Creating a home paper management system

Reader Steve sent us a great solution for keeping mail off his family’s kitchen counter tops and dining table:

Our problem was that every piece of mail, receipt, kids artwork, etc. lands in our kitchen and ends up in endless piles. With everything from tax forms to our 4-year old’s “masterpieces” piled together, we never know where anything is. Since our home office is upstairs in our home, nothing ever seems to make its way there. As a result, I used six mini “Command” removable hooks and six 10″ x 13″ mailing envelopes to create a paperwork organization wall on the inside of a coat closet door, adjacent to our kitchen. I labeled the envelopes for “Bills,” “My paperwork,” “My wife’s paperwork,” “HSA receipts,” “Worthwhile Coupons,” and “SHRED.”

This new system allows my wife and I to easily sort paperwork into its appropriate place and then hide it away by simply closing the door. We can then grab the folders, as necessary, on our way to the office, the store, or the shredder, and bring them back when we are done.

I think this is a wonderful solution that could work for many busy people and families. If you’re someone who might take an envelope up to the office and then forget to immediately return it to the door, you could easily hang two additional empty folders on each hook. Instead of using envelopes, you could also use large binder clips.

Thanks, Steve, for sharing your terrific solution with us.

34 Comments for “Creating a home paper management system”

  1. posted by Sally on

    I wish that this solution would work for me, but I’ve got all bi-fold doors that really have no “back”. Our kitchen table is my “most hated” area in the house as it never stays cleared off for more than 5 minutes. Just yesterday I got it all cleared off, everything sorted and put away and my BF walks in the door and dumps all his stuff and the day’s mail on the table, “Aaagh”! :)

  2. posted by BevAnn on

    I have this problem SO bad. And I love this idea! I’m sitting here at my desk, mentally looking around my kitchen/laundry room, trying to work this system into my house! ;)

    Thanks for the tip!!

  3. posted by Mary C. on

    This is one of the best ideas I’ve seen! It would sure keep the paper stacks from forming on my furniture.

  4. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    I love this solution although I’d use clear plastic document holders so that I could easily see which envelopes had stuff in them. Also, plastic envelopes wouldn’t rip as easily.

  5. posted by Lisa on

    Thank You!

    This is a great solution. I just spent over an hour of my MLK holiday trying to figure out everything in our “to do” bin of paper. I don’t want to have to do that again.

  6. posted by AlexisAnne on

    Great post! This is an issue that EVERYONE deals with! I have a similar solution as well- but found a few things that would be a tiny bit more stylish in case you want to keep your envelopes on the side of your fridge or something. check it out:

    http://cleansmartsimple.blogspot.com/2010/11/get-your-countertops-back.html

  7. posted by Scarlett Ross on

    I finally got fed up and resorted to small bins we call “mailboxes.” Anything I find from small toys to gloves and mail go into these bins. I use a low shelf to hold the bins just on top of the shoe rack. No one fears where I’ll throw their favorite pen and I can clear / sort the paperwork easily. For the kids I even let them decorate the baskets with markers and made it an art project. No reason organizing has to be boring and they need to learn young.

  8. posted by Karen on

    This is a great idea, Steve! I found that the Office Wally from Kangaroom is awesome for this. It’s heavy canvas and can be hung on a door or the wall. There are SIX pockets that can each hold multiple file folders. (So in my pocket, for instance, I have folders for BILLS, KIDS’ SPORTS, PERSONAL) There are smaller pockets at the top for small items – pens, stickies, etc. – and there is a dry erase board where I usually write the menu for the week. It hangs on our mudroom door. Very handy and possibly the best $40 I ever spent!

  9. posted by Jen on

    I agree with Jacki – Clear is better so you can see what’s in there (also when they are getting too full), and these paper ones might rip easily and need to be replaced frequently. I think plastic ones (maybe even color coded, in translucent colors for different people/categories) would work really well for this situation, and they are really inexpensive. I don’t really have any wall or door space for a set-up like this, but maybe a desktop file organizer would work on a shelf in the kitchen, or on the console table in the entryway.

  10. posted by Stone Cottage Mama on

    We have a simple system. The burn pile outside and the file box in the kitchen. lol. Coupons go in an envelope in my purse as I could need them at anytime.

    This is great too!

  11. posted by wch on

    If the folder could somehow drop off the hook after a certain weight threshhold was crossed, it would trigger a response to address and purge as needed. I’m not sure how, but automatic triggers seem to force the carving out of time to address an issue, and not enable the procrastinator to ignore the buildup.

  12. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    This is a great looking system for someone with a busy bustling household. Now that it is back to hubby and me, I am looking something even more simplified. This is a great idea and would be very workable for some!
    Bernice

  13. posted by Rachael on

    Paper clutter is by far the biggest problem in our house, mostly in our kitchen. Like Sally, our kitchen table is often the default spot for mail to land, and to remain until it’s taken care of. I like this idea, and I’m trying to think of a way to implement it that wouldn’t result in “out of sight, out of mind” unpaid bills!

  14. posted by Dawn on

    Personally, I would opt for transparent, plastic envelopes – so I could see the contents quickly/easily and also because perhaps they are more durable. You could use a hole-puncher to make a hole at the top for hanging purposes.

    Secondly, I think I would just put a second paper shredder directly in the kitchen next to (or nearby) the kitchen trash can – so much easier to shred on the spot instead of “filing” the paper and then taking an envelope upstairs and shredding and bringing the envelope back downstairs.

    Command hooks rock.

  15. posted by Dawn on

    One more thing (and maybe Steve has already done this):

    Eliminate as much incoming mail as possible to begin with by receiving and paying bills online (when possible), opting out of junk mail/catalogs and being careful who you share your address with (since companies share your information with each other) to minimize marketing mail.

  16. posted by Bill on

    I’ve not tried hanging my folders, but also if I hide it all, or just can’t see it I don’t think I have a problem and I would never sort it, like Rachel says: “Out of sight, out of mind” :P

    My filing consist of; a bin (recycled of course), a shredder and a ‘Mangofile’, not a bad bit of software, closest thing I’ve got to actually sorting my stuff.

    I still have folders (hidden of course!) for my most recent and important insurance stuff, but it helps keep the weight of my paper down, and shortens the time in actually looking for documents.

  17. posted by Bill on

    Sorry Rachael. Note to self: I really should check my posts for typos before I hit submit, especially names! :o}

  18. posted by Sooz on

    I’m not knocking the system at all, but looking at those mailing envelopes, my brain’s first reaction is “paper cuts!”

  19. posted by Jay on

    Good post. Tyvek envelopes might be a bit sturdier, for those with lots of mail/paper.

  20. posted by Amy on

    This seems like an interesting system. Personally I love that the folders are not transparent. There is nothing more stress inducing than looking at bills and other important papers waiting for me to handle, even if I have a standing appointment to deal with them. With opaque folders I would avoid the discomfort of having guests see details of my bills and receipts . I will have to think about this one.

  21. posted by Sooz on

    @Amy, if I were using this system, I’d *never* put it where guests might see it or have access to it, because it’d have too much personal info in it. I’d put it in my bedroom closet.

  22. posted by jon on

    Now this is a great idea! I could easily use an envelope on the side/back of my dresser to collect receipts, instead of piling them up and up. Ding Dong!

  23. posted by Debbie B. on

    What a great idea! So affordable and doesn’t involve me making another trip to Ikea! (Although I love Ikea….)

  24. posted by Amy on

    Thanks, Sooz! Even with opaque folders, my preference would be to keep it in a discreet location. My husband, three kids and I live in a modestly sized 2 bedroom with a combined living dining space so every closet and room pulls double duty. Currently, the guests we have over easily have access to most of our space. If I put it in a place where it would be completely private, I would probably not use it. I love seeing the idea though and need to come up with a similar system. The fact that it is DIY makes it infinitely customizable!

  25. posted by Amy on

    On another note, I am LOVING the whole Command hooks/clips line! I used the cord clips on the inside perimeter of my main living room window and used them to hang Christmas lights this year. In years past, I have used a staple gun, which is quite a pain!

  26. posted by Tamra on

    LOVE THIS! So simple–so practical and so useable–my only challenge is figuring where to put it . . . maybe inside cabinet doors or something. LOVE IT. Thanks so much for sharing!!

  27. posted by joe on

    Great idea. Somebody asked how you would remeber to pay the bills?

    Easy. I only pay them twice per week which is tuesdays n fridays for us.

  28. Avatar of

    posted by Sky on

    I love this, simple and efficient.

    I have 3 grown sons and keep 3 large envelopes with their names on them in my office. When I have paperwork, an article I want them to read, etc. I put it in their envelope and when they drop by they pick up whatever is in it.

  29. posted by Tania on

    So simple yet so ingenius. I am in a **constant** fight with paperwork. I’m trying this starting this week!

  30. posted by Lynette on

    Great idea! I saw a photo with a similar concept that used clipboards with cute patterns instead of envelopes.

  31. posted by Paula on

    Unfortunately, we have way too much paper for this. Each year in early January I get 6 sturdy boxes from a local government office (no particular reason, I just happened to see an empty box there one day), they are boxes the office receives their printed envelopes in. I cover the boxes with attractive but rather unassuming contact paper and print each of my 5 kids’ names on a box along with the year, and “Household, Year” on the 6th box. That’s my filing system. The boxes are stacked in the far corner of our dining room on the floor, and no one ever notices them, but they are very easy to get to. I would love to say I’m organized and keep a great filing system, but this way, papers are at least easy to find. At the end of each year we purge what we want to from the box, close it, and store it along with previous years’ in our downstairs closet.

  32. posted by Talley Sue Hohlfeld on

    This is incredible!
    I need something similar for the same reason (the DR table is the family catch-all), and I often wish we had family-member “in” boxes.

    But I don’t have a tremendous amount of places to put stuff.

    Using the removable self-adhesive hooks would work great.

    Re: shredding: I think I’d just keep a pair of those five-bladed shredding scissors (Martha Stewart sells them as “fringing scissors”) by the mail-sorting trash can that’s by the door.

  33. posted by Jen on

    I used this idea in my kitchen for labels I save for the kids school. I used 6 x 9 envelopes inside the cabinet door. I also used a hook for small pair of sissors to keep them handy. No more piles of labels waiting to be trimmed.

  34. posted by Lisa on

    What a great, simple and low cost idea!

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