Decluttering Paper Piles

5 Steps to Clearing Your Paper Clutter

Decluttering paper piles is a problem for many of us! There is consistently an inflow of mail. There is the mail you need and the junk mail. Next there are papers that kids bring home from school, and the papers that come home from their activities and sports. Then there are the 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 homes.

Where do you even begin decluttering when you are ready to get rid of all this paper? Here are 5 steps to get you moving in the right direction.

Step One – Gather Sorting Supplies

The best place to start decluttering paper piles is to first do some prep work. The biggest part of getting rid of paper clutter is to sort it, so you are going to gather some supplies to help. Here is a your supply list:

  • Trash Can and Recycling Bin
  • Three Bins or Baskets
  • Post-It Notes and a Pen or Sharpie
  • Shredder (or a bin for items to shred)
  • Optional – A timer

You will want to keep things simple, therefore you will want to use basic categories when sorting papers. Once you have gathered all of your supplies, you will then use the Post-it notes to label your bins. Then, if you feel the need to sort further you can add other bins as you feel are necessary. For instance, you may want to have two ‘action’ bins; one for now and one for later.

Here are the categories for keeping it simple:

  • Keep
  • Return (for items that need to be returned to other people, or other parts of the house)
  • Action
Step Two – Gather Your Piles

The first part of this step is to figure out exactly how big your paper problem actually is. So, to do this go through your house and gather the piles. Then gather mail piles that are on the counter or a table.  Don’t forget to look in drawers and on desktops, in bedrooms and offices.

As you gather the piles, think about a space where you can work on this project over an extended period of time if needed. Use an unused dining room table or another place that is out of the way. This will ensure that you have room to work, but you don’t have to feel pressure to get it all finished at one time.

Step Three – Begin Your Sort

Make yourself comfortable! Grab a drink and get ready to start sorting. At this point you can use the optional timer mentioned above. More info on using the timer can be found below.

As you sort your paperwork, you will want to use the one-touch method. Go through each piece of paper in order to make a decision about where it goes within your sorting system. Hopefully, trash, shred, and recycle will be your most used bins.

Tip on shredding: It’s a good practice to shred papers that have information you don’t want others to have access to. Having a household shredder to use is ideal. But, there are times when you may have a lot of papers to shred. For this reason, shredding locations can be found at many office supply stores and UPS locations. It’s super convenient and usually averages around $1 per pound.

Step Four – Take Action

When you get down to that last piece of paper, pat yourself on the back! This is a big step towards getting your paper piles under control. However, it’s not the end!

Finish your sorting session by taking out the trash and recycling. Then grab the ‘Return’ bin and take all the items to their rightful location. You are now left with ‘Keep’ and ‘Action’ bins.


After a sorting session you want to deal with any items in the ‘Action’ bin that need to be done immediately. 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 rest of the action items will be added to your to-do list.

Tip on using a timer: Setting a timer is a great way to ensure you are using your time most efficiently. However, you don’t want to set it and forget it. You will want to give yourself time to clean up once you are finished. So, once you decide how much time you have to work on decluttering your papers set your timer for three-fourths of that amount of time. Then, you will have the last quarter hour to clean-up.

Five – Keep it Going

Once you have decluttered your papers, set up a permanent sorting system to help you deal with paperwork as it comes into the house. Ideally you should trash, recycle, or shred mail and other paperwork as soon as it comes into the house. Or, set up a mail bin that you go through once a week. Then, moving forward, continue to utilize the ‘Keep’ and ‘Action’ bins to sort papers as they come into the house.

By using these steps to start decluttering paper piles you will then achieve the ultimate goal of getting your paper piles under control.

If you would like more information about personalized help, then 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 my private Facebook group, The Organized Priorities Collective. I would love to see you there!

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Title Image including a disorganized pile of papers and folders.

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.

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