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Less Paper Clutter, More Filing


During the month of October, I’m following along with Edie & Ruth on their 31 Days of Less & More journey. I’d love for you to join in by reading the posts and completing the projects, or just sit back and read along each day.

Less Paper Clutter

As you well know, I kind of despise clutter. Or, probably more accurately: I can’t stand clutter. And it’s no different when it comes to paper clutter. Here are some things that we’ve found to be helpful:

Adopt the No-Pile Rule — Except for my husband’s dresser, we try to strictly adhere to a no-pile rule. I’ve found that a small pile quickly grows—without any effort. If you don’t start a pile in the first place, you can avoid a lot of disorganization.

In the Door, In Its Place — Instead of collecting piles of paper around the house until you have time to deal with them, take care of them immediately. When mail or other papers come into our home, I go through them right then and there and throw out everything that we don’t have to keep. Then I put each item in its specific place. For instance, bills go on my husband’s dresser, magazines go in a basket in my office, freebies go in the household product stockpile closet, coupons in my coupon box, and junk mail in the trash.

Avoid clutter-collecting furniture — We don’t own furniture that tends to be obvious clutter hotspots. I’ve found that when there’s no place to collect piles, you are much less apt to make them.

Set up a special memorabilia storage space — I have two big storage containers with lids that I’ve designated specifically for storing mementos. Not only does this provide a place to put special cards or pictures that come in the mail, but it also keeps everything in one place and not overflowing into other parts of the house. When the bins start to get full, we go through them and pare things down a bit so that we can have more space.

How-I-Keep-My-Inbox-to-Fewer-Than-5-Emails1Though not exactly paper clutter, emails are something that are taking over many people’s lives. Need some help taming the email monster? Read my post on How I Keep My Inbox to Fewer Than 5 Emails.

More Filing

I have to tell you, I’m more a fan of trashing than filing. But I’d rather have a file than a pile. So here are some of the things that have helped me keep on top of paper clutter:

Create a Simple System — A system is only as good as it’s operator. Don’t over-complicate your filing system. Even just a few files in a file box can work. For more details on setting up a system for your important documents, check out the five-part series we ran last year on Organizing Your Important Documents.

When In Doubt, Throw It Out — Okay, so some people might disagree with me on this, but I think there is no reason to hang onto something “just in case.” Give yourself permission to just chuck it without guilt.

Use a Scanner — If you think you might need it later, scan the document and save it in a file so you’ll have it if you need it later. You can download an app for this or get a cheap scanner.

For more on this topic, check out Ruth’s post on Less Paper Clutter and Edie’s post on More Filing. I promise you’ll be inspired and blessed!

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  • skottydog says:

    “…rather have a file than a pile”! That’s a great line. Definitely tweet-able! I need to get on this plan! I don’t know what’s worse right now—my desk or my garage! Sadly, there are PILES of files in both areas! Thanks for posting this article link, Crystal!

  • cher says:

    As always your words are full of wisdom and practical advice! Love the tidiness!

  • Lacey says:

    My husband and I are exact opposites on this which makes my life extremely difficult. It’s all well and good to have a system, but if you live with someone who doesn’t really care about it, you have your work cut out for you. I kind of gave up and gave him the garage. Also a desk area inside the house. I hate it. When I look at it it makes me want to set the whole thing on fire.

      • Kristie says:

        I understand completely. 🙂 These suggestions are all great, but when you live with someone who is not organizationally oriented, rules don’t work because they will just constantly be broken. I have found that in my life, it pays to find a workable compromise. I keep a basket for all those piles, when I straighten up my house, I collect every piece of paper and put it either in our bill file (for urgent things), or in a basket by my desk, for “later” sorting. It saves me a ton of nagging, makes everyone happy, and I still don’t have to lose sleep wondering where my water bill ended up. 🙂

    • Nichole says:

      I can totally relate to this!

    • Lacey, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I read your comment, “When I look at it it makes me want to set the whole thing on fire.” I share your pain and also have a husband who is a paper hoarder (as I like to call him).

      I think giving them an area that’s their own makes a big difference. Plus, it lets us know where we can dump their stuff. :O)

  • Kim says:

    This is something I have been working on a little a time all month.

    I recently changed my email which has helped me to really determine which emails I want to continue to subscribe to and which I need to stop receiving. While I am still working through the old email ‘pile’ because there are some in there I really do need to keep, I am diligently deleting & making folders in the new email.

    The household piles have been a problem for me all my life even if they are small or seem like the pile is important items. In November, I want to implement your 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life plan to attack those piles around the house and to change it into a daily habit!!

    I just cannot say thank you enough for all you do.

  • Kathryn says:

    I’ve been trying for a while to figure out how you don’t have piles of paper, and I finally realized it’s because you homeschool and your kids don’t do extra-curricular activities. I, also, despise clutter and the paper piles in the kitchen irritate both me and my husband, but I ALWAYS have stuff that I need to deal with or remember details about. Field trip permission forms, cub scout worksheets, sign up information for soccer, school lunch menu, school calender, etc. And I am constantly looking for a way to put these in my sight so I don’t have to search for them all the time, and yet, keep them from looking so cluttered! Any suggestions?

    • Crystal says:

      Our kids are actually in swimming and gymnastics this year, but so far, the paper clutter from those has been minimal. I definitely know that homeschooling cuts down on a lot of the papers coming in every day. Maybe some moms here can give you some ideas. I’m positive that we have a lot of moms who’ve found some great systems for all the necessary but overwhelming school papers.

      • Michelle says:

        I’ve set up a “Family Binder” with a tab for each family member … including mom and dad … and a general Family tab.

        As the newsletters, notices, etc. come in from school, church, Guides, Scouts, Dance, Swimming, etc., etc. I 3-hole punch them and put them under the appropriate tab. That way, I know where all the notices are.

        The binder looks neat and all the info is at your fingertips!

        • I asked a mom of four the same question and she also suggested the family binder!! With both of mine in school now the amount of papers coming in is insane!! 🙂 I didn’t set up a binder but I use file folders in my kitchen desk drawer which seems to be working pretty well!!

          I’ve learned to tackle important papers like the field trip permission form right away. I fill it out and put it back in their bookbag right away. I then add the event to my phone calendar.

          Can’t wait to hear everyone’s ideas. I’m always looking for more ways to be organized and efficient! 🙂

  • Sakura says:

    I’ve started using Google drive to store papers I might need later. I like google drive because I can access it from any of my electronic devices from whenever I need to. I’m not tied to my laptop. Since I’ve switched to paperless billing, there really isn’t much to keep or file for household papers any more. As for my sons 4th grade school work, I look at it the day it comes home then If it’s old graded papers I check them over, congratulate him then we throw them out. Art work is handled differently. We have magnets on our back door in the kitchen, when he brings art home we hang it on the back door , that is our art center. If it’s something that I’ll need to keep for later in the week, month or year I have a tabbed magnetic clear folder on the side of my fridge and I slide it into his slot. Once it’s done it goes in the trash.

    • Kathryn says:

      Great suggestions, thanks! I especially like the “art center” idea. We have a string with clothespins that we hang artwork on, but my little trouble-making one-year-old has recently discovered that he can reach it and so, that’s not working so well for us right now. 🙂 I may have to try your idea!

    • Jolene says:

      I am scanning my kids artwork (that’s worth keeping) into Artkive app on my phone and then have them printed into books. You can tag them by child, grade, date, or all of the above and then have them printed into books when you are ready. I am loving it and getting rid of papers is always a good thing for me. I scan almost everything and have a flash drive just for those folders. I back it up to a rewritable DVD.

      • Kristi says:

        I bought a large, magnetic, white board. With a Sharpie, I drew an undated calender on about 2/3’s of it. (I did show the days of the week.) I can list all school activities, dr. appts, etc. Signed permission slips, lunch checks, etc. are on one side of the board, held in place by the magnets. So far it is working really well for us.
        Messages can even be color coordinated so you know at a glance who has what going on and when…..

  • Stephanie says:

    I am a piler 🙂 The thing is if I don’t have my piles ( I do keep it to two or three) I can’t find anything! I’m ok with that though, it’s how I roll and as long as it keeps me on track I can deal with it. It drives my Type A daughter nuts though and she’s always trying to sort it for me. It’s an organized pile, well for me atleast!!!

  • WilliamB says:

    “Avoid clutter-collecting furniture — We don’t own furniture that tends to be obvious clutter hotspots. I’ve found that when there’s no place to collect piles, you are much less apt to make them.”

    This one made me laugh because for certain people I know, this would mean no furniture at all.

    More seriously, little of this works for me but you’d recognize the overall essence of my system as similar to yours. I just went through a large pile that built up during a very overworked month and am looking forward to minimal build up and continued chipping away of my few remaining “old” piles.

  • Mel says:

    I needed this today. I’ve had piles of paper reproducing for weeks. Finally going to tackle it RIGHT NOW.

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