Organizing Paper Clutter

It seems it is here to stay — all that paper, with each piece demanding a little bit of our time or money. Are we not supposed to be “paperless” by now? We are living in the technologically advanced information age, but it seems the volume of paper each person has to deal with in a day’s time has increased.

What can we do to keep from being buried in it?

The Backlog:

    If you have a backlog of paper here are some tips to handle your backlog.

  • Get motivated! What is your reason for tackling your backlog? Is your paper clutter causing you stress? Have you lost something that has now cost you time, money or a missed opportunity? Is your paper clutter preventing you from spending your time the way you would like to spend your time? Or, do you imagine your life really changing for the better once your clutter is gone?
  • Set time aside. If you are really procrastinating, set a timer for 15 minutes and just grab a small pile of paper and start the process. Organizing is a “process” and not a one-time event. So, in order to see results you must start the process. As you see success, you may increase the amount of time you spend. Or, your paper clutter may be causing you so much pain that you may set aside a larger chunk of time, such as 1 – 3 hours. Finding that much uninterrupted time can be challenging, but you can do it.
  • Gather the paper in one spot. Contain it in a basket, box, pile.


  • Determine what’s there and why? You may find that some of what’s there has already been attended to, and you just need a filing system that works for you.
  • Establish the habit to either put things away after you are finished with them, or if the information is not needed any more or can easily be retrieved again, learn to throw it away, recycle it, or shred it.
  • Attend to action paperwork. ACTION paperwork is paper that still requires some action on your part.
  • Use the “verbing technique” – this technique can be used by simply labeling each pile or piece of paper by the next action that needs to happen (i.e., call, write and send, run an errand, discuss with someone, etc.) Gather the action papers by their action and then schedule the actions to be completed.


The system you use to organize your paper clutter needs to fit your style and needs. One thing to consider is that paper, when left in a horizontal position, has a tendency to either expand to the full extent of the surface available to it or to grow into piles. This is why vertical storage is so popular and effective.

Keeping Paper Organized:

Things will naturally get messy. These are some systems that will help maintain order in any home.

    Handle the mail:

  • 80% is trash, recycle, or shred
  • 20% requires ACTION on your part or to be FILED for later retrieval
  • Pay bills
  • Reconcile receipts
  • Prepare for tax season
  • Medical information
  • Insurance information
  • Children’s school and activity paperwork (if applicable)
  • Household/ family projects (i.e. remodel, event planning such as birthday party, vacation/travel plans, etc.)

Filing Systems:

There is no right or wrong system; it just needs to be one that meets your needs, and again your style. A good system is one that works in your absence, so labeling is important. One statistic that appears to be the case is that 80% of the paper that is filed away is never used again. So think carefully before you file something for later retrieval. Do you really need to save it?

Here are some examples of possible systems to insure you can find information again.

  • Alphabetical (A,B,C …order)
  • Numerical (1,2,3…order)
  • Chronological (Jan, Feb, Mar… order by date)
  • Topic/category

 Here are some useful ideas for easier information retrieval:

  • Portable File boxes
  • Color coding
  • Labels


Creating binders is a popular way to manage paper that you do not need to add to or retrieve from frequently. Hanging folders are great to use. They allow easy access to retrieve items and make it easy to file paper away in files that are used frequently.

Change your ways:

Yes, change can be scary, but it might be time to change your ways. Stay current on ways to keep information or make transactions that do not require as much paperwork, such as on-line banking, etc.

Consider removing yourself from mailing lists, limiting magazine subscriptions, and opting-out of solicitations. Reduce the amount of catalogs you receive. is a great service that stops all junk mail, let’s you choose which catalogs to stop, and plants five trees in your name.

Remember, this is a process and not a one-time easy fix. To start is the first step. The next step is to stay with the process.

Read Paper Organization, for more information.