Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How We Deal with Paper Clutter

Seth and I recently got around to setting up our office organization system in the new house so I thought I'd share it with you.  For months in our first house, we used the dining room table as our "drop zone" and it was constantly cluttered with mail and receipts. If guests were coming over, we would scurry around trying to recycle, file, and shred as necessary until the mountain of paper was cleared and we could let people in the house sans embarrassment.  I'm pretty sure that the inspiration for our system came from Better Homes and Gardens, but when I try to find it on their website, I can't.  I saved the pages that I ripped out of the magazine for awhile, but I have since thrown them away.  Oh, well.

There are a two basic components to our mail organization system (I'll get to what we do with our receipts in a bit) - our "inbox" and our "action files".  The inbox is pretty self-explanatory.  All of our mail goes into our inbox.  Sometimes we are busy and every item of mail from that day goes into the inbox without a second glance.  Other times we sort through it and recycle the junk mail before placing the rest of it inside the inbox.

Multiple times a week we go through the inbox and place everything into one of our action files.  These are labelled "do now", "do later", "pending", and "file".  
  • Do Now - Items here are things that need attention within the week.  This file should be checked multiple times a week.
  • Do Later - Items in this file are things that need attention within the month.  It should be checked weekly and items transferred to the Do Now file as needed.
  • Pending - Items in this file are things for which we are awaiting a response (ex. rebates that we've mailed in but are waiting on the check).  This file is checked as needed and items can be moved to the File spot as needed.
  • File - Items here are things that need to be transferred to the correct spot in our filing cabinet.  Ideally, this is emptied monthly.

The label template is from Better Homes and Gardens.  I printed the labels on cardstock and hung them with some raffia I had leftover from our wedding.  It's funny what random leftover wedding stuff I have lying around.  I guess it's useful at times like this.  This system has worked well for us.  The piles of mail on the dining room table, kitchen counters, coffee table, etc are now a thing of the past (um...for the most part).  I admit that I sometimes forget to check the files and organize things in a timely manner.  Our File section is usually overflowing before we finally get around to putting things in their proper long-term storage home.  But at least we're trying.  

As for receipts....ugh.  They are my nemesis.  I have an irrational fear that one day I am going to purchase something using my credit or debit card, the merchant is going to secretly charge me an extra $20, and if I don't catch it on my statement, they will just get away with their crime.  I was taught to always save receipts and compare them to your monthly statement.  Again, I will admit that I don't check every receipt every month.  But I do feel the crazy need to hold onto all of my charge receipts for a year.  This has come in quite handy when I have decided to return purchases after many weeks of owning them or when tax time rolls around and we need certain receipts.  At our first house I used this and each pull out drawer was for a different month.

The drawers were kind of small and sometimes the receipts would get caught as you tried to pull the drawer out.  So I am now using it for office supply storage (paper clips, erasers, pencil lead, binder clips, etc) and I came up with a new receipt storage system.  I decided to use two of the storage baskets in our cube (aka our Ikea Expedit shelving unit).  I just needed a way to divide them into 6 areas each to represent all 12 months.  This is where my good friend cardboard came into play.  It's free and we still have TONS of it around the house from the move.  I just created some dividers with the cardboard and we now have a new system.  

As you can see, my dividers aren't perfect but you can't see them when the baskets are pushed into the cube so I think it'll be okay.

There you have it.  It's a pretty straightforward system and it seems to be working for us so far.  We still have trim painting on the list and Seth is slowly working his way around the house replacing the cream light switches, plugs, and their covers so ignore those ugly eyesores in my pics please.  Slowly but surely.


  1. love the organizational systems! The mail one is a great idea, I would like to do something like that in our computer room. We have a mail basket and so much "to look at later" stuff just gets stuffed in there and I randomly clean it out every once a while, but it is always messy. This would be good to keep stuff sorted and more organized. I might have to borrow your idea. Everything is looking great, always love checking for updates!

  2. and I also save receipts for way too long. I think I have ours back to the beginning of 2011 or maybe before. When my wallet gets full I clean them out and just put in a plastic baggie by month. But your idea is much neater and easier to look at if needed. I also try to hold on to the ones for just that month, in my purse, in case I do need to return something. I'm like you, you never know if you might need it a few weeks down the road for a return- I hate when I know they are in my wallet, but can't find one when I need it- drives me crazy!


Thoughts, ideas, suggestions...