Paper Problems

File boxes are “Bisgo” from the Container Store; the top boxes hold receipts, clipped articles and Christmas cards, the bottom file boxes contain kids’ artwork

“Touch paper once” is the organizers’ mantra.  But if it doesn’t come naturally to you- or even if it does, that paper piles up quickly.


Mail, cards, school stuff, permission slips, magazines, coupons, work papers, invitations…. AUGH!

If you have a paper problem, then it’s likely you have habits that need to be broken and/ or need a system for your stuff.  I know, when you’re first tackling this it will seem really annoying, time consuming and frustrating.  But once you get rid of your current paper and get your new system in order, the hope is that you will not have to deal with this again. (Really!)

As you read through the list, think about your tendencies.  Are you reading “get rid of catalogs” and thinking:”well I love to look through catalogs, I only have a few” (when really you have 10 in your living room, 6 on your bedside, 8 in the kitchen, 4 by your desk…).

If you have piles and piles of papers, magazines, 2 year old birthday cards, birth announcements and wedding invitations- is this paper making you happy?  Would you miss it in a year?  A day?  Probably not!!!  Get rid of it.  Start fresh.

Clear your palette.

Start fresh. Depending on how many old papers you have, give yourself an hour or two (or three) to go through the paper you have accumulated.  You’ll need a bin for recycling, your calendar and a thin folder for the things you absolutely need to keep. Get rid of every single thing possible- old magazines, newspapers, catalogs- even if you think you will read it (you likely won’t). You have to start from a zero paper scenario.

The goal is to really only “touch paper once”. Meaning, you receive it and then it goes right where it is supposed to.  Do not put it in a pile, do not put it in a file system on your counter (trust me, not a good idea), and do not put it in a basket for later.  If you aren’t used to doing this, I KNOW it sounds weird (and cumpulsive, right?) but I promise you that if you do this, you will be saving time in the long run.  If you work hard for a couple weeks to create new habits, they will come naturally in time.

Here we go. (yay?)

Your system:

  1. Magazines, Periodicals, Catalogs, Newspapers. Did you really wanted to look through that JCrew mag?  Trust me, more will come (like weekly, remember?) and you can always browse online.  Did you really want to get to the Style Section in the NYT?  Also online- make a note in your calendar (like “NYT article on travel tips 2/15”).  If you tend to keep these things, this is where you need to make a change. Maybe in a few months you will feel that you earned back your privilege to save a newspaper section for later on in the week- but now, we purge it all.  You have to start fresh. Get rid of every catalog, every old newspaper. When is the last time you looked back and wish you had February’s “look book”???  If you are a magazine reader, get a magazine rack and keep it near your bed, your couch or wherever you do your reading.  Go through the magazine every week or so and put stuff in recycling. I really would discourage keeping catalogs- they pile up quickly.  You can browse these stores online and do you really want more stuff anyway?? If you keep newspapers for kindling, have a basket next to your fireplace where they go.  Make sure it’s the right size or this area will look like a disaster as well.
  2. Kid’s artwork?  See my recent post on organizing kid’s art.
  3. Not your mail?  I stick my husband’s mail in his work bag, or his desk- my kids get their cards on the dining table (then we recycle).  Some people like mail bins and baskets.  We live in a small space and this type of thing makes my home feel cluttered-  but if you do like to have a mail depository, make sure you still are going through this mail every day- even before you stick it in the bin.  Same purge rules apply or this will become just one more thing you have to declutter/ organize every week. Few bins/ slots are better.  This vintage mail holder from Etsy is cute (and reminds me of my Grandma!). il_570xn-862610339_gxmp
  4. Bills.  If you can’t pay them right away, stick the bills in your calendar book (or a bin/ holder) and do it next time you have 10 mins.  If someone else pays the bill, see #4.
  5. Invitations, Birthday cards, permission slips, school notes, etc.  Sign slips and put in your child’s backpack.  RSVP to invites right away and if you’re not sure, put it in your calendar (for ex. “RSVP for E’s party by today”).  If you hang invites/ cards on fridge or cork board, take down some older papers first. We have a corkboard in our kitchen to display cards, some art, notes and invites. When I put cards up, I take cards down. Nobody cares that you didn’t keep their birthday hanging around for 3 weeks.
  6. Coupons. I am not a big coupon clipper, and if you are you probably already have a system in place.  But if you’re not a professional couponer but keep a few (bed bath and beyond, shutterfly, etc) and don’t really have a system, here are a couple tips:
    1. Coupons for “real” stores: keep a manilla envelope in your glove box and stick store coupons in there.
    2. Online coupons: keep a small folder or envelope at your desk.  You don’t need anything big!!  Coupons expire quickly and this is another clutter creator.
    3. Or, take pictures of the coupon codes and email them to yourself and file them that way (“coupons” folder in gmail, for example).
  7. Receipts. There are entire posts dedicated to receipt organization but I’ll just list a few points here:b82cee38-58b6-46a6-9960-e5c7e14c049d
    1. Go paperless!  Go paperless wherever you can- many stores offer email receipts instead of paper ones, take them up on it!  Check every bill you get in the mail from now on and see if there is a paperless option.
    2. Scan and save.  I love JotNot for receipts that I need (or think I need) to keep.  The app is free for the basic version and you can scan your receipt and email it to yourself then save in a “Receipts” file. This will literally take you 60 seconds to do.
    3. Forever receipts vs. current receipts.  You know the ones you want to keep “forever”- the couch, refrigerator, computer, new dishwasher… and if you ordered them online, you can already easily file them in your email.  Even if you made a local purchase you can request that they email a receipt, which can cut out a step for you.  Otherwise, scan (jot not!) those big ticket receipts and file them in your email.  For tax purposes, put in an email Tax folder.  This is easy, right?   The current receipts can be kept in a small bin in your kitchen or desk- small so you go through it frequently.  A folder, envelope, or a magnetic bin for your refrigerator is easy too.
    4. CLEAN YOUR WALLET.  Are you always struggling to close your wallet?  Do papers get caught in your zipper every time you close it?  CLEAR THESE RECEIPTS OUT.  You only need a couple- maybe the shirt you know you’re returning, the Home Depot receipt for the nails you are going to use- but most of these receipts are probably gas, groceries, a coffee- throw them out.  You can do this in the car at school pick up, waiting for the train.  Find the time, do it.  Then follow steps 1-3 above.


There are a million different cubbies and desktop organizers, bins and files (thank you Pinterest and Pottery Barn?) for your papers and cards and lists.  But even if you have the space to do this, you HAVE to put your paper in order before you will be able to use one correctly.  If you don’t have a system, if you don’t know how to let go of things- your adorable paper office nook will be come a dumping ground for your entire family.  You know what I’m talking about.

So, before you buy any of this organizing stuff and as you continue down this paper purging journey think about how much of your home you want to commit to keeping and displaying birthday cards and doctor bills.







About livewellround

I am a yogi, vegetarian, runner, reader, snowboarder, martini-lover inspired by nutrition, health, yoga, politics, organizing, simple living, cooking and all things "healthy and well". I believe in a well rounded lifestyle and the importance of friends, family, fun, social service, travel and the pursuit of knowledge!
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