How to Organize Your Paper Clutter -and keep it that way!

Learn how to organize your daily paper clutter and household paper files.

Our daughter was applying for college.

I’d done this before with our son. I knew the drill.

But we’d just moved, across an ocean (Virginia to Hawaii). Our important papers had been packed away in who-knows-which boxes for months.

Nevertheless, colleges have deadlines.

So I searched and unpacked and kept going until I found each required document. Ugh!

While the digital age is here to stay, hard copy paperwork is still very much a part of our day-to-day lives.

Between junk mail, school forms, receipts, safety recall notices, sale flyers, special offers, tax documents, insurance forms, kids’ artwork, take-out menus, owner’s manuals, catalogs, and magazines, we’re drowning in paper clutter!

Organizing your paper clutter is an essential part of organizing your life.

Clutter and disorder cause stress, waste money & time, and sap your energy.

Without a simple, practical system, paper clutter ends up spread all over tables and countertops. This makes your home look messy. More stress!

If you’re ready to organize your paper clutter, keep reading.

You’ll discover how to:

  • create a simple file box for managing day-to-day paperwork
  • set up a 4-folder system for organizing papers you need to take action on
  • prioritize your most important and time-sensitive to-do’s for less stress in your life

 

I’ve created the following resources to help you complete the 6 steps below:

 

FREE PRINTABLES: a checklist to help you work through these 6 steps one at a time AND a prioritized to-do list

A FREE 5-DAY E-MAIL CHALLENGE: Organize Your Paper Clutter, plus both printables – you’ll receive manageable, step-by-step assignments delivered right to your inbox

How to Organize Your Paper Clutter in Six Steps

1. Gather Supplies From Stuff You Have Around the House

  • a file box or a basket wide enough to hold file folders
  • empty file folders
  • any folders you’re already using to manage day-to-day paperwork
  • a calendar (grab a free printable one at https://print-a-calendar.com/#)
  • my free printable to-do list, or a piece of paper with lines drawn to divide it into four quadrants
  • a pen or a pencil
  • a shredder, if you have one
  • a garbage can and/or recycle bin

Start where you are…use what you have. -A. Ashe

2. Label Your Folders

  • important / time-sensitive: important papers you need to take action on by a specific date (field trip forms, birthday cards that need to be mailed, receipts for items you plan to return, etc.)
  • important / not time-sensitive: important papers to take action on, not time sensitive (warranty or rebate cards to be mailed in, account statements you want to check on, account offers you are interested in, etc.)
  • unimportant / time-sensitive: papers for non-essential but time-sensitive to-do’s (sale flyers, special offers, local event flyers, notices for pick up dates for food drives, etc.)
  • unimportant / not time-sensitive: papers for non-essential, not time-sensitive to-do’s (mileage program offers, flyers for local services you may be interested in, charity requests you want to support, etc.)
  • 1 folder for each family member
  • receipts: if you need to keep them temporarily – declutter from time to time
  • bills to be paid
  • paid bills: declutter as needed
  • taxes: papers and receipts you’ll need to file taxes in the spring
  • to file: papers that need to be filed with long term files (important documents & certificates, insurance, titles, etc.) 
  • to shred: unless you’re shredding daily, which is a good idea and takes less than a minute!
  • recipes to try: declutter as needed when this becomes too full or outdated
  • kids’ artwork: favorites only, to be further curated as the file becomes full
  • coupons: if you actually use them
  • you may have other categories you need additional folders for

These folders are for organizing day-to-day papers.

The first four categories are for “to-do” papers you need to take action on:

  • important / time-sensitive
  • important / not time-sensitive
  • unimportant / time-sensitive
  • unimportant / not time-sensitive

I loosely based the four categories above on President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous decision-making tool, the Eisenhower Box, also known as the Eisenhower Matrix.

I used some of the principles of the Eisenhower Box and adapted them to fit the different categories of to-do paperwork in our lives.

These four categories help you distinguish between important and unimportant tasks & between time-sensitive and not time-sensitive tasks.

3. Gather papers

This step is a quick win. Simply having all day-to-day papers in a single location will help you feel less stressed!

Gather ALL papers lying around your home. Check the living room, entryway, dining room, kitchen, master bedroom, maybe even your car and purse.

Important: If you spot really urgent papers (past due, or due this week or next week), set them off to the side. You can take care of those in a bit.

If you have a LOT of paper to collect, it will be helpful to have a large box, bin or basket to temporarily hold them.

Once you’ve gathered your loose papers, take some time to deal with the smaller pile of really urgent ones you set aside.

Sign up for the free 5-day Organize Your Paper Clutter e-mail challenge for step-by-step daily assignments delivered right to your inbox. You’ll also receive the printable checklist, to help you stay on track, and the prioritized to-do list. Hang the checklist on your fridge or command center until you’ve completed all 6 steps.

Just the printables? You bet!

Related post: Easy Habits to Help You Put a Tidy Home on Autopilot

4. Sort papers by category

Use sheets of paper, index cards, or sticky notes to create labels that match the folder categories in step 2 (important / time-sensitive, bills to be paid, receipts, etc).

Spread these labels out across a flat surface, then make stacks of papers that fit each category.

As you sort through the main pile, set aside papers that don’t fit any of your categories well. If you have a number of papers that seem to belong in another category, make a label and a folder for those.

Your file system needs to be tailored to your needs in order for it to work for you!

Remember though, if a paper needs to be dealt with (a bill, a lease renewal, a school form, a receipt for an item you plan to return, etc.) it needs to go into one of the four categories listed above according to importance and urgency, for example: “important / time-sensitive”.

Work quickly. Don’t overthink things.

Decide if something needs action, then determine if it is important and/or time-sensitive.

Papers not needing action go into their own file according to type (kids’ artwork, paid bills…).

When you’ve sorted all papers by category, move each stack to its corresponding folder.

Again, set aside really urgent papers (already past due, or due this week or next week) as you sort. Take care of those today.

5. Create your to-do list

Using your 4 prioritized to-do folders, create a new master to-do list.

Your list should have 4 separate categories:

  1. important / time-sensitive
  2. important / not time-sensitive
  3. unimportant / time-sensitive
  4. unimportant / not time-sensitive

Next, add to-do tasks from any other to-do lists you have, as well as anything spinning around in your mind that you know you need to take care of. Add these items to your new to-do list according to importance and urgency.

You’ll feel more organized + less stressed once you get your to-do tasks down on a single, prioritized list. You’ll be able to see at a glance which tasks are most important and most urgent!

6. Schedule those to-do’s on your calendar

  • Important / time-sensitive to-do’s should go straight onto your calendar so that you don’t miss any important dates.
  • Next, schedule important / not time-sensitive to-do tasks.
  • Third, you can add unimportant / time sensitive to-do’s to your calendar (or not, as these are unimportant : ) These are tasks for which nothing bad will happen if you decide not to do them.
  • Lastly, schedule unimportant / not time-sensitive to-do tasks, (or not). Again, if you decide to skip these, no biggie.

By putting to-do’s on your calendar, you’ll see the big picture of each week and month. Schedule only as much as you can realistically accomplish on any given day.

Write with a pencil. Give yourself flexibility to move things around as needed:

  • Schedule each time-sensitive to-do task at least a week before it’s due.
  • Schedule no more than 2 or 3 to-do’s per day – max! Leave space for the unplanned and for day-to-day responsibilities.
  • Don’t schedule any to-do tasks for your busiest days, if possible.
  • Try not to schedule to-do’s for weekends or holidays, when reasonable.

You may not be able to schedule all tasks and strictly adhere to these guidelines, but try not to over-schedule your days. Each day will have other to-do’s that pop up — not to mention normal day-to-day activities!

Don’t let feelings of overwhelm stop you from getting started.

Paper clutter can be daunting. Let me help you manage it with the free resources I’ve created for you.

Putting in the time now to get your paper clutter under control will reduce stress in your life (with an added bonus of a less cluttered home).

But remember, you’ll only see changes in your life and home when you take action.

Soooo…step away from the computer. Put down your phone.

And get started right away. You can do this!

Hi there! I’m Mindy Doyle. I love decluttering things we really don’t need. (Is it weird to say you love decluttering??) In 2013 & 2014, I decluttered half of our stuff so that we could downsize to a smaller, more manageable house. You can read my story here.

Today I’m all about maintaining a (mostly) clutter-free, easy-to-clean home, in LESS TIME. And I’d be thrilled to help you do the same!

 

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