You know those things that just suck the life out of you? Maybe it’s dirty laundry or gray days or head colds (or quarantine?). Or maybe it’s that never-ending stream of paper clutter. Yep, that one is definitely at the top of my list. It seems to accumulate on every surface, and each new wave of paper needs to be dealt with somehow, whether that’s filing or tossing or shredding or responding.
We all make neat piles that turn into small mountains. We have good intentions that turn into an hour spent on Pinterest instead. Ugh, pesky paper. Life sucker, right?
Well, here are a few ways that I am taming that unruly paper beast.
Mail, Phone Books, Bills
Deal with it the same day it arrives. This is old advice, but it works. Five pieces of mail is much easier to manage than 50. Once you recycle or shred the junk mail, you’ll have very little to read anyway. I savor the real mail, set aside the bills, and add the magazines to the stack of things-to-read-someday. If you have five minutes a day to spare, you can stay on top of this one.
The best way to reduce the junk mail coming into your home (100 pounds per household each year!) is to refuse it in the first place.
Here are some resources for cutting down on unwanted incoming mail:
- Opt out of junk mail, credit card offers, and phone books
- Sign up at Optoutprescreen to stop receiving pre-approved credit card offers
- Remove yourself from Direct Marketing Association mailing lists
My next big project is to tackle our filing cabinets. I have been saying this for over a year now. I know I am keeping documents far longer than needed. It is time to fire up the shredder and get to work.
My second goal is to switch to paperless billing and auto-pay options. I have resisted this change for years, but I know it will save us money and reduce our paper clutter so I just need to get with the times on this one.
Check out this list for sorting and shredding important documents from Dave Ramsey.
Just feel like you have SO much and don’t know where to start? JUST DO ONE THING.
Cards & Kid Art
I understand sentimental. I still have my soccer jersey from when I was five and notes from high school. I believe in keeping things that are of value, even if it’s just sentimental value.
However, I am really strict with myself on things like birthday cards or Christmas letters. Will I ever read this again? Is it meaningful (or will it be to my kids)? If you answered no, then enjoy it for a week before tossing or repurposing into gift tags or art projects. If you answered yes, then keep it in a special place.
Pinterest has a ridiculous number of ideas for keeping your kids’ masterpieces, from framing to making photo books to creating new pieces of art with it. I keep one medium container for each child’s baby books, best artwork, and important keepsakes. These store easily in the closet and keep everything neatly contained.
To be perfectly honest, though, a great deal of it just needs to be tossed or recycled. For the sake of the environment and my sanity. More paper clutter comes through the door with my kids than any other source. Those of you with school-age kids are dealing with a massive amount of paper on a weekly basis (when school is actually in session and in-person of course). I’m not there yet, but I imagine I’ll stick with the deal-with-it-as-it-comes strategy.
UPDATE: For school-aged children, consider keeping a heavy-duty plastic file box for each kid, with a file folder for each grade. Keep class pictures, favorite assignments or reports, drawings, report cards, even things like Christmas lists or sports pictures from that school year. The size of the file folder itself will help keep in check what you keep or toss.
When it comes to clutter in general, I am usually too impulsive. If an item doesn’t fit the useful/beautiful rule, its days in our home are numbered.
However, I am slowly learning that frugality demands patience. I have wasted money by getting rid of items and receipts that would have served a purpose down the road. I am determined to get a handle on this area, starting with receipts.
I bought this handy little 13 compartment accordion file at WalMart; you can also find them in the dollar bins at Target. Pre-printed labels for all twelve months slide easily into the tabs. Instead of a nest of messy receipts in the bottom of my purse, I now have an easy way to store and organize my receipts. Simple fix! This has been a huge help with matching prices, tracking spending, and returning items.
Also, because of the paper it is printed on, most receipts cannot be recycled.
UPDATE TO ADD: Now that we’re in 2020 and a little more technologically advanced, check each store that you purchase from and see if you can scan your receipts digitally or if your purchases are saved through your rewards/membership card.
Shopping Lists, Coupons, Errands
I found Simple Fix #2, thanks to Sherry Petersik over at Young House Love. She posted about this great little notebook, found in the office section at Target for $5.99. This had my name written all over it.
I keep my notebook in my purse and use it to organize errands. Shopping lists and errand reminders go on the notepad. Receipts, checks, or coupons are easily split up in the adjacent accordion files.
This has streamlined my errands, eliminating those frustrating, I-forgot-that-stop/coupon/item-moments so I can focus on the Take-that-out-of-your-nose/mouth/sister’s-ear-moments instead. Seriously, if you feel like you’re the ringmaster of a small circus every time you step into a store, this is the notebook for you. Love it.
While none of these organizational ideas are earth shattering, they have definitely contributed to a calmer, cleaner life and home for me. If I can stay on top of paper clutter, I have more time and energy for other things, like
watching Downton Abbey playing with my kids and folding laundry.
Looking for more ideas?
Follow Frugal Living NW on Pinterest!
Fantastic range of boards from best recipes and tips for frugal living to gardening and budgeting help.
This post may contain affiliate links. See the disclosure policy for more information.
I love all these ideas and comments. Getting my organizing juices flowing. I use wunderlist app for all my errands/tasks/phone calls/house stuff. My husband has it loaded on his phone too so if he goes to the groceey store he can look on the list and see what we need at Costco or Home Depot. Then he just marks off that he got it. U can look at it on your computer too. U can also add hashtags to tasks and deadlines. So if I am out I click on #errand and all the tasks with #errand pop up and I can see what I am close by to. Or if I am on the computer I can click #online and everything that I need to do while on the computer shows up. U can also add pictures to tasks as well and u can link it up to google calendars and your tasks will show up there. Love it! I also love evernote for paperwork and long term info. It is like a walking file cabinet. I take pics of cards that would normally go in my purse and i have a notebook called purse that has them all. There is a search feature too. I have all my families measurements and food recipes and doctor notes and pictures of docs that I got to throw away. Ideas that come to me. I have a notebook for our house, for our car, for model numbers of appliances, notes for when christmas comes around, xmas gift lists, it is endless and like I said u can add pictures. Anyway, u can access that on a smart phone or on your computer and my husband has access to it too. It is the bomb! U can also add deadlines to this too. Have fun organizing.
Thank you for the opt-out prescreen credit card offers link! Also, I now have all of my receipts sent to my e-mail if at all possible. I’ve noticed more and more stores offering this option. Not only do I know exactly where to find the receipt, I don’t worry about the receipt fading if I have to resort to the original receipt.
I have found that moving around (hubby is in the military) keeps the junk mail out of the mailbox as well. Thanks for the useful tips!
JoAnn Rash says
Most of my children’s artwork is seasonal. So, I save it with the holiday decorations and use their art to decorate the house. I try to come up with different ways of showcasing their art each holiday. For this Halloween I was thinking of taking past photographs of the kids and attaching the photos to the art to hang on the wall. Last year for Christmas, I took the smaller pieces of art and hung them along the outside of the stair bannister. This way the art gets enjoyed, instead of sitting in a box. Also, the kids like to talk about how old they were when they made something.
Thanks for repeating this-I signed up to opt out of the credit card offers immediately!!
As far as Fred Meyer and Costco..they have records of what you bought. For FM, they only have it if you use your rewards card. That is 2 stores you don’t need to keep receipts for. I also use the other side of my copy paper so I’m not wasting.
Have seen for years starting with Martha Stewart showing how to scan receipts so you can then toss them. But if you want to return something isn’t easier to have the original receipt?
My very favorite thing about the catalog choice site is the box at the bottom showing how much you’ve helped the environment by stopping mail. Don’t know how accurate it is, but I’m proud to say I’ve saved 1 tree, 242 pounds of greenhouse gas, 86 pounds of solid waste and 582 gallons of water.
I signed up for the Catalog choice (stop junk mail thing and opting out of credit card offers) last summer. I still get way too many 🙁 There are a bunch of companies that you have to call and ask to be removed. They provide the numbers for you, which is nice, but it’s time consuming. And we still get Comcast, Xfinity, and Frontier stuff ALL THE TIME even though I’ve called them. I still recommend doing this. We’ve had to use our shredder less over the last year 🙂
Iris Donaldson says
I have a 3 ring binder. In it goes the direction/use paper work that comes with the item. Tabs (kitchen, office, health etc). Each in a sheet protector. I attach the sales receipt to the paperwork. That way I know when and where I purchased the item. Even booklets can go into the binder. If I forget how something works, I can get reminders from that file. The file even includes laundry/cleaning instructions for some clothing.
Two 3 Inch binders hold instructions, even for things I have bought 40 years ago–long lasting things like pressure cookers, electric appliances, etc.
That doesn’t take much space, but sure is handy.
Iris Donaldson says
Like Shannon, I use my shredder a lot. Everything with name, address or a number goes. Jamie said shredded paper is not recyclable, but my recycler says to put it in. They just want it in a bag.
If I print something on 1 side, I toss it in a box under the printer and use the other side for something that does not have to go to anyone else.
Also–if you still use an adding machine with paper, roll it up until there is a good size roll, then save to use the back side.
I get catalogs from companies I sometimes do business with, but they come too often. If I look at them I will find “something I can’t live without” so I save money by not going through them. Just remove all name & address and into the recycle bin they go.
I am 88 so have no children to add to the mix, but I still organize my papers and sort them periodically. Take care of the mail at least every 2 days so they don’t stack up.
I keep a metal file rack/bin on the wall (that is totally industrial chic) for each of my 3 kids. They fill it with every ‘special’ drawing, church paper, card, etc…until it looks too full to me. Then I force them to sit down and do the difficult job of sorting: keep or ditch. I remind d them to only keep their best drawings or special things. Once they have slimmed out the fat, they put these items in a colorful peechee folder that goes back in the bin on the wall…eventually that folder will make it to their ‘keepsake’ box in the garage! Paper is a real problem these days…yet I want to encourage creativity! My artist (7 yr old) received a thick sketch book as a gift…and it helps solving the problem of all kinds of loose papers.
I also process all of my mail the same day I receive it – magazines get my name/address cut out so they’re ready to be donated to my work lobby, bills go on my desk to be paid, coupons go straight into a coupon pouch in my purse, and the rest gets recycled. I get everything paperless and auto-pay when I can. With receipts, I look at it and go through each item to decide if there is a possibility that I might want to return anything on it. If not, then it gets recycled, and if so then I throw it in a receipt drawer, which I then edit through a couple times/year.
Miss mo says
Great tips. I also suggest going to the dma.org (direct marketing association in case website isnt correct) and opt out of all junk mail. Also cancel those mags none of us ever get to. Less paper coming in is huge help!
I’ve always kept receipts in a fairly large postal envelope taped to the inside of a kitchen cabinet door. I simply cut down one side of it to form a pocket. I then cut about an inch or so on each side at the seam to help it “give” a little. Every few months or so I go through and discard what I feel I no longer need. I have also used this method for bill paying. I used two envelopes, labeled one “1-15” and the other “16th-31st”. I put bills in the appropriate envelope according to when they come due. This really worked the best when my husband was in the Air Force and got payed on the 1st and 15th.
I really like all your ideas! I keep my receipts way to long. I will have to use them to help get all my papers and documents organized.
Having a shredder is a great thing to avoid identity theft–but remember that shredded paper cannot be recycled–the resulting fibers are too short (though it can be composted!) When I learned this, I re-evaluated what I was shredding. (And it turns out that tossing things into the recycling bin takes much less time than shredding does!)
Your name and address are likely in the public record already. You don’t need to shred everything with your name and address on it. What you really need to shred are the documents with account numbers, etc on them.
You should, of course, do whatever you feel comfortable with, but I decided to shift my practices because while I worry about identity theft–I also care about the planet!
I repurposed a Brighton zippered day planner for my coupons..works wonders and looks great as well.
Hi Liz – I’m interested how you converted the day planner for your coupons – can you give me a little how-to?
Thanks so much!
Heidi N. says
Ha! Another Downton Abbey fan! Love love love it! Have them all on DVD to watch until season 3 arrives.
We’re thinking of moving to a small condo where there will be absolutely no room for paper clutter so we’re thinking of getting a desktop scanner for all papers/receipts etc. Then we’d just scan and shred. I’ve just learned there’s no point in filing things like vet receipts when they keep all that information too. No point in doubling our efforts.
I have made my own accordian style holder. If you take the small or larger white envelops, fold the sticky part over the back of the envelop, then lick and stick it to the next envelop after you folded that sticky part over to stick to the next one. You can add as many as you would like. The small envelops are pretty good for placing coupons that are cut from like the red plum. The bigger envelops give a little more room to place receipt (you know those that are three or four foot long) or the internet coupons that you have printed out.
Hope that this will help out some of you for organizating your coupons!
For my coupons I have a binder with the trading card clear holders. Personally if I can’t see the coupon, I don’t remember I have it. but for my store trips I use my target $1 coupon holder. It is delegated into the different stores I go to, then one section of coupons that I know I will use even if it isn’t on sale. But I also write down the deal/coupon on a separate paper, this way when I’m in the store I look at my list, get the item, and dint have to try to dig for the coupon while my son is grabbing stuff. It so far is working for me, and I get typo bring all my coupons with me that I will use. For my kids stuff, I have photo books, I put everything in there that is important. Everything is organized by date. Its un to looj back and see pictures, art work, and other things.
I just wanted to share a tip I heard years ago for dealing with the kids art projects clutter: Hang up their favorite art papers on a bulletin board or the refrigerator for a week, month or any set time (it will depend on how much you have). At the end of that time, take a good picture of all the artwork and then throw them away. Keep a small file with your dated pictures – you could date them by school year or by age/year. You will get rid of the clutter, but still have the memories.
I love the idea for coupon organizing. I’ve tried a couple things, but nothing has worked for me so far. It makes it hard to get the best deals when you can’t find your coupons. LOL. Thanks for the tips! 🙂
another tip – buy a paper shredder – and use it! i shred all mail that has my name and address on it that could potentially be used by someone digging in the trash to steal my identity.
I’ve kept all of my receipts for YEARS, and lately I’ve been rethinking that logic. It did come in handy once, four years after I bought them, I returned several pairs of pants in ice cream colors that I bought for my husband from Lands’ End…and he never wore them (they have a great return policy).
Instead of keeping those receipts (I use the $1 accordion files from the Target $1 bin), I’ve started scanning them into Lemon.com, which keeps an electronic copy of the receipt for your later reference. I’m still in my beta-test phase of the service, though, so I’m still hanging on to the paper.
But back to that paper shredder – it is such a great feeling to get rid of the stacks of paper you think you need. Get one. And use it. (the cross cut one makes great confetti for confetti eggs!).
Julie P-S says
Thank you so much for the many great ideas! I have 3 10″ stacks of cards that I am going to sit down and cut into gift tags tonight with no regrets. Also- the way in which the coupons are organized is so much easier than the chaos I have going (dropped repeatedly in the grocery store to then take flight across the floor).
I like your receipt organizer. Right now I just have an envelope for each month and keep all my receipts in those so I can find them if I need them. I also selectively clip coupons I know I will need. I put them in an old day planner which I use as my price book. This way if I find a something that looks like a deal I can check my price book and my coupons both. I might have to look at target for the little notebook it looks like it would be really handy. Right now I just paper clip my coupons to my shopping list for each store. Having that little notebook may work out better. Great ideas, thanks.
Target often has those handy little accordion organizers in various sizes and colors in the $1 spot. I load up on them…They sure come in handy! Large ones for kids school work, medium for coupons, and small for receipts.
Hi Emily, I was at the Home and Garden Show with Sherry and John. I should have met you there! I thought you might like the new fabulous freebie at ellinee.com/blog that appears on tomorrow’s blog post. It’s a DIY grocery list pad with a free grocery list download which I designed. Hope you and your readers like it. It’s what I use to stay organized. 🙂 ~ Emily
very helpful and a great reminder. My problem is once I have all these folios filled and labeled, what do I do with them? I am always looking for that coupon file or the notebook. And then this big ugly box by the front door becomes a holder for all of them along with shoes and stuff that needs to go to goodwill.
My organization sounds a lot like yours!
This is my most challenging area also-so a great post for me. I just decided also I needed to organize my receipts (took more than a week to find a receipt for a return today). I have a similar file that I organize by store-which is how I am more likely to be able to find them. They also may come in handy for rebates that come up in the future, IF you can find the receipt. Also for returns and my most important reason-Rite Aid SCR’s (although if I followed the do it the same day you bought it rule-it really wouldn’t be a problem!-I have been slacking off recently).
My little file for receipts I found recently at Target in their dollar area-I think they had some larger ones also.