How To Start Tackling Your Paper Piles

Title Image

Paper clutter is a problem for many of us!

There is a constant inflow of mail – the mail you need and the junk mail. There are papers that come home from school with kids, and papers that come home from activities. Then there are recipes that you wrote down or tore out of a magazine…confirmations, receipts, and manuals, oh my! Let’s face it…there is a lot of paper taking up space around our houses.

But how do you begin to get rid of all those papers? More importantly, once you have gotten them under control, how do you keep the piles from coming back?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to that question. The upside is that there is actually a solution. Over the next couple of posts let’s dive into those paper piles and make a plan to sort them, get rid of the things we don’t need, prioritize the things we do, and then store and file the things we need to keep.

Gather All Your Loose Papers

Since this is a project that may take some time, you might want to find a place where you can work on this project. I suggest using your dining room table or another place that is out of the way so that you have some room to work, but you don’t have to feel pressure to get it all finished at one time.

The first thing you need to do is to figure out exactly how big your paper problem actually is. So, your first step will be going through your house and gathering all of those papers. Gather mail piles that are on the counter or a table.  Look in drawers and on desktops, in bedrooms and offices.

Once you have all of your papers gathered let’s get some supplies that you are going to need for this project.

Paper Sorting Supplies

You are going to start the project by sorting through paperwork and dividing it into quick categories. For this part, I recommend having five different bins, baskets, boxes, or whatever you have on hand that you can use to hold paperwork as you sort through it. Once you have gathered your sorting bins, you are going to want to label them. Here are the categories that we are going to use:

  • Trash
  • Shred
  • Recycle
  • Action needed – Later
  • Action needed – Now

If you are wondering why you have two “action needed” bins, it is because this may be a project that lingers on for a little while. Along the way, you might find things that you are going to need to act upon before the project is complete. We don’t want those things to not get done on time!

Sort Using The One Touch Method

Make yourself comfortable! Grab a drink and get ready to start sorting.

For this initial sort of paperwork, we’re going to use the one-touch method. This method is exactly how it sounds, we’re only going to touch each piece of paper one time. Pick a place to start and grab your first piece of paper.

As you go through each piece you’re going to put it into one of the bins that it corresponds with. Trash, shred, and recycle will hopefully be your most used bins. You are going to want to make sure that anything that has the information you don’t want others to get their hands on goes into the shred bin. I recently learned that receipts are not recyclable, so make sure they make it into the trash or shred bin.

Action Needed Bins

Let’s talk for a minute about the action needed bins. Since we are going through and doing an initial sort I’m only having you use two categories for action needed paperwork. You’re going to want to put into the ”Action Needed – Now” bin anything that may need to be done between the time you finish working on this project today and when you anticipate you’ll be able to sit down and work on it again. This could include a permission slip that needs to be signed, a bill that needs to be paid, or a receipt for something you need to take back to a store.

The “Action Needed – Later” bin is going to be for anything else that you are going to act upon at another time. These could be things that need to be filed, paperwork to save for taxes or School papers that you may want to save but need to figure out where you’re going to keep those. Remember, right now you are just doing an initial sort. You don’t need to start sorting the paperwork into different categories like filing and long-term needs.

After The Initial Stewart

When you get down to that last piece of paper in your initial sort, pat yourself on the back! That right there is the first step towards getting your paper piles under control. However, it’s not the end! Hopefully, you have a well-filled set of trash, recycle, and shred bins. Trash and recycling can now be gotten rid of, but shred is a different story.

After this initial sort, If you have a lot of stuff that needs to be shred there are few options rather than taking the time to do it a few pages at a time using a home shredder. Look online for a local shred-a-thon event where you can take this paperwork, or places like Staples or the UPS Store can take your shredding for a reasonable fee. They usually charge by the pound.

I am hoping this gives you enough information to get started on taming your paper piles. Through the next couple of posts, I will walk you through different tactics for dealing with paperwork on a regular basis so that you don’t get buried under again. I will also give you some great ideas for things like creating a process for incoming mail, and ways to eliminate some of the paperwork electronically. The ultimate goal will be to keep your paper piles under control.

If you would like some more information or need some personalized help, head over to my services page where you can schedule a one-on-one consultation. If you would like some more tips, some moral support, or even a little accountability, then head on over to our private Facebook group, The Organized Priorities Collective. I would love to see you there!

Published by Jenn DePauw - Organized Priorities

Jenn is the owner of Organized Priorities, a Colorado-based company specializing in Organization, Productivity, and Operations. As an organization and productivity professional, Jenn specializes in individual and team productivity coaching as well as organization for both individuals and small businesses. She is also the author of The Organized Priorities Blog (, an organization and lifestyle blog that focuses on making life more organized, more productive, and a little easier. For helpful tips on everything from weekly planning to home organization, and daily celebrations to words of encouragement you can follow @organizedpriorities on Instagram.