5 Steps To Set Up A Paper Decluttering System

Stop Drowning In Paper Piles!

One of the best home organization decisions I ever made was coming up with a system to eliminate all of the paper piles that were accumulating all over my house. Are you drowning in paper piles? If the answer is yes, then it may be time to finally get serious about paper clutter organization.
Are you drowning in paper piles? If you're ready to get serious about paper clutter organization, you must check out these 5 practical steps to set up a decluttering system for eliminating all of those paper piles.

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Most people give up on organizing their paper clutter before they even get started. Wanna know why?


That’s right, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of clutter that already exists in your home that it prevents you from ever getting started.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is this one by Mark Twain: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” This is my go-to quote to get motivated whenever I’m starting a new project.

For years, my idea of having a paper organization system was to move paper from one pile to another.

Sound familiar?

Well, if you’re ready to get serious about tackling those paper piles, these five steps will show you how to set up a paper decluttering system in your home.

Step One: Determine Your Paper Clutter Organization Needs

In Step One, you are going to take an inventory of the paper piles accumulating in your home. This step shouldn’t take you very long at all.

I’d recommend thinking about the paper piles in terms of people or categories.

For example, I had a mail pile, a papers-my-children-brought-home-from-school pile, an artwork pile, a bills-that-need-to-be paid pile, a things-that-need-to-be-dealt-with-soon-but-not-yet pile, a things-that-need-to-be-dealt-with-ASAP pile, a to-be-filed pile, a to-be-scanned pile, an “I don’t know what to do with this paper!” pile, and the list goes on.

Once you’ve taken an inventory of all of your piles and put them into categories, you can begin the process of decluttering.

This process begins with creating dedicated space for all of that paper. That’s right, you’re going to create a home for them.

Step Two: Set Up File Folders For Each Person/Category

In Step Two, you’ll set up file folders for your paper. I like to use the assorted color folders to help me stay organized.

The way I’ve set up my paper decluttering system is to have a file folder for each category, plus a file folder for each person in our home. I also have a place to store the file folders – a file folder box with a handle and a wall mounted file holder that I keep just above my desk.

I like the file folder box with a handle because I can carry it around with me. It allows me to quickly file papers as I accumulate them. Each day, I load the box up with mail or other miscellaneous papers as I receive them. Then I take the box to my desk each night to put the papers in the appropriate folders for processing.

Unless it’s a paper that must be dealt with in the next day or so, I review my file folders once a week during my weekly review (I’ll get to the weekly review in just a minute).

My system includes the following folders:

  • One for each person (I label these with each family member’s name): I put schoolwork, artwork, or extracurricular information in these folders
  • A to-be-filed folder (I label this one “File”): I file these papers once a week during my weekly review
  • A to-be-scanned folder (I label this one “Scan”): these are scanned and shredded once a week
  • A daily review folder (labeled “Daily Review”): I review this one each night. It could include papers that need to be sent to school with my kids the next day or anything I want to make sure is on my radar in the next day or so.
  • A weekly review folder (I label this one “Weekly Review”): I put papers in this folder that I need to address this week, but not today.
  • A to-be-dealt-with-soon folder (I simply label this “Soon”): these include papers that I’ll need to deal with soon, but not this week, like registration forms for summer school.
  • A bills folder (I label this “Bills”): this gives me a place to keep all of our paper bills
  • A taxes folder: (I label this “[year] Tax Stuff): this gives me a place to put all of the tax-related stuff, like charitable contributions

These are my main categories, but I also have folders for certain accounts, vehicles, warranties, schools, etc.

I keep these other file folders in my permanent filing cabinet. Once a week I take the items from my “File” folder and file them in my filing cabinet.

Okay, now that you’ve created homes for all of the paper in your house, it’s time to start collecting it!

Step Three: Start Collecting All That Paper

Alright, you’ve come up with your system, in Step Three, you’re going to start to implement it.

This is the part that can feel overwhelming. Here’s the way I recommend you deal with the overwhelm:

  1. First, gather these three essential items: a garbage bag, a recycling bag, and your file folders.
  2. Grab a bin or laundry basket and go around the house collecting all of the paper. If you come across something that needs to be dealt with within the next week, keep it in a separate box or bag.
  3. Set aside blocks of time to sort the papers. I recommend 15-30 minutes at a time 1-2 times a day for as long as it takes. You’ll stay motivated if you treat it like an appointment.
  4. Start sorting the items you put in the separate box or bag first, so you don’t miss any important deadlines. Then tackle the bin or laundry basket.

The key to your success is breaking this project down into manageable blocks of time, and not letting too much time pass between these blocks of time.

You’ll begin to lose motivation if you don’t stay on track, so add these blocks of time to your calendar and treat them like an appointment. Play some music or listen to an audiobook if it will help you to stay focused on these tasks.

Step Four: Invest In A Scanner And A Shredder

With all of your paper sorted, in Step Four, you can begin filing, shredding, scanning or calendaring.

You may have huge piles in some of these categories, and that’s okay.

Try scheduling longer blocks of time to stay focused on getting through these larger piles, like filing or shredding. In my house, we try to be as paperless as possible, so if there’s a paper that we don’t absolutely need, we toss it or scan and shred it.

Once you get through these larger piles, you’re ready for maintenance. That’s where the weekly review comes into play.

Step Five: Set Up A Weekly Review

When you make it to Step Five, you can congratulate yourself! You will have a paper decluttering system in place.

To keep your paper decluttering system up and running, you’ll need to have a weekly review. Your weekly review is when you’ll review each of the file folders you set up in Step Two.

During your review, you’ll spend time processing the folders by reviewing, calendaring, filing, scanning, and shredding all of the paper you’ve accumulated during the week.

I can usually get through my weekly review in about 30-60 minutes. Pick a day and time for your weekly review each week and treat it like an appointment.

That’s it!

Recap Of The Supplies You’ll Need To Set Up Your System

Here’s a quick recap of the supplies you’ll need to set up your paper decluttering system:

  • Color File Folders: I prefer the assorted colored folders so I can assign colors to family members or categories.
  • File Folder Labels: I usually use Sharpies to write on the labels, but you can print on the labels if you prefer.
  • File Folder Storage: I have two places where I store my file folders. In a file folder box with a handle (so I can easily carry it around the house as needed) and in a wall mounted file holder for the folders I review during my weekly review.
  • Scanner: I love the ScanSnap iX500. It’s a little pricey, but we’ve had ours for several years, and we use it at least once a week. Plus, it’s a super fast scanner and doesn’t take up a lot of desk space.
  • Shredder: It’s always a good idea to shred papers that have sensitive personal information on them. I have a pretty heavy duty shredder, but you might be able to get away with a less expensive one.

A paper decluttering system will lead to many positive benefits in your life. Not only does it keep you organized, but it reduces stress and overwhelm. You’ll be freeing up space in your brain to focus on the things that matter most to you!

I know you can do it! Just remember that getting started is the hardest part.

I’d love to hear your tips on how you organize the paper in your home in the comments section below!

Happy paper decluttering!

With Love and Joy,

Are you drowning in paper piles? If you're ready to get serious about paper clutter organization, you must check out these 5 practical steps to set up a decluttering system for eliminating all of those paper piles.

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