How to Organize Paper Clutter in Just 5 Minutes a Day

Say farewell to that overflowing paper pile (including all your kids' homework and school notices).

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Top view school supplies arrangement
Photo: Andrei Moldoveanu/Getty Images

When you think about the biggest organizing challenges in your home, a few things will likely come to mind: the messy kitchen counter, the overstuffed bedroom closet, and that towering pile of papers. That pile grows exponentially during the school year when your kids come home with a sheaf of school notices, permission slips, artwork, and homework. The task of organizing paper buildup seems so daunting that many of us put it off for as long as possible.

In fact, when I moved several months ago and was forced to face all of the clutter that had accumulated, I finally had to deal with three and a half years worth of mail and paperwork. But in my new place, I'm testing out a new method. Want to learn how to organize paper clutter, too? Start by setting up a sorting station, detailed below, and you can kiss the paper clutter goodbye—forever.

How Often to Organize Paper Clutter

Organizing your papers should be a daily task. Instead of procrastinating until the paper pile becomes overwhelming, devote just five minutes a day to decluttering paper.

What You Need:

  • Paper sorter
  • Recycling bin
  • File folders
  • Magazine holders
  • Filing cabinets

How to Sort Papers Efficiently

Step 1: Set Up a Paper Sorting System

The trick to dealing with paper clutter before it piles up is to catch it the second it comes in the door. In the entryway or mudroom (even the wall next to your front door will work), set up a paper sorter labeled with just two or three categories:

  • Long-term storage
  • To deal with ASAP
  • Kids' important papers (like the details on their field trip)

As you walk in the door, take one minute to open each item of mail and decide whether it's something to store long-term, take action (such as a bill that needs to be paid), or toss it immediately.

Step 2: Have the Recycling Ready

Set out a paper recycling bin right below the sorting station. This way, you'll be able to toss out flyers and catalogs right away. You may be surprised by how many papers you can throw directly into the recycling bin.

Step 3: Go Paperless—and Digital—Where You Can

For one week, take note of what you end up recycling right away. If there are certain mailings you always toss out immediately, go ahead and unsubscribe—it will save paper and time.

For bills and bank statements, see if you can switch to digital notifications. When the bills land in your inbox, you may actually find it easier to remember to pay them.

You can also put a stop to junk mail. For a processing fee of $2, will let you opt out of entire categories of mail, such as catalogs, for the next 10 years.

Step 4: Create Long-term Storage

Once you've started using this sorting system for about a week, start taking note of the type of papers that land in the "long-term storage" bin. This will look different for each person and household.

You may realize there's very little you actually need to hang onto, or you may have a huge stack of papers you need to sort—like the artwork your child brings home from school (it can feel nearly impossible to toss away).

Based on what you decide you need to keep, create an organizational system according to your needs. Limit the categories to just the essentials, so you aren't tempted to save what you'll likely never use. Depending on the quantity, you can utilize any of the following storage options.

  • File folders. If you don't have many categories of paperwork to stash and have mostly switched over to digital bills and bank statements, a few file folders may be all you need. With tax forms in one and important documents in another, you'll resist hanging onto paperwork that doesn't fit into those categories.
  • Magazine holders. If you have more categories or multiple kids you need to store paperwork for, consider investing in a set of stylish magazine holders. Get a different color organizer for each category—yellow for taxes, green for medical paperwork—and dedicate one for each family member. A rainbow of different magazine holders will brighten up your office space!
  • Filing cabinets. For those with decades worth of important documents, it's time to invest in a filing cabinet. Similar to the folders and magazine holders above, this organization system is only as good as the categories you create for it. Once you've gone through all of your papers and gotten rid of expired coupons and shredded old forms, choose categories according to what's left.
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