Mum 2 Mum: How do you control the paper clutter???

home organisation

A true sign that I am well and truly pregnant was the spontaneous urge to spring clean at 10pm that occurred earlier this week. All of a sudden the clutter was driving me crazy and I just wanted it gone!  (I literally was telling Dad 101 to ‘Throw it in the bin,” every time the poor man asked me where I wanted something put!)

I am sure that we don’t have any more stuff than any other family but all of a sudden it was driving me crazy. And one of the things that is making me craziest of all is the paper clutter!  I feel like I am drowning under the weight of one hundred stacks of paper.  We seem to have piles of paper everywhere – bills to be paid, bills that have been paid, receipts and papers to keep for tax, work stuff of mine, work stuff of his, artworks of the small girl’s, random papers with recipes scribbled on them, lists, birthday cards, magazines, brochures, store catalogues, paint chip cards – all of which have a purpose but they are simply driving me insane.

I know I need a system for sorting the paper mountains but I am at a bit of a loss as to what to do.  So I need your help, how do you control the paper clutter? How do you decide what to keep? Where do you store it? How often do you file it?  And what gets filed under R for ‘rubbish’? What system works for you?


  1. I’ve got a couple of systems. Firstly I have a divided folder wallet. It has months of the year but you can also get them divided 1-31. This is where I store all my school paperwork (I have 3 kids of varying ages). All the dates go on my calender but often there is extra detail in a letter like lunch requirements for a trip or whatever. So I like to keep these things until the date has passed just in case. But they are all neatly stored away in one place.

    And then I have a series of box files in a cupboard – on a shelf would work just as well. One has all my monthly & annual household bills in it. Since I pay mostly by direct debit (I’m in the UK) I only have to keep 1 year at a time. I figure that if after that they tell me they didn’t collect the right amount of money, the onus is on them to prove it!

    A second has all my appliance info booklets and guarantees.
    A third is for all our car stuff as I often need to grab that so a separate file is easier.
    Each of my 3 children has a box file for medical papers & the like.
    I have one box file for all our birth certs, passports etc.
    Lastly one for our bank statements and credit card bills – again for the latter I only keep a year.

    Then my husband has a few for his work filing – he has his own company.

    I have one big archive box for children’s artwork. We have 3 strings on our kitchen wall, one for each child. When the artwork comes home it goes on the string and stays there until the string is full or the season passes – ie Christmas themed stuff. At this point I take it down and decide what is really worth keeping and this goes into the archive box. The rest gets recycled. Because the strings are always refilling and I do the sorting when the kids aren’t there, they don’t miss what goes. They know I have a box where I keep stuff but they aren’t interested in looking. By the time they are, they will be old enough to understand that Mummy couldn’t possibly have kept everything.

    Each of them has a smaller memory box where I’ve kept birth announcement cards, first birthday cards, newspapers from the day they were born etc. Regularly I weed these out for a similar reason. They possibly won’t even want any of it by the time it becomes theirs to own/decide about.

    The big thing to remember is that throwing stuff away does not change the memories of the event or the person. I tell that to my dd1 (5) when she comes home to tell me she got a sticker for something at school and then she notices the sticker has got lost somewhere (they really do not stick well to uniform!) I remind her that losing the sticker doesn’t take away what she did so well to get it and the same is true of the nth piece of painting or drawing that children produce!

    You can always digitally photograph stuff before it is recycled and turn it into a little photobook to keep the memories that way.


    99% of all papers fit into this system which I’ve honed over a few years. I’ve not been afraid to relabel and resort as new things occur to me. I also have 1 in tray and 1 filing tray. I can’t file as I go, it’s much easier to have a small basket and when it is full I spend 1/2 an hour at the cupboard putting it away. The intray holds everything I’ve not yet dealt with. I *try* to only touch a piece of paper once, it really focuses the mind to decide action/file/throw away the minute you see something/open something but, in reality, it’s trickier that that!

    1. “The big thing to remember is that throwing stuff away does not change the memories of the event or the person.” Such wise words 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing your system, it seems so logical.

    1. I am not sure if I am quite ready for the jump to completely paperless yet, Kim, but you have definitely given me food for thought 🙂

      1. I can understand. I’m not there yet, but it’s good to read about and know it’s possible. It sure would feel *lighter*! 🙂

  2. Anything that can be scanned, I scan and then recycle the paper version. Doesn’t solve the problem, but helps, a lot!

    1. Wow, you are good, Maryanne. Do you have a good system for backing up your computer?

  3. we have a 4 drawer metal filing cabinet (get one from ebay/gumtree). The top 2 drawers are hanging files for admin relating to the house and family (bills paid, tax, insurance, banking, medical, school) – the next one is fun (stuff collected for dream trips, house projects, ideas) the bottom one is all the user guides (sorted by room). Kids art is in a nappy box – its standing upright so i can sort through and get something for wrapping papers etc if required. When its full i do the photo and cull. B/day cards and postcards and odd photos/bits we receive are in a clear plastic box for the kids to look through whenever they feel like it. Bills to pay, cards being sent, event tickets and things to action are clipped to the calendar in the appropriate month. I try to write as much as i can on the calendar and chuck the paper. The dream is not to have a ‘deal with later’ pile…but thats hard!

    1. To not have a ‘deal with later’ pile WOULD be so ideal, Michelle. Unfortunately, everything that comes in here seems to fall in that pile! LOL I am interested to know, how often do you cull from your filing cabinet? Especially those top two drawers?

      1. i haven’t had to do a major culling exercise it just happens bit by bit b/c the files aren’t overwhelming. We have a lot of files to separate everything out, but not much in each one. Everything goes in the front of the file so its naturally date ordered and you can see old stuff is at the back of the file and quickly cull. Theres a lot of room in the drawer to push files back so you can get a good look in your file without taking it out..or you can easily take it out and put it back in. (we had a 2 drawer & everything was squashed and a nightmare…you didn’t want to go near it). the 2 most handy files have been ‘tax stuff this yr’ for all the random receipts you get during the yr (you have to sort it at yr end but at least they aren’t in a diary, in the car, on the fridge etc) and ‘receipts’ for major purchases. Both of you have to do it…my husband kept leaving me papers to file for him and i soon put a stop to that !!

  4. I need to pay attention to all the replies here, as we are in the same boat…piles of bits of paper everywhere, on the kitchen table, little pieces on the microwave, pinned to the calendar, next to both the computers, in the lounge room, little bits on the floor here and there, on it goes and yes it drives me CRAZY! oh, I nearly forgot…the kitchen drawer from hell – which is the worst! I cant even bare to open that drawer. And god forbid when I actually need to find something important i go into meltdown mode!
    Added to this my 2 year old’s newest favourite game of scribbling on a little note pad then tearing off each page and scattering them about the house…ugh!

  5. Amanda Eastment says:

    No advice here….I’m just as bad!!!

  6. I’m with Maryanne. My husband is in the paperless camp. Memorabilia gets scanned. Artwork that I love gets photographed or scanned and then recycled. Bills are all done online. I think the only bill we get in the mail is our HOA bill.

    We have one small file cabinet with very few items in it (medical info, passports, etc.). The only paper clutter we have is a few boxes of files from when I was teaching. I go through them probably every summer and toss more and more things.

    I have one drawer that has paper clutter that I need to deal with… but that’s it. I highly recommend doing stuff paperless. It feels like a huge weight to get rid of piles, files, and boxes!!

    1. I am not sure if I am brave enough to go paperless, Kristina. I have had my computer stolen before (and we all know technology can fail). Do you have a system for backing up regularly?

      1. Several external hard drives that are on a regular backup cycle and lots of stuff stored in several spots on “the cloud.” I actually have very little on my computer. With natural disasters likely here in California, I actually feel more comfortable with it all on the cloud and in online storage than in my house 🙂

        Good luck with decluttering!! My kiddos are still little, so I think things will probably change when they are bringing home more stuff and I’ll have to find a way to keep more of it… though I will prob still just take pictures. I am so lame.

        1. I like this. I hate paper clutter and my filing system tends to be mostly the trash, which drives my accountant husband CRAZY. I want us to get on board with this system though because it would make us both happy!

      2. You have a Mac don’t you Christie? If so just buy an external hard drive and plug it in. Time machine takes care of everything – completely awesome. When I changed from using my Macbook to iMac as my main computer, I simply plugged the external hard drive into the brand new iMac, it asked me did I want to bring across everything from the Macbook, I said yes and we were done in a couple of hours!

  7. We have a file box with a file for each person to keep stuff they need often or soon, then a to file, receipts, to pay, recipes/coupons, and a phone book file. I file the “to file” folder every couple of weeks, it takes just a few minutes to put the paper where it goes. We have big lateral file cabinet that is dedicated to filing all our papers to keep for a couple of years. We have to keep all our tax information/receipts for 7 years, so after awhile we box all that stuff up and keep it in file boxes in the basement. We are trying this year to scan all of our receipts, but I am having anxiety thinking of throwing all the business related receipts out… those may be filed too. 🙂 I have an In/Out bin on the wall (file folder holders) where things that come in the mail and I can’t deal with it at the moment get put until I can get to dealing with everything.

    My kiddos are small, so I have a plastic 12×12 scrapbooking case for each of them for each year they have been alive… as this gets a little overwhelming, I will try to go through and consolidate 2 years per box or something like that.

    Great ideas!

    1. Thanks for sharing your system, Emily. I too get nervous about throwing away important receipts, especially those related to tax.

  8. I am awful with paper and I know there is no way I will keep up filing things straight away, or just putting stuff into several folders. So I bought a very pretty box which stands in our hallway and I put everything into it that we might need to keep. Twice a year – or when the box is full – I sort through it and file the stuff we really do need to keep. It is a very simple system, takes no time, is realistic for a messy person like me and helps me to find things when I need them.

    1. Sounds like a simple solution, sometimes they can be the best ones of all 🙂

  9. Love the photo and so glad to hear that I am not the only one! Thanks for all of the great suggestions 🙂

    Ahhh those pre-baby nesting instincts – what a wonderful time…

    1. I knew I couldn’t be the only one, Mariah 🙂 Not sure that I am quite ready for the paperless systems some of the comments suggest though!

  10. I am so with you on this! Mail might be one of my least favorite things. I don’t know how people deal with it. My problem has always been that I have a small filing cabinet in our upstairs office in which I keep all of the important paperwork, but I can never manage to bring the mail upstairs and file it away as it comes in. You’d think I could, but it’s proven impossible. So, my latest solution has been to keep a smaller file box with labeled folders in a kitchen closet. When the mail comes in, I recycle whatever I don’t need, open the rest, and then sort it into my little file box. I have a folder for credit card/bank statements (even though I go paperless for most of these things), tax info, house stuff (repair bills, etc.), product instructions, etc. My very first folder is for things I need to deal with soon, like bills. Once the folder in the little box get full, I’ll bring everything upstairs and add them to our office files. I’ve really liked this system so far. It doesn’t necessarily eliminate the paperwork, but it does keep it organized and, most importantly, off my kitchen counter!

    As for attempts to go paperless, I do most of my bill paying and banking that way. I also try to cancel catalogs that I never look at or need. For my kids’ artwork, I’ve told myself that we’ll keep things for a little while, but then I’ll take pictures of things, recycle them, and make a photo book of their work. We’ve got a big cork board to hang things on as they come in or are done. As for the photo book of their artwork, I try to add it to a project (on Snapfish or a similar site) every few months so that I won’t be left trying to make an album of three years worth of artwork all at once. I’m doing the same thing for our regular photos with the hope of making an album for each year. I’m just starting those projects, but I’m hoping it will help.

    Good luck!!

    1. We are just about to have our kitchen renovated, Lauren, and I will have enough space to keep a small box file in one of the cupboards 🙂 Thank you so much for this suggestion.

      As for Snapfish, I always have great intentions for creating photobooks but I never quite get there 🙁

  11. My golden rule is no double handling. Deal with each and every single piece of paper only once (I don’t put it in a pile to do something with it later – that pile just seems to attract other bits of paper) . I either file it, display it (if it is children’s art work) or bin it. I find if I start piling it up it just accumulates and it becomes a massive job to sort through it all.

    1. That’s a good rule. Piles are so easy to add to. We had that issue with mail, so we opted-out of things like credit card offers, magazines, etc. Otherwise, we would have a huge pile of junk mail!

  12. I use binders. I have binders for Sophie’s artwork that we want to keep, and a binder for medical info and a binder for bills. I filter through the medical and bill binders every so often and get rid of any papers that are irrelevant.

    Mail was a big issue, so we opt’ed out of credit card offers, magazines etc.

    I know what you mean. Even though I do the binders, still I have some excess paper to deal with!

  13. Veronica @ Mixed Gems says:

    I get the nesting urge because I had it bad just over a year ago before bub was born. But I don’t need to be pregnant to hit that threshhold. I don’t have perfect solutions and none really for a hubby averse to organising his paperwork, and his office desk is eorde than his home desk! I try to avoid double handling, file things either immediately or pile them to file in one go when the pile is too big. I also try to keep everything in one or two main folders near each other so I know the paperwork is in one main place rather than scattered everywhere. I do some things paperless but not enough. I am a bit sentimental with things and Hsve been known to keep trip receipts from my favourite restaurant meal in Hawaii or art gallery ticket stub from the British Museum. Kid’s artwork is also a problem though I have tarted scanning and culling. I am sure systems will have to change as the little ones grow and, hopefully, once I get hubby on board. Wish me luck! Wishing you luck too!

  14. I am trialling a couple of new systems in our house at the moment. My one important rule is to touch it only once. Eg don’t pick up the school notes and read them, then put them back down to fill in later. I don’t pick them up until the end of the day when I know I can action them.

  15. I am working on this same thing myself. Two helpful resources I found are the book Organizing for Your Brain Type and the Honoring Kids Artwork series at the Modern Parents Messy Kids blog.

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