How to Organize Paper Clutter

Jon Fesmire | August 30, 2018 @ 8:00 AM

Whether at home or at work, it may seem impossible to prevent papers from stacking up—and up, and up. We’re constantly receiving bills, invoices, receipts, junk mail, cards, and more.

It is possible to reduce the clutter, organize it, and get on top of it so that you can keep it to a manageable level. Let’s examine how.

Sort Your Papers

Gather together your paperwork from your desk, drawers, boxes, and wherever else it may be. Next, sort it into three sections: things to save, things to scan, and things to recycle.

Things to save includes physical paperwork that you should keep. This includes house and car deeds, birth certificates and other legal paperwork, immunization records and other medical paperwork, social security cards, and things that have sentimental value, such as certain cards, personal letters, and old photographs.

Things to scan includes things you don’t need physical copies of because digital copies will be just as effective. This can include insurance paperwork, tax returns, user manuals, and similar documents.

Things to recycle include bills from longer than a month ago, old grocery lists, junk mail, and so on.

Scan and Upload

Next, take all the papers you put in the “scan” section and scan them. If you don’t have a scanner, you can take digital photos in good, natural lighting, or take them somewhere, like the UPS Store or FedEx Kinkos, to have them scanned. You can also use an app like Scannable. You may also want to scan some of the papers you plan to keep, like birth certificates and old photos. It doesn’t hurt to have backups in digital format.

Concerning user manuals, you shouldn’t actually have to scan these. Manuals for most items, from smartphones to toasters, are available online. Go to the manufacturer’s website and download them.

Give the files names that will allow you to easily locate them, such as “Bill’s Birth Certificate.jpg” or “2018 Family Taxes.pdf.” Then, create a master folder for all of them with a title like “Important Paperwork,” and create subfolders inside, into which you can sort your files. Folders may have names like “Taxes,” “Mortgage,” and so on.

Upload the master folder (and therefore all the subfolders as well) to your cloud service of choice, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft One Drive. The advantage to saving to the cloud is that if your computer hard drive fails, you’ll have a reliable backup. These corporations mirror your data on many servers, making it extremely unlikely that you’ll suffer any data loss.


Out of the documents you scanned, put those you need to keep paper copies of back in the “things to save” section, and those you need only digital copies of in the “things to recycle” section.

We recommend you invest in a shredder. It’s important to recycle as a means of reusing our paper resources. However, you don’t want anyone to get ahold of personal information that may appear on your bills or old bank statements. You don’t have to shred everything, or course, just paperwork that could allow someone to steal your identity.

If your local garbage pickup service includes recycling, put the papers in your recycle bin. If not, find a local recycling facility and drop them off.

Sorting Your Papers

At this point, you should be left with just the papers you really need. Get some document boxes and hanging folders that fit into them, or a filing cabinet with hanging folders, and put that paperwork away. You can label the folders as well. Perhaps you have a section for each member of the family, or one with birth certificates, one with deeds, and so on.

Get a basket for important, recent papers, such as bills, forms you need to sign, and the like. Maybe one of your children is supposed to go on a field trip, and you need to remember to sign the paperwork in the next few days and send it back to their school. That’s what the basket is for. Once that paperwork has been handled and held onto for about a month, shred and recycle it.

Day to day paperwork is a lot to keep up with, but we think this will help. If you do find your papers getting out of hand again, just go through these steps again to get it back in order. Here’s to wishing you a clutter-free home and office.

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