Learn how to organize paperwork for GOOD! Plus, the secret for reducing 95% of paperwork and how to keep your household papers organized.
Have you ever felt like papers are taking over your kitchen? Whether you work from home or you are just having trouble keeping your family’s bills and homework papers sorted, these tips are for you!
Organizing paperwork at home is tough because no matter how efficient your filing system (and let’s admit it, most of us hate filing papers and aren’t that efficient), there’s always more coming into your home. Despite that, we don’t have to let paperwork take over. And there’s no need for large filing cabinets that take up valuable space or bins overflowing with school papers or receipts.
I’ve developed an effective system for organizing paperwork in my home. It has decreased 95% of our paperwork and efficiently organizes and manages incoming papers on an ongoing basis. Plus I sold my filing cabinet because I no longer need to file anything!
How To Organize Paperwork For Good
You too can organize your paperwork once and for all! I have some crazy-easy tips that are going to help you make the most of your paperwork so you’ll know what to keep, what to store, and how to store it.
(affiliate links below)
By the way, if you are looking for a way to keep mementos and paperwork for school-aged children, take a look at this DIY school memory box post.
Step #1: Sort & get rid of as much as possible.
Most of us hold onto far more paperwork than needed. I was inspired by Marie Kondo‘s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up when I began this step. (If you haven’t read it, it’s an amazing book!)
Gather all your paperwork, including receipts, manuals, bank and credit card statements, etc., into one spot.
Sort into three piles:
2) Maybe keep
It may take you some time to sort through everything, but this step is crucial. It took about 2 weeks to sort through all our papers, working an hour or two each evening as I watched episodes of The Office.
Ruthlessly shred or burn as much of your paperwork as you possibly can. Remember that anything you keep must be filed or organized.
If you’re not sure whether you need to keep something, here are a couple of resources: Paperwork Keeping and Old Documents.
Your “maybe” pile will probably be your biggest pile. Sort through this, then prune it down again.
Your last pile is for “must keep” documents. This should be reserved only for essential documents, like birth certificates, military discharge paperwork, etc.
My Secret for Organizing Paperwork
Here’s my secret for success
Virtually file most of your paperwork. This can include most, if not all of your “maybe” pile and even some of your “keep” pile! If you’re not confident you’re ready to shred something yet, but know it’s unlikely you’ll ever need it again, upload a digital copy of it to your computer and toss the original.
Only you can decide what you’re comfortable with virtually filing versus keeping a hard copy. Just remember that the more you keep, the more you’ll have to organize. Me? I dislike holding onto things “just in case” so virtually filing was my compromise. This is how I got rid of nearly 90% of our paperwork.
The easiest way to virtually file?
Snap a photo with your smartphone, then upload it to Evernote, a free app/resource where you can sort and store files for as long as you need. I use the free CamScanner app for taking these photos on my phone, which automatically crops, resulting in clean neat “document” images.
Here’s how some of our papers are filed in Evernote:
Step #2: Set Up a Simple Storage System
Hopefully, you have a much smaller pile of paperwork now than before you started organizing. Great job!
Decide where you will store your remaining paperwork. I highly recommend that you do NOT toss it back into the old filing cabinet. If possible, get rid of that thing! You won’t miss it!
You’ll need a place for important documents. This could be a fireproof safe, a small folder, or even a binder.
I use this pretty file folder:
You will need a place for documents you rarely need to access. Consider a sturdy plastic bin or file folder that can be stored in the attic or some other inconspicuous place.
I use this simple plastic container for our mortgage paperwork which I keep in the attic.
Step #3: Set Up an Ongoing System for Incoming Paperwork
It’s going to keep comin’ folks. No matter how organized you are or how vigilant you are about setting up paperless billing, etc, you will still see more paperwork arriving.
So you need to set up a realistic system for handling it.
Toss junk mail as soon as it arrives. Throw it into the trash or recycle bin immediately. Don’t even give it a chance to get comfortable on your kitchen counter or table.
I have a designated “shred bin” too where sensitive paperwork is tossed.
I have a small container to deal with incoming receipts. (More on how I organize receipts another day.)
Everything needs a place or it will find a place where it doesn’t belong. Designate a place for each category of paperwork. Magazines can go in a basket in your living room or wherever you like to read them. When they enter your home, immediately put them away.
Don’t be afraid to tweak it later if something’s not working! Organizing is about doing what works for your family in a more efficient manner. Just because it might need to be changed doesn’t mean you failed.
My original set up worked well, but I was still finding papers gathering on my desk. So I bought a pretty magazine rack from Amazon and asked Nate to hang it by my computer. Now, it’s easy to put “to do” papers in there where I’m reminded to handle them.
Additionally, I also have another location on my closet shelf where I put paperwork that I need to scan into Evernote. I usually go through this once a month so I can keep it from getting too crazy.
And that’s pretty much it: 3 simple steps for organizing paperwork once and for all. It’s not that scary, you can do it for free without any fancy organizing bins, and you can make it last!
More Organizing Inspiration:
As you keep working hard and learn how to organize paperwork, here are some more of my tips for organizing paperwork, including how to organize kids’ school papers and even more organizing tips for busy moms.
Looking for more inspiration on organizing paperwork?
Here are some tips from some awesome bloggers:
- Early Bird Mom uses long short term paperwork storage methods.
- Organized Home recommends a simple filing system, including an “Action File”
- I love One Good Thing’s “Reading Container“
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to organizing your paperwork?
Just pin it below to find the instructions later!
Brittany W says
I definitely need to get better about organizing all the paperwork that comes through our house. Especially since it is just going to increase when we have our child in the spring! I love that purple basket.
Thanks, Brittany. I got it from Thirty-One. I was happy to finally put it to good use.
Congrats on your new baby! 🙂
Jacqui Odell says
I need to organize my paperwork. I have been thinking about doing the binder system.
There are some great options for the binder system and many people have used it successfully. Me? It was more hassle than it was worth, which is why I went finally figured out this minimalist system here with digital filing.
Great tips! I love, love, love getting things organized and taken care of properly. It can always be a challenge to stay with it though! Sounds like these tips will help.
You are so right – it’s one thing to organize, but it’s another to stay with it!
That’s why I love this paper organizing system – because it’s actually worked for months!
I have been working hard on cutting back our paper clutter!!! I love the systems that you are using, it takes forever to go through it all once you fall behind.
I just did this the past two weeks!!! IT was so much paperwork and was totally worth paying someone else to shred it I had over 25lbs when I took it in and had shredded quite a bit! Love these ideas for paperwork storage.
Good for you, Jenny!
Papers are SUCH a problem area! I’ve resorted to just tossing, tossing, and more tossing! I also keep a file box right in my kitchen for those important papers.
It’s so helpful to get rid of papers as soon as they come in the door!
These are some great tips! Even though I try to be organized with paperwork, it’s a constant struggle!
I hate the paperwork mess. Great tips. I need a better system.
Thanks, Aubrey. Just try it one step at a time – it’s much easier that way. 🙂
valmg @ Mom Knows It All says
My biggest challenge is time. I have 20+ years of old stuff to go through and I need to find the time to do it.
It is tough to find the time. I’ve found that sorting through a small stack of papers while catching up on my favorite must-watch tv show is a great way to relax and still get something done.
oh man this post was right on time. i really need to start doing a lot better in this area. thanks so much for the share. nice post.
Tara Gauthier says
How did I not think about the idea of digitally storing all these papers myself! I have been applying the Marie Kondo principles to our house and working on her methods for a few months now (it’s rather slow going as we are busy, but so far it’s making a huge difference! ) I hate dealing with papers, as evidenced by the fact that I just leave them lying around the house everywhere which irritates the hell out of my husband. Definitely going to start scanning them and uploading them as I already use google docs for lots of other stuff and have always scanned and stored things such as doctors notes etc in there but didn’t think to do everything else!
Isn’t Marie great?! I didn’t follow all of her tips, but it gave me a great starting point. And yeah there was no way I was going to organize my entire house in a day like she implied! Ha! G
Good luck with the digital filing. It’s fun once you get in the groove. I was actually sad when I finished!
Donna Savage says
Thank you for this, I’m constantly trying and retrying new ways, but this seems fairly simple and not as pressured as some “systems”. AND I’m going to use the “Make a box into a basket” as my reading basket. I can’t wait, just putting the magazines away immediately is going to help immensely! Appreciate the help!
I am loving all your organization tips and am wanting to try it over here. My question is, what do you do with your printer then? Mine is hanging out next to the computer on top of the filing cabinet….but now I want to ditch the filing cabinet. Any suggestions?
My printer is on a shelf in my closet. Do you have space there? It doesn’t have to be right next to the computer – many printers are wireless.
Great ideas, thanks so much for sharing! Just one question, shouldn’t important mortgage papers be stored in a fire-proof type box, even if it is in your attic? Love the free printables and am in the midst of starting my own recipe binder. Thanks again for the much needed inspiration! 😉
You’re welcome, Connie! And thanks for the reminder about storing important documents in a fireproof safe.