The Two Rules to Eliminate Paper Clutter for Good!

Welcome to Day 9 of the 30 Days to Less of a Hot Mess Challenge! We’re decluttering, reorganizing and taking a breath of fresh air to create a home we love. If this is your first time at the challenge, you may want to start here at the beginningAffiliate links used for your convenience.

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Ok, so I started this project months and months and months ago.

I fondly remember starting this section of the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up book and thinking this was going to be my biggest challenge to face in the decluttering challenge.

That was a year ago. (Read about it here.)

Little did I know that it would halt me in my decluttering tracks.

I have randomly, through the past 12 months, sorted and decluttered the paper in my home, knowing it was the step I was supposed to be on in the book’s recommended process. But I continually did NOT have a handle on the situation. The problem was I wasn’t really doing it the way you’re supposed to do it. I was trying to declutter with the papers still in the filing cabinets.

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It all just felt all too overwhelming for me. I wasn’t sure if I would ever slay the paper clutter dragon.

You see, my long-time goal has been to get rid of this old, brown filing cabinet.

The old cabinet got to go! How to Eliminate Paper Clutter for Good! | 30 days to Less of a Hot Mess

My husband had it when we got married and it has served us well. At one point it was stuffed to overflowing, but I have whittled away at the contents until the papers took up just one drawer. The other drawer held printer paper, ink and envelopes.

My favorite desk from Ballard Designs... Love the double use of the space as desk and storage!

Secret sneak peek of my newly organized office space I’m revealing tomorrow. 😉 

And then this past year I bought my dream desk from Ballard’s Design outlet near Atlanta. I wanted this one because 1) it was white 2) it was large and 3) the bases function as filing cabinets! Yay! More desk space and less ugly filing cabinet. It was a winning combo. But I still couldn’t figure out how to go through my papers and get rid of what I didn’t need.

Well, that is until I finally heeded the advice found in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and I pulled everything out.

Some items you may need to get started:

  1. Inbox – I just got this one here and I’m loving it!
  2. File folders
  3. Hanging filing system
  4. Pen (my favorites)
  5. Paper shredder (I have this very basic one.)

Rule #1 to Get Rid of Paper Clutter For Good: Pull Them All Together in ONE place!

To make this work you will want to grab the papers from everywhere in your home. Go through all of the rooms and stack them up. Check the laundry, kitchen, bathroom, kids’ rooms, everywhere!

The old cabinet got to go! How to Eliminate Paper Clutter for Good! | 30 days to Less of a Hot Mess

I cleared out the filing cabinets and grabbed the piles from around the house.

How to Eliminate Paper Clutter for Good! | 30 days to Less of a Hot Mess

This stack of papers was tiny compared with how many I started with last year! I had multiple boxes FULL of paperwork to go through!

I made 4 “discard” piles for my sorting needs and sorted them accordingly:

  • to keep
  • to do
  • to shred
  • trash

I was ruthless when it came to the “to keep” pile. Most papers either went into the trash or shred piles, thank goodness!

I also kept my planner nearby. When I put something in the “to do” folder, I wrote it in my planner so that they wouldn’t just languish away in the to-do folder forever.

I loosely following Marie Kondo’s advice for keeping papers, which is pretty much keep nothing except for your house deed and maybe a few other financial records. She even recommends throwing out all owner’s manuals (with the exception of maybe your TV, computer and camera manuals).

While I was not nearly as cut throat as she is, I did cut out a ton of stuff. And I used to store every.single.owners manual in these plastic sleeves in large 3-ring binders. But I’ve done away with all of that and now store the ones I’ve decided to keep in one magazine file. Super simple!

Now, I’ve been working on this for years, and more so in the past 6 months, so if you’re just starting to tackle the paper monster, then this will be a process.

It will most likely be a longer process anyway. Don’t expect to tackle this one in a day. And if you’re not able to do it now, then make an appointment on your calendar for when you would like to start. Take a long weekend or a few days off in a row to begin to tackle the paper beast.

And it’s OK to take your time to do this task! Organization IS a process and the journey is one to be enjoyed as each step gets us closer to our goal of less clutter and more margin. I already taste a little bit of the clutter-free life since I’ve been working on this for a while now and it’s glorious! The more I declutter, the more I want to get rid of things. I think by the end, I’ll need to circle back around to clothing and give more away because my ideas about what to keep and what to donate have changes so drastically since then!

Just to give you an idea of what I had in my drawers, these are things I threw away:

  • Tax returns older than 7 years.
  • Home maintenance records from a previous home that we sold 5+ years ago
  • Old medical bills (that had loooong since been paid) and medical receipts
  • Random receipts

Note of caution: you don’t necessarily need to keep or throw away all of these items. I’m not an accountant or lawyer. So, if someone told you to keep these items for some reason, then please follow their advice, not mine. 🙂 These are just the decisions my husband and I made for our family.

I ended up with these file folder categories:

  • Keep Long Term: letters of old account, loan or mortgage closures, select health documents, current mortgage documents, marriage and birth certificates, passports, social security cards
  • Art: I like to keep my random art collection (worth $10’s of $$’s) safe and sound in the filing cabinet. Less likely to get creased or damaged in there.
  • Medical: Each one of my family members has a small folder of necessary medical records.
  • House: Our current home’s maintenance records and HOA info
  • School: a few important papers from my husband’s work (he’s a teacher) and my daughters’ schools. Some of the most current info just goes into our Home Organization Binder.

Rule #2 to Get Rid of Paper Clutter For Good: Only 1 Drop Spot

Another huge piece of this paper declutter puzzle is this rule, which is how to organize new papers coming into your home:

Have 1 place (and ONLY 1 place) for paper when it comes into your home. 

I was guilty of having multiple places for paper to land. It was fine on the kitchen counter, or by the junk drawer, or in our command center, or on my office desk or even on my dresser in the master bedroom.

And then when company was coming over, I just shoved it all in a box and tossed it in the guest bedroom or the bottom of the closet. I’d finally go through it a year or more later. Ugh! So not good!

I finally made one place on my desk where paper goods go. It’s more of a bin than anything and I like that it’s more open so that I can’t ignore it behind a file folder. We’re using our common center to hold our home organization binder and things we need to use regularly, instead of a paper sorting station now anyway!

How to Eliminate Paper Clutter for Good! | 30 days to Less of a Hot Mess

Metal bucket “inbox” | Linen Corkboard (no longer available: similar & similar) | Wall Basket Organizer with Chalkboard | Laptop Stand | Wireless Keyboard | Desk

And I set up a system for how to deal with the papers once they’ve come in to the house. It’s so easy to keep track of all of it now! I can jot things down in my planner and toss them, or file them right away, or keep them in my to do folder until I have a chance to get to them. I need to set up a time just to deal with these items each week.

I’m so very thankful that I have one more item crossed of my decluttering list and a plan ini place to tackle them once the papers do arrive.

Tomorrow we’re talking all things desk and office organization, because I just organized my space and I’m in LOVE!

The Messy Work: Either start the work of going through your papers, or schedule a time on your calendar to tackle it. You can do it!! It doesn’t need to take you 12 months like it did me!! 😋

In the mess with you, Laura


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  1. Hi Laura! Thank you for this article. The main image that pulled me in shows a “Morning Afternoon Evening Weekend” Checklist in some sort of clear folder with a dry erase marker. Can you share where you got that/how I can get or make one and also how you or your family uses it to keep organized? Thanks! Looks great.

  2. My paper clutter literally makes me want to cry! We seem to have a whole forest of trees lying around our house… dead… suffocating every surface. I almost want to send you a picture of my “desk,” but I’m a little too embarrassed to do so. Ha! :/

    1. Meagan, Have you seen my post from today about my desk?? You SHOULD check it out! ( If you were embarrassed before, you won’t be now. Mine was awful! And I’ve been there with the paper clutter. That’s why it took me 12 MONTHS to pare it down to what it was. It was everywhere and tons of it. Literally boxes of it jammed in closets. I wish I had all compiled it months ago and just tackled it once and for all instead of dragging it out so long. You can do it!!

      – Laura

  3. Due to the snow fall I have not been totally able to keep up with this daily.
    One paper issue for me is my husband died in August and he tossed every bill as soon as it was paid. All find and dandy but now I of course have to deal with the bills and have no idea what will be coming at me and how to budget for them until I get through the first year. He did not even keep old check ledgers so I could go back and look. I have worked to go through his online checking account and did find some information there. But it has been a lot of work for me.

    So for right now I am keeping all bills in a slotted large plastic file I can set down beside my recliner. I do not keep paper work anywhere else except the small metal file box with the deeds and other things you listed. When mail comes it goes to a table beside my chair and I usually sit right then and go through it and toss the junk pay what bills come and file the statement. I really only hope to have to do this for a year. Then re-assess my budget and then maybe just write down the amounts on a sheet of paper if still needed and toss the rest.

    I am only mentioning this because it really has been an issue for me not to have the old bills to look back on. Of course he kept insurance papers but not the bills for them. I would also say it would be very important for both of the couple to be involved in bill paying. Honestly I was always happy to let him do it never even thinking how it would be when he was gone.

    I can not wait to see your new office desk area. So far it looks wonderful. If the snow would cut me some slack I really want to get into your decluttering progress.

    1. Hey Chris! You bring up a good point about both spouses being involved in the bill payment. My husband is much less involved than I am, but he’s kind of aware. LOL We do have a budget where everything is listed that we pay each and every month (for years) and he knows how to get in there and use it, so he should be fine. But MOST everything we have is auto-paid, so he wouldn’t have to actually worry about physically paying it.

      I’m actually going to be creating a “what to do if something happens to me” file for my husband since I’m the one who handles all of the bills and payments and stuff. It will have everything listed that he would need to know if for some reason I was unable to run our home. I think it’s the wise thing to do! In fact, Dave Ramsey teaches a course on leaving a legacy and in it you create a “legacy box”. You can read more about it here (and share with others):

      I’m hoping the snow gives you a break soon! Everything was closed down here last weekend because we might get 2 inches of snow. Nothing ever happened. It was just really cold. LOL Us Southerners couldn’t handle it!

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