Getting rid of Paper Clutter

Some of you (okay, maybe just me) may have had a problem with stacking papers all over a table and losing it when you need it the most.

Where the papers should be

Those papers should have a place, either in your office, filed away, or waiting to be dealt with.

What you need

A filing system. Either filing folders, filing cabinets or some sort of container that you can put large pieces of paper in, to contain the mess.

You can buy some file folders for cheap (Ikea sells cute ones) or some prettier ones from See Jane Work, and line them up beside each other on a bookshelf or on a table, or in your office.

What your filing system should be:

There are two paper areas you have to be concerned with:

Currently Dealing With papers and Filed Away For Reference papers.

1. Currently Dealing With (CDW) papers

These are papers you need to still take an action on. Either to call back, make a note about, enter into your calendar, or fill out.

2. Filed Away for Reference (FAR) papers

These are papers that you need to keep, but don’t have any other actions to take on them. This includes taxes, bank statements you’ve paid, or cute invitation cards you want to keep.

1. Start with the Currently Dealing With (CDW) papers

You want to have these papers close on hand to where you normally work. Either in your office, kitchen or living room area. Wherever.

You want to have them contained and not flying all over the place, or being chewed up by the dog.

And you want to be able to find them easily, and to reach them easily.

Please, nothing along the lines of a complicated string or lock system.

Just a simple reach and grab.

My solution would be to have 3 containers to hold your papers, and here are some options depending on your preference and available space:

Best if you have the space and like to see your papers neatly stacked in front of you

Thomas Paul Inbox Tray - $13.50

Thomas Paul Inbox Tray - $13.50

Best if you don’t have any space AT ALL, and like things OFF your surfaces.

Wall Mount Organizer - $48

Wall Mount Organizer - $48

Best if you have limited space, but you want to be able to rifle through your papers easily

Semikolon Magazine Box - $18

Semikolon Magazine Box - $18

Now that you have your containers, you will need to label each one like this:

  • Personal: Events you’ve been invited to, reminders to get your teeth cleaned, etc.
  • Office: Work-related things, such as having to fill out that automatic retirement form, or a reminder to fill out your annual review
  • Very Important: Things you MUST reply to immediately, like within the day or week or you are going to get a big fat fine, or miss a big soiree.

I suggest keeping it simple, so that you don’t have to wonder where each paper goes. If “Office” is too specific for you, make it “Office & Business”, or whatever you’d like. Just keep it to 4 boxes or less. 3 is ideal.

How to use these CDW containers

Every time a piece of mail comes in, open it, throw away the envelope and file it into these containers.

Every time you look or touch a piece of loose paper (scraps, large pieces, whatever) you left in your purse, file it into these containers.

Always keep your Very Important container CLEAN. Those are the important Must-Do-Right-Away papers, after all.

Every time you take out a piece of paper in the CDW, take an action on it immediately and DO NOT FILE IT BACK into those folders.

  • Make a note in your To Do List then Trash or File it into your Filed Away for Reference (FAR) Box
  • Make a note in your Calendar and then Trash or File it into your Filed Away for Reference (FAR) Box
  • Call the person/company right away
  • Fill out the form right away
  • Trash it immediately

Now, instead being frantic that you may have thrown out a government cheque along with last night’s scraps, you can find everything and keep it contained.

It also helps you to avoid procrastination. And if you don’t want to do anything that day, because you’re busy (*cough*), then leave the boxes alone.

Just remember, if you leave the boxes alone for too long, that’s also going to make you miss your deadlines or put off saving for your retirement.

2. End with the Filed Away for Reference (FAR) papers

These papers are what you want to keep for whatever reason after you have to dealt with them in your CDW boxes.

Now, I am not a paper person. I hate papers. But if you are a paper person, great.

If you are like me, you should try scanning in everything you can instead of filing them away for reference.


Some papers DO require that you keep the original hard copy, so I’d still suggest making a scanned copy of it (in case of emergencies/fire/water damage) and keep the original hard copy copy filed away.

What papers and documents do I need to keep a hard copy of?

Rule of thumb: When in doubt, keep it until further notice.

  • Papers for tax deductions & verifications
  • Medical Records such as Immunization Records, Illnesses, History of Medications, etc (Does not include medical bills)
  • Warranties and Manuals (Keep only your language with the receipt stapled and organize by type such as Kitchen, Outdoor, Appliances, Electronics)
  • Home & Property Deed Information
    Legal Documents
  • Insurance Policies
  • Credit History Reports
  • Social Security Summaries
  • Investments
  • Receipts for Returns or Tax Purposes

What do I need to organize my FAR papers?

A filing cabinet or portable box that can hold a lot of papers. Here are some options:

Best if you want something that isn’t too fussy or boring. It’s also easily portable, as it has handles.

Oilcloth Accordion File - $60

Oilcloth Accordion File - $60

Best if you want something that can hold a lot of papers. These expandable file folders are also easier to rifle through, and you don’t have to fight with keeping it open as with the other two options.

See Jane Work Basics File Box - $20

See Jane Work Basics File Box - $20

Best if you want something really portable. It turns into a tote you can sling over your shoulder and carry, if need be.

Bella Leather Expandable Tote - $96

Bella Leather Expandable Tote - $96

What should be my labeled filing categories?

Whatever makes sense to you!

I would suggest the following as a start:

  • Taxes (Each tax year should have its own folder and be labeled)
  • Health & Medical Records
  • Insurance Papers (Home, Apartment, Car)
  • Government Records (Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Social Insurance Number, Driver’s License Papers)
  • Home & Property Deed Information (Original signed mortgage papers as well)
  • Bank Statements
  • Investments/Retirement Accounts/Credit History
  • Warranties & Manuals (In your preferred language, with the original receipt stapled to them)
  • Events & Invitations (Wedding cards or other sentimental items)

How do I use these containers?

When you are done with your Currently Dealing With (CDW) papers, and you want to file them away for future reference, I’d suggest filing them here.

I would also keep any piece of important paper filed away in this box, so you have ONE spot to look for your birth certificates or other important documents.

Final Words

Now that you have a system in place, you will never have to look for important documents or your mail.

You will touch a piece of loose paper and know where to file it immediately instead of leaving it around the home – you either file it in your CDW containers, or away in your FAR filing cabinet.

You will stay organized by taking action IMMEDIATELY on any piece of paper you touch (Take action, Trash or File it).

And you will feel a thousand times more organized and sexy.

About the Author

I'm a 20-something year old girl who lived out of a single suitcase in 2007, and now I'm living with less, but only with the best. You don't have to get rid of everything to become a minimalist! Minimalism can help simplify and organize your life, career, & physical surroundings. You can read more about me as a minimalist. Or come and visit my other blog Fabulously Broke in the City where I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months, earning $65,000 gross/year.