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Baby Steps to Organization::
Step Four: Dealing with Paper

by | Sep 15, 2010 | Organization

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Baby Steps to Organization:: <br>Step Four: Dealing with Paper

Tips for Organizing Paper!

Remember the 5 minute rule we looked at in our previous Baby Steps to Organization? That five minute rule is a great way to measure the success of your organizational system. This is especially true with paper!

My paper organization systems are extremely simple, and I by no means have all paper under control or mastered at my house, but I try to at least be somewhat organized in my day to day dealings with the most common incoming papers.

So for the curious, here are the basic systems I use for day to day sorting:

1) Recycle.

Right when paper comes in to our home, I take a look at it and if we don’t need it, it goes into the recycling bin. I keep a recycling basket handy in our kitchen pantry so there is never an excuse to toss it on the counter or floor.  I hate seeing piles of paper everywhere.

Baby Steps to Organization:: <br>Step Four: Dealing with Paper

This is a Martha Stewart photo of oil cloth bulletin board.
My current board is not cute yet, so it is not pictured.

2) Bulletin boards.

We have what I call a “family central” bulletin board. When we have something important like concert tickets, a zoo pass, ice cream coupons or anything else people might be looking for or that is valuable or time sensitive, we keep it on the bulletin board. Every so often I go through and toss anything that is no longer relevant. It makes life a lot easier to know there is only one place those sorts of papers would be!

3) Back of the pantry door.

School age children seem to bring home tons of paper every day. Without a designated place for all those papers, I’d go crazy. I sort through them every day after school and toss what we don’t want.

My son’s current school papers, lunch menus and calendars all get taped up on the back of our pantry door. I wish I had a nice wall space to hang a cute bulletin board, but I just seem to be lacking the perfect spot for that right now. One of these days I might create the perfect space. For now, it isn’t perfect. It is just a door with things taped on it. Not fancy, but functional!

4) The bill basket.

We have a bill basket on a shelf in the pantry where all incoming bills go. I open the bill, toss out all the inserts and envelopes (we pay our bills online) and then just stick the paper bill in the basket. I pay bills twice a month and after the bill is paid, it goes in my “paid” file drawer. At the end of the year, I recycle the old bills. Better yet, many of my utilities and household bills are now offering paperless billing. The less paper coming in, the less to manage.

Baby Steps to Organization:: <br>Step Four: Dealing with Paper

Pottery Barn

5) Family files.

I really dislike filing (remember I am a visual person and file cabinets HIDE stuff!), but I do have one drawer for family files. Each of my kids, our dog Winston and my husband and I have a file. We each have a medical file and a file for everything else. When I need to figure out when my kids’ last tetanus shot was, I just go to their medical file. I don’t keep fancy pants records or color coded notebooks on each child, but I try to keep the photo copies our doctor’s office gives us of immunization records.

6) Personal bins.

There always seem to be papers for each family member that we do not need but someone wants to keep. School drawings or newspaper articles or sports awards or whatever. Each person in our family has a labeled Rubber Maid tote in a closet and if it is one of those “not sure where it goes” type of things, that is where I stick it. Again, nothing fancy but at least it has a home.

Baby Steps to Organization:: <br>Step Four: Dealing with Paper

Women’s Day

How do you deal with paper?

Catch up on the other organizing tips in this ongoing series!

Baby Step One: Assess the Needs
Baby Step Two: Are you a S.H.E.?
Baby Step Three: Embrace the Five Minute or Less Rule

This Friday, join me for a Creative Organization link up! I’d love for you to link up any posts you’ve done recently or in the past on Creative Organization Ideas! Let’s see how you keep your life organized (any room in the house and it does not have to be about paper organization) and how to make it look cute all at the same time!

top image: a friends “family central” organizational calendar. I love that there is a dry erase calendar with space to pin up papers nearby.


  1. Jess H

    I love your friend’s famy board. I’d love to see more pics and find out more about it. First time commenting, but I’ve been following your blog for a long time on google reader.

    • Melissa

      Thanks so much for your comment! Glad you de-lurked! :-)

  2. cathy

    With joy of course and a whole lot of creativity. But your creative solutions, rock!

  3. Kristen

    I LOVE your ideas here, Melissa! Very helpful. I also do tape-on-the-back-of-the-pantry-door for the kids’ calendars and lunch menus. I need a “family central bulletin board”. Right now I have a “family central drawer”, but it’s not working well for me because things have a tendency to still get lost inside it. Maybe I’ll hit Home Goods or Hobby Lobby tomorrow and see what I can find! :)

  4. Rose in Ohio (

    Paper is my Waterloo. But I finally got a shredder this past summer and am gradually getting rid of old but sensitive papers. There are few things more satisfying to me than shredding a whole shoebox full of old bills and statements.

    Paper I hate dealing with the most: auto insurance updates/policy changes; health insurance stuff; investment stuff–isn’t it mind-boggling how much paper a tiny little nest egg can generate over the course of a year? And it all looks important, even if it’s not.

    We keep our family calendar on the laundry room door. It’s not attractive, but it gets the job done.

    I have a few filing cabinets in the basement, but of course they need cleaning out, too. And I just remembered this: one of them is full of years and years worth of old Gourmet and Bon Appetit mags. That thing must weigh a ton. (Hmmm, DS needs some pocket money–maybe I’ll hire him to empty that out in time for the recycling truck next week….. Not much, but it’s a start.)

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Melissa

      Ah, yes we get tons of that kind of mail too! Hate all the updates they send!! Wish they’d get smart and just send a summary of medical stuff or insurance stuff once a quarter or something.

  5. Angie

    This is one way that I tackle paper that comes into the house that is related to my school age kids. I like to keep things ‘front and centre’ like monthly schedules, field trip notices, etc. so I can quickly check details and dates….and my husband knows where to look to!!
    Great post! Angie xo

  6. Marla

    Thank you Melissa for this great series!

    I have one question: How do you organize all the weird sized user manuals/guides for items?

    We seem to have every size from a 3″x3″ piece of paper (one of DS’s toys) to a 9″x12″ furnace manual.

    Should I switch from file cabinet to binders filled with sheet protectors?

    For sorting through them, once a year/whenever we get rid of something, we still have a t0n!

    Thanks for your input!

    • Melissa

      Hi Marla, for the user manuals I try whenever possible to keep them near the item they belong to. I used to try to file them but I hated having to dig through file cabinets.

      So for instance with the furnace manual, I tape a large heavy duty plastic bag or manilla envelope to the furnace itself. Then I slip the manual in it. I never need to wonder where it is!

      Same with children’s toys. I tape a envelope or plastic bag to the inside of their closet, or sometimes I have used a small box on their shelf to store manuals and extra parts in.

      For your electronic items, tape them inside the media cabinet or store them in a pretty but lidded basket nearby.

      :-) Hope that helps?!

  7. Angie

    Melissa , Thank you so much for stopping by and visiting my blog! I will be sure to link up on Friday! Angie xo

  8. Mary Joy

    Oh wow! Your timing couldn’t be better on this subject Melissa! I scheduled myself to attack the paper monster that has grown in our dining room corner tomorrow! I just bought 2 bulletin boards to set up as a front line aid. One will be for all of the important school stuff that comes home. The other will be for the rest of the important/urgent family information. My husband has all of the bills info organized in his office and we go through them together once a month and handle them all then as much as possible.

    I was just sitting here wondering what to do with all of the owner’s manuals and then saw your answer to that in the comments…great idea! I keep them near our things but haven’t had an idea of where to keep the ones for the kids’ toys. I love the inside of the closet door solution! Thanks again for saving me right on time!!!

    I am just really getting into my Autumn nesting and want to get rid of the piles of papers that have been gathering since we moved in late spring. You are a God send!

  9. Gina

    These are great ideas! I love your idea too about taping manuals to the appliances they go with-I never thought of that but will be definitely trying this. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Marie

    I’m so impressed & inspired – must get more organized! thanks for the inspiration, Melissa.

  11. Tara G.

    One thing we do with papers that are important to reference but not so important to have the original is to scan them and file them on the computer. We put them on an external hard drive with our photos, etc. when we wipe the computer clean when we move. It’s a bit annoying (but part of our life) to come up with an organizational system/location and then have to pack and move it and start over again every few years, but that has worked for us. My kids have art lessons here weekly and I photograph each piece, let it stay around for a while, and then it’s disposed of. I have a file of their artwork and can create an album online at some point. I also have a {cute} binder where I keep my lists- to do, menu sheets, who borrowed what sheet, online orders form (to keep track), and a form that I can write the dates of our last medical/dental appts. so I know when the next can be scheduled (insurance keeps close tabs), etc.

  12. Debbie

    I am just about to tackle our paper “situation.” This couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Thanks for sharing. Love your blog!

  13. Astrid

    I struggle daily with the paper explosion mess. Some days I manage to get it under control….but not all the time.

    What do you do with paid bills (the receipts/paperwork)? I honestly cannot figure out if these are things you need to keep or if they can be tossed once the bill has been paid. (I’m thinking of utility bills or bills that get paid monthly).

    I’ll be doing some culling this afternoon.

    I also can’t figure out what to do with receipts of every day purchases. Do I need to hang on to them? Or just until they’ve cleared my bank account?

  14. Tara

    Good Morning, Melissa!
    I do things very similarly to you….we have a computer desk from Pottery Barn that we keep our family files has a built in filing system. I have a cork board (huge) above it that I call my inspiration board…it has pics that really inspire me from magazines on it…it has a pic of our family…some pictures that my kids have colored/painted…it also has a small calendar for birthdays. The cork board is too cute…made it using an old frame that I found and cork rolls that I bought at Joann’s Fabric Store.

    I also use the back of a pantry door for other papers….#’s that I need to get to quick, dates I need to remember…etc….

    I can’t wait til your next linky party….I’ll be there!

  15. Vee

    The paper chores are the worst for me. I hate dealing with any of it. I do recycle immediately. We do have an incoming and outgoing so we can find the bills. We do have a filing system. And now, blessed me, with the grands both in one school or another, I am receiving offerings. These I place on the refrigerator, where else? LOL! I hope that your son has at least one or two on yours. How else can a boy be proud of his work on the inside of a pantry door? (Unless you’re making the inside of that pantry door mighty special!)

  16. Astrid

    I have a big binder located in my filing cabinet that has all the important house related manuals. (sometimes I’ve taped them to the actual item but I’ve found it’s easier to keep them neat and clean when they’re in one location). My other trouble is all the other manuals/paperwork that comes from the smaller appliances/toys/tools.

  17. tammy

    As soon as the mail comes in I immediately shred all unnecessary paper. It is amazing how quickly that shredder gets full.

  18. Beth

    How do I deal with paper? I don’t, unfortunately. I let the mail pile up until I’m pretty sure some of those bills are late, and then power through the big pile, tossing junk, paying (hopefully not overdue) bills, and then make a new pile of paid bills/to-be-filed paperwork. I may or may not get around to filing this pile in the near future. Worst System Ever!! I always say I’m going to change, but I hate dealing with it so much, I spend the time I could be organizing–reading design blogs instead!

  19. Paige

    I have a tray right near my computer that I put papers in. Bills and things that need to be paid go in a basket in my linen closet, which is also in the computer room. Weekly I sort through it and recycle and shred. I love the organziation system from PB…such a chic way to organize!

  20. Leslie

    hello- I lOVE your blog. so tell me, where did you find that WONDERFUL huge chalkboard. it is just what i have been looking for. do the grid lines stay one, or do you have to rewrite them every time.

  21. Sandy

    Recycling all the unwanted catalogs, magazines, etc. is a must! I also pay bills online with a system like yours.
    I read awhile ago… “touch it once, and do with it what you plan to right away. It saves time and clutter!”
    That’s always in the back of my mind.

  22. Lynn from For Love or Funny

    I tend to pile paper for a while, and then it’s a huge job to go through it and organize. I like Sandy’s idea of “touch it once.” I should do that more often!

  23. Jena

    I really like your idea for a bulletin board to pin up important items. Right now, those things just hang out at the end of my kitchen counter, and it drives me crazy. I think I might steal your idea! :)

  24. Gayle

    Thanks for sharing about organization. I deal with the ‘paper’ that comes into my home in much the same way.

  25. Fiona's Mosaic

    Paper is my downfall………..hate it.

    But we did come up with something creative for sensitive papers that we need to get rid of…………….we shred them and then use them for bedding for the chickens in their nest boxes. LOL They love it!

  26. Sophie

    We have a file box in my parents’ bedroom where we keep anything we deem to be ‘important’. Passports, birth certificates, their marriage license, insurance details, bank statements… You get the idea.

    Since my older brother and I are gaining more of our own independence now (I’m 18 in 24 days! WAHOO!) we each have our own box now with all our own stuff in it. Mine’s not got a whole lot in it yet… :( But I have taken to calling my box my ‘life’ since it pretty much has every important document I need in there (:

  27. Jessica Washburn

    I’m definitely going to have to link up Friday. I love organizing!!

  28. Patricia Torres

    Oh what a lovely post!! I am eternally organising… :-)

  29. Regina Williams

    I deal with paper in a similar way to you. Although I have a guest room/office and a piece of furniture that houses cd’s, magazines, important papers, and old bills in the drawers. It looks like a regular chest of drawers, but when you open each drawer it has it’s designated clutter and papers.

    I clean out the bills drawer on a yearly basis and put those in old shoe boxes and label them as Bills/receipts 2009. I have plenty of room in my attic and that is where they go for now.

    I do this because we had an IRS audit one year and I am paranoid. Also my mother kept certain bills and it is interesting to see inflation over the years. A hospital delivery in 1983 looks much different on paper then than now.

    We also have a family magnetic/dry erase board with important numbers and information, as well as a calendar in the laundry room. I don’t know how I lived without this!

    Thanks for your ideas! Keep them coming!

  30. Bonnie

    I love your ideas to organization. I too love to break this down into steps. Very helpful!

  31. the domestic fringe

    I throw it away and then say, where was that paper…?

    I hate paper. Good ideas. I need to incorporate some of them into my home and life. Organization is a not a skill of mine. Since I began homeschooling my kids, the paper pile on my counter has shrunk considerably. I wish schools did monthly or even weekly newsletters instead of papers each day.

  32. Handy Man, Crafty Woman

    Great, simple ideas! I too, hate dealing with paper. I have ONE file drawer, everything must fit into that. I refuse to outgrow the drawer!! One thing that helps me is to file papers for just 5 minutes every day, so they don’t get out of control.

  33. Sugar Mama

    We have a huge magnetic/dry erase board that we put the most important “urgent” papers on.

    We also have two drawers for papers: one drawer is called the “school drawer” and it’s where my kids put their papers as soon as they get home from school.

    The other drawer is “mom’s drawer” and I have it organized with folders labeled, “food/coupons”, “kids papers”, “directories”, & “misc”

  34. Mrs. June Fuentes

    With a family of 10 organization is a must! I try to throw out all paper trash immediately before it finds a ‘home’ to settle in. :) Thanks for these great tips that help women to manage their homes more efficiently.

    Many blessings…

  35. Tina

    I am unorganized and my head won’t stop spinning. How do I find the best organization way for me and my life with focus and my head not spinning?

  36. lisa

    Paper is tough. But I think I have it down now. I have my house organized by areas. “Memories” = photos, cameras, sentimental items, etc. “Extra toiletries”. “Extra storage items” = unused crates, binders, baggies, etc. “Craft Items”. Etc. All of our user manuals are in a 3-ring binder by category (Electronics, Appliances, etc.) up in storage. So when it comes to our office, my hubby & I have one small file drawer (when it gets filled, it’s time to “weed”), one drawer that holds extra printer paper, etc., a shoe bag on the back of the door holds our office supplies (pens, glue, small electronics (mouse, thumb drives, etc.) out of sight and off of the desk. (Large amounts of extra office supplies are in our storage room.) How two people have so much incoming mail, I’ll never know, but we do… So I go through our mail before I even enter the house, heading directly to the dumpster in back to toss the junk mail, envelopes, & inserts. If it doesn’t enter the house, it can’t create a mess. (I also toss all receipts & packaging from shopping b/4 entering the house.) Any unopened mail goes in a large plastic envelope. Any opened mail goes into a binder (the binder has plastic page-covers labeled “bills,” “call,” “deal with,” “file,” “save temporarily,” “tickets,” etc. Even if I can’t deal with the mail right away, our desk is nice & neat, and I know exactly where to find that elusive piece of mail I need. There’s a third binder for “random pieces of paper” (also with categorized page covers). These 2 binders (and any other random items that would normally end up cluttering up the desk) go into one green fabric 12″x12″ crate. Result? A desk that is easily quickly cleared off by placing anything (which shouldn’t be much) in the crate. (Super-helpful when you have last-minute guests.) If that crate gets full, it’s time to quit procrastinating & de-clutter. (Paying all bills online helps!!!) We also “file” our tupperware. We only have one drawer where tupperware is stacked by shape. When that drawer gets full, it’s time to purge the icky & mismatching ones. The tops go into labeled ziplock bags (“small circles”, “Glad Brand,” “rectangles”, etc.). Clear shoe bags are my BFF (bathroom door for magazines, guest bedroom door for art supplies, office for office supplies, closet for socks & hosiery, etc.). So are Ziploc bags in all sizes from tiny to big enough to hold winter coats. I like every storage item to be clear, so that I can easily see things right away. By having a “categorical home” for everything, and a “system” for everything, I never have to “remember” where anything is! (Well, I don’t remember where I put that, but it’s a family heirloom, so I would’ve put it with “Memories”. BAM! There it is!)



  1. Creative Organizing Ideas for Every Room - [...] Today we are going to find inspiration to be organized, once and for all! Yay for us! If you…

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