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Seven ways to control paper clutter

By on March 2, 2008

photo by ms.Tea
Organizing papers and incoming mail is a common household problem. Maybe your system is that you don’t have a system, or, if you have one, it’s not practical. Welcome to Mount Paper Piles. Luckily, readers share their methods to help control paper, so you can climb that mountain and conquer it once and for all.

GO PAPERLESS: I scan all my papers (except for papers I must keep) into my computer and then shred and ditch. I have a removable hard drive that I store all of it on so that I don’t take up space on my computer. — Frugal girl, e-mail

BOX SYSTEM: I put all my paperwork in a box when it comes in. Then, once a month, I go through everything. I write all my birthday cards for the whole month on that day. There always seem to be items that don’t fall into any category, or that I’m not sure whether I want to throw out or keep, so they stay in the box. Once a year, this box is completely emptied, usually in February, when I fill out my tax form. I also have a file called “sentimental.” This is for items that have no financial value but are nice to keep. Don’t put a second box next to the first one (or start putting things in a second drawer). Make yourself clear out the first one first. — Siebrie, e-mail

IMMEDIATE ACTION: I open my mail right next to my file cabinet. That way, any bills that need to be filed (after pulling off the return portion, of course) go right in their file, and the envelope goes right in the trash. — AmyBoz, New Jersey

PRIORITIZE: I pay all of my bills online, so there is less paper. I have a desk that is “paper/mail central.” I gave up using paper clips and use staples instead. I also use a hole punch and binder system to store clippings and printouts. If it’s not important enough to go through the trouble of storing in a binder, it’s not worth saving. — Gina, via forums

PORTABLE FILE: Set up a file, bin or basket for each member of your household. I find that I do better with a portable file than a file cabinet. When I worked in an office, I learned to let each piece of paper pass through my hands only once. When I get a piece of paper, I decide what to do with it: File it or toss it. Create broad file categories and not 100 detailed categories. — Cricket1, New Hampshire

SELF-DISCIPLINE: Don’t waste time filing papers you don’t need to save. I used to carefully clip stuff I wanted to keep and put them in files. Very few I’ve ever used. In fact, every time I dejunk, those are often a good pile of what I let go. Now I don’t bother. It was a way of hanging onto a good idea. Don’t let that one go; I may need it someday. With the amount of good info on the Web, chances are I can resurrect 99 percent of it somewhere should I ever really need to use it. — Margery, via forums

CREATE DEADLINES: I have a tough time with catalogs and magazines, so I bought a magazine rack. They come into the house and go straight there. I created a deadline of holding onto them for only a month, and I stick to that because anything procrastinated is clutter. — Stephanie R., Ohio


  1. DixieJ

    3/2/2008 at 11:53 am

    Oh my, I did help big time in this area. Right now my desk looks sorta like the one in the photo. But you have inspired me, organizing my desk is going to be my project for this afternoon.

  2. Amy

    3/2/2008 at 9:02 pm

    Great tips! (Especially the one by me 🙂 ) It is amazing how much paper can accumulate, and how quickly it can build up. When speaking to people who are looking for organizing advice, the home office is ALWAYS the biggest area of concern, and within that area, paper is the number one problem. So, great ideas!

  3. Brandie Kajino

    3/5/2008 at 6:31 pm

    Great tips! I’ll add one, and it’s the Tickler File – sometimes called the 43 Folder system. All you need are manila folders and a file box or drawer. Each month has it’s own folder and 31 folders for each day of the month (43 folders in all 😉 ). Use it for things like event tickets, invitations, maps, registration forms and travel documents. When you need those tickets, you’ll know right where they are. 🙂

  4. Marie78

    3/8/2008 at 3:41 pm

    I just organized my desk and all these tips are great. My biggest problem is junk mail and the mail that I might read later. I keep a tall recycle bin by my desk now and any junk mail goes in there immediately along with the items I “might” want to read. That way if I still want to read it I know I can find it in the recycle bin- at least until it’s full and I dump it out :).

  5. Michelle

    3/25/2008 at 8:26 pm

    I struggle with paper clutter too. I keep my recycling bin in my garage, so before I come in the house, I toss all the mail that I don’t need in the bin. That way it doesn’t even come inside. 🙂

  6. kristen

    4/5/2008 at 1:58 pm

    This is my HUGE stumbling block! Paper just follows me like the dirt does to Peanuts’ Pigpen. Every time I think I have a handle on it, I slack off.

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