand). I then stacked them on top of each other and secured them with a red ribbon. This 3-tier sorter is perfect for 1) math 2) phonics, and 3) art/miscellaneous. Feel free to use as many UPS boxes as you want for a free file sorter!

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