31 Days of Decluttering, Day 11: Paper, Paper, Paper

Are you decluttering your home, too? I’d love to be able to share your success story with other KOAB readers! Please consider submitting the before & after pictures of your decluttering project — you can do so HERE.

Clearing the Paper Clutter

I have a problem. A paper problem.

See this stack? This stack piled up in just one week. *Sigh*

A quick Google search of “how do I organize all the paper in my house” nets tens of thousands of returns. I guess there’s some comfort in knowing I’m not the only one with this problem?

After giving this some serious thought, I’ve come to realize that the root of our paper problem is three-fold:

#1. There’s Too Much Paper Coming In the House

The two main sources of paper clutter at our house are the mail box and my kids’ school bags. Since telling my kids to stop bringing stuff home might seem unsupportive 😉 , I figured I’d better focus on the mail issue.

As much as possible, I try to get all of our financial statements and bills online. If you aren’t already doing this, that’s a good place to start! Some utility companies will even give you a credit on your next bill to move to paperless. (We got a $10 gift card from AT&T for going paperless.)

But what about all the “junk mail”? I just opted out of commercial mail at the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service (MPS). The opt-out is good for five years and it may take several weeks to go into effect.

Want to stop all the credit card offers? (I shred more of those than anything else – but not anymore!) You can either call 1-888-567-8688 or go online to http://www.optoutprescreen.com to choose a five-year removal. (To get a permanent removal, you need to send in a letter.)

{And while you’re at it, you may want to sign up for the Do Not Call list. No, unwanted phone calls aren’t paper clutter, but they are another unnecessary intrusion into your day, which distracts and drains your energy!}

#2. There’s Not an Effective System for Dealing with the Paper

Sorting the paper into piles

I went thru that big pile of paper on my desk today and created five sub-piles:

  • To shred (which my daughter did for me right away — I’m lucky to have such a good helper at home on her winter break!)
  • To file
  • To pay
  • To deal with ASAP
  • To scan — I’m moving our small business over to being as paperless as possible, so when receipts or other papers come into the house, I scan them rather than filing them. This is a relatively new endeavor – at the recommendation of my accountant — so when I get a better handle on how we’re organizing our digital files, I’ll let you know how it’s going.

Organize Paper Files

Next, I made four actual files for each of these piles — and put them in a file box I already had on hand. Of course, just creating the files isn’t a system – it’s a place holder. My plan for making sure that this actually works to tame the paper clutter is:

(a) to go through the paper daily and sort it into one of those four folders (or shred it right away… letting the shredding build up is a real problem of mine!) and

(b) to set aside 15 minutes, Monday thru Thursday, to deal with one of the folders. Monday will be for filing, Tuesday for paying bills, Wednesday for scanning, etc.

Again – this is the plan; how it works out remains to be seen, but I’ll be sure to report back either way.

#3. The Paper Isn’t Getting Dealt With Daily

I read an article by Peter Walsh about keeping an organized desk and in it, he said: “…the single most important thing you can do to be organized [is to] set aside ten minutes at the end of the day to clean your desk and get ready for tomorrow.”

In other words – don’t let it pile up! This is so important – not just for the paper clutter, but for the whole house. It’s all well and good to declutter the toy closet or the nightstand, but if we don’t do the daily maintenance, that space is going to be a mess again before we know it. Just like with laundry and dishes, the “stuff” — whether toys or paper or clothing – is never “done”. If we use it, we have to deal with it daily.

My husband and I are pretty good about opening the mail and sorting thru the kids’ backpacks each day; and I do at least recycle the junk (or put the junk with our personal details on it in the “to be shredded” pile).

The problem is the stuff that needs to be dealt with in some way – signed, paid, filed, read in more depth, etc. Those papers are the ones that get piled up on my desk, until I remember – “Oh shoot, I need to pay our property tax bill by tomorrow!” That’s what I’m hoping will be solved by the four-folder system above! Wish me luck. 😉

Do you have a great system that works for your paper clutter? I’d love to hear about it? And if you’re joining in with me on this 31 Days of Decluttering challenge, I want to know: What did you declutter today?

31 Days of Decluttering

Do you, too, feel the need to get a better handle on the stuff in your house? Join me for the 31 Days of Decluttering challenge! Maybe you’re willing to take on one project a day (remember: small ones count!). Perhaps you’d rather pick four problem areas, and give yourself a week to work on each one. Maybe you just want to tackle your basement for once and for all. It’s all good! Everyone is welcome to join.

Day One: Decluttering the Toy Storage Closet
Day Two: Decluttering the Top of a Bedroom Dresser (Finish What You Start!)
Day Three & Four: Decluttering the Master Bathroom
Day Five: Decluttering My Desk
Day Six: Join the Decluttering Challenge
Day Seven: Decluttering the Computer
Day Eight: Decluttering the Night Stand
Day Nine: Decluttering a Kitchen Counter in Less than 10 Minutes
Reader Share: Decluttering the Front Door Hallway Table
Day Ten: Decluttering a Bedroom Closet




  1. There is a great app called CamScanner that has changed our lives! You can scan straight from your phone, saves us time and it works better for odd shaped items.

    • Mara Strom says:

      I have a different scanner app, but you’re right — it’s awesome! When I was selling my house this summer, I used that thing so many times! Great tip!

  2. Do you have any tips for decluttering and organizing coupons? Between printable coupons, circulars, and all the other sources and types of coupons, it’s hard to keep them from becoming a huge mess.

  3. Good to know everyone has these problems. I feel like I have 30 yrs to clean up. I’m generally a neat person, but after having over a dozen kids in the last 29 yrs B”H, I feel like I have to catch up now. The desk, the basement, the clothing boxes, the boxes I haven’t unpacked since I moved six years ago… the file cabinets..I think it would take a week to do each one, full time! But at least I’m thinking about it now!

    • Mara Strom says:

      Thinking about it is a great first step! Don’t be afraid to dive in and start anywhere. I find that smaller projects make this whole thing much more manageable! Good luck!!!

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