Taming the Paper Beast {Tips for Paper Organization}



home organization
Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

Cinderella. Prince Charming. Going paperless. You know — fairy tales of great imagination and happily-ever-after that aren’t based in reality.

I admit that I’m old-school about needing the paper version of some things and, although much of life has gone digital, I think I’m not the only one still trying to tame the paper beast. So, I’ll share a few tricks I’ve learned along the way.

Paper Organization Tips

  1. Recycling bin. Our bin is in the garage, and I walk by it as I come into the house from the mailbox. I presort and toss all ads and junk mail before I even step foot into the house, never allowing it to accumulate in the first place. Throwing out all advertisements and catalogs before I look at them is also a way to help reduce spending. It’s a two-for-one tip.
  2. Family binder. I began using a family binder years ago after a friend shared this idea. I’ve since become a big fan of binders for all the things, from tabbed binders for work to binders with photo sleeves for larger school photos, and binders holding my current writing projects. There are some really cute three-ring binders out nowadays, and I’m a sucker for office supplies as well as organizational tricks.

My family binder has morphed through the years as my children have grown, but I have always used plastic pocketed dividers for each section within the binder. The two main sections that I use now are bills to pay and information about upcoming events. In my bills section, I tuck bills into the pocket as they come in, along with a spreadsheet list of due dates. Twice a month, after payday, I pull my binder and pay the bills. In the events section, I can easily find the invitation or the map to the event within that pocket.

When my children were younger and we were receiving order forms for school supplies or other time-sensitive paperwork, I would write the due date in the top right corner in red ink, and then slip it into the pocket for its appropriate section. One of the things I love most about binders is that they are flexible for your season of life, allowing you to adjust as needed. Plus, they look nice on the corner of a kitchen desk or even in a kitchen cabinet. Since I’m in the kitchen often, I can take the few minutes regularly to double check due dates or handle papers that need to be returned or mailed.

  1. School binder. Since my children were young, I have used a binder with a section for each child — separated, of course, with pocketed dividers. This is where I keep their immunization records for school, standardized test results, course information, and other handouts for each child. Using a three-hole punch, I can keep the information handy and accessible. Because my kids have always gone to public school, I’ve also learned to keep our house deed in the front pocket of the notebook for the annual verification of residency.
    If you homeschool, this system is just as useful for keeping up with important information, lesson plans, and curriculum for your kiddos, and you may actually need a binder for each child to keep all his or her work. At the end of each school year, just toss what isn’t needed any more. I can’t tell you how many times during the school years I’ve gone back to this binder for the passwords for online resources, class policies, or to double-check the handouts with resources that we’ve received from teachers.
  2. Accordion file. After we removed our kitchen desk in a remodel, I debated a new “nesting place” for the papers that need to be kept, such as insurance policies, investment statements, and receipts for my business expenses. I wanted to tuck these away, so I bought an expandable accordion file that fits into a deep drawer in my kitchen. When I sort the mail, I slip papers that need to be kept into their proper section of the accordion file. The key is to have this accordion file easily accessible and to sort and file when you open the mail to avoid ever having a pile with which to contend.

Paperless may be a fairytale that never actually comes true, but I’ve learned to be content with close enough. Now, if we could just convince CVS to stop the long receipt madness, we’ll all be one step closer to victory.

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Heather has called the Fort Worth area home since 1995, after growing up as an Army brat and preacher's kid. She's married to her college sweetheart, Chris (Sic' Em Bears!). Their kids include Collin (1999) and his wife Elizabeth (1999), Cooper (2001), and Caris (2004). Heather is the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization, The Adoptee Collective, which offers lifetime adoptee support and post adoption resources, as well as pre-adoption education. Heather is also a TBRI® Practitioner. Heather has authored and published multiple books and she finds joy in using her gifts, time, and energy toward her life goal to finish empty.


  1. Here’s my tip – I write an expiration date on some paperwork when I file it. If I see it after the date, I know I can toss that paper without any further processing or checking. For example, I save proof of payment of medical bills for 12 months. (just the bills not actual test results) I could scan all this, but I won’t need to look at 90-95% ever again, so why not just stick it in a folder for awhile instead?
    Or when I hand off an annual PTA project, I may have some secondary records that I will mark to toss as the next school year begins. If no one asked a follow-up question by then, buh-bye!


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