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How to Get Rid of The Piles of Paperwork

General Organizing | Paperwork

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What NOT to Do with Household Paperwork

What commonly happens is we get tired of having paperwork laying all over the place so we create a giant pile of paperwork just to tidy up. We do this in effort to minimize visual clutter.  Just having to look at all that paperwork causes us stress. We plan to go through it later, but sometimes later comes much later than planned and the paperwork pile just keeps growing.

Meanwhile, every time we need an important piece of paper, we have to sift through the entire pile of paperwork to search for it. Time is wasted, and we may or may not find what we are looking for. If we can’t find things when we need them, stress and frustration builds.

Avoid creating piles of paperwork

The busier we are, the longer we may put off going through the pile.  Once that paperwork pile has been established, we have created a job for ourselves, going through it all and figuring out what to do with it. The bigger the pile is, the more dreaded the job.  So you don’t do yourself any favors by putting the job off. 

It’s Time to Put a Stop to the Piles of Paperwork

There are two main steps:

STEP 1.  Set up designated paperwork containers for each category of paper that comes into the house. This can be decorative bins or baskets, simple office file bins, or vertical hanging bins (see below for suggestions). It really matters less what type of container you choose and more that you like them, and that they are functional.

It is also important to place them in the right location so that they are easily accessible. You want to be able to toss paperwork into your containers with minimal effort.

STEP 2.  STOP yourself from piling all of the paperwork that comes into your home on the kitchen counter or dining room table. Instead, establish the NEW HABIT of immediately placing each piece of paper into the designated containers. Now let’s talk about what goes into those containers.

Go through your pile of paperwork and break it down into these 4 categories:

Start by sorting your paperwork into 4 simple piles, label these 4 piles with sticky notes so you don’t mix them up:

TO FILE – Paperwork that needs to be kept but not acted on. 

TO READ – Anything to read, magazines, pamphlets, etc. 

ACTION –To-Do items that need to be completed ASAP.

IMPORTANT –Anything that does not fall into the TO FILE, TO READ, or ACTION categories goes into this pile: tickets, coupons, wedding invitations, schedules, instructions, reference material, gift cards, etc. refer to the Paperwork Flowchart for more examples. This is usually anything that needs to be kept only short-term for near-future use or reference. 

Set up your workspace

As you do this job, you will want to have a couple of trash bins or boxes nearby for immediately tossing all paperwork that does not need to be kept. Label them SHRED, RECYCLE or TRASH.

If your paperwork has been sitting around for months or years…it happens, (no judgment here) then you should be able to toss a large portion of your paperwork. This is good news!

Paperwork blog

Set up and label 4 containers – TO FILE, ACTION, IMPORTANT, TO READ

Once you have eliminated the paperwork you don’t need to keep and have sorted the rest into the 4 main categories, it’s time to set up your paperwork containers. See below for container suggestions. Labeling your containers will help you quickly put paperwork where it belongs without requiring much thought. Place the TO FILE, ACTION, and IMPORTANT containers in an easily accessible location. 

The kitchen, command center, or office are all good options. If your current habit is to let paperwork pile up in the kitchen, you might want to place your containers there.  This will make practicing your new paper management system easier for yourself. Choose containers that you’ll be inspired to use. You may want them to be decorative if they will be located in a visible location.

What to do with the TO READ pile.

Depending on how big of a reader you are, you may or may not end up with multiple items in this pile. If you do, set up a bin or basket wherever you like to do your reading and place all of your reading material there.


Here comes the hardest part: Change your routine and STOP yourself from laying paperwork on kitchen or dining room surfaces. Instead, as new paperwork comes into your home, place everything into one of these 4 containers. 

The most important thing to remember is that even the best paperwork system will not work if you don’t change your current routine. Once your paper organizing system has been established, resolve to begin the using this system. Create the new routine of using the containers.  End the habit of laying paperwork down and letting it pile up on your countertop or dining room table. 

Creating the New Routine is Key

This is the pivotal turning point. Once a few weeks have passed and you have been repeatedly forcing yourself to place paperwork into the containers, you will wake up one day and realize that you are suddenly doing it without any effort.  At this point, this routine starts serving you.

Paperwork Flowchart

I have included a downloadable paperwork flow chart for you to either print or save on your computer and refer to. This flowchart includes step-by-step directions, specifying exactly what kind of paperwork goes into each container. It also has suggestions for other optional containers that might be useful depending on how your family is structured.  Instructions for emptying the containers on a regular basis are also included in the flowchart.

You might also want to temporarily post this flowchart near where paperwork tends to pile up in your house as a visual reminder for each day. The flowchart can serve as a string around the finger, reminding you and other family members to put the papers where they go instead of dumping them on the kitchen counter.

Don’t Have a Family Filing System?

Another reason that people struggle with paperwork piling up is that they have never taken the time to set up a family filing system. So as paperwork comes into the home, it backs up because there is no place for it to go. 

Though technology today has allowed us to go paper-free in many ways, there is still some paperwork that has to be filed. Every family should have a filing system, taking the time to create one will take some time to put together initially, but this time investment will serve your family for years to come.  For this reason it is well worth the effort. Once this is done, you will easily be able to clean out your TO FILE bin each month. 

Family Filing System

More help with setting up your paperwork containers

I recommend you first see what you have at home to use for the containers. Bins,  baskets, office filing trays, or vertical pockets.  Any of these will do as long as they are large enough to hold a standard-sized letter, and are at least 2 1/2 inches deep. I have also included some ideas below that have my seal of approval.

About Laura

I  am a Southern California turned small town, Midwest Mom. I am wife to Bruce and mom to my three girls.

Back when I first started my organizing journey in 2013, I had what I thought of as a dirty little secret. I have ADHD and although I am organized, and enjoy the process of sorting, and tidying. I knew that there were many others with ADHD who really struggled with staying organized. I had a case of imposter syndrome and mostly kept the fact that I had ADHD to myself. That is until I learned that there are other successful professional organizers who have also learned to compensate for their ADHD.

I eventually realized that my need for order and simplicity actually stems from having ADHD as a way to compensate for my short attention span. So my gifts and my challenges are all ironically tied together to create who I am,  and I am able to relate to and help others as a result of this coping method that I have developed for myself.

I help women and moms with ADHD, but I also help those who struggle with clutter without having ADHD.  Because simplicity and less clutter are always at the heart of staying organized, there is much overlap when it comes to finding solutions to clutter and disorganization.

I am dedicated to keeping my life as simple as possible and to helping others do the same by teaching them how to declutter their homes, simplify their lives, and manage their busy families better.

I have been helping others stay organized since 2013.

It is my deepest hope that you will find resources here that will bring you closer to living a simpler, more intentional, and more peaceful life. 

always have



in your space…

…but let it be

as simple

as a daisy

in a vase.


Hanging 3 Tiered Hanging File Holder
4 Stackable Desktop Letter Trays
Vintage Wooden Mail and Paperwork Organizer

To learn more about how to schedule an individualized virtual assessment for your unique space, visit my Virtual Organizing page. You will receive valuable transference of skills just as if we were working side-by-side. As a professional organizer with over 10 years experience I have a wealth of knowledge to share.

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  1. Laurie Ortman

    Laura helped me get my papers in order, system is working great!


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