Mail sorting solutions

Mail has been a huge problem for us since we moved. One of the reasons we have a problem is because part of our system for processing mail is in one house, and the other part is in the new house. For a month and a half, I have found mail on the kitchen table, the kitchen counter, my desk chair, on top of the washing machine, and in the car (and, as much as I would like to blame my husband for this, I’m primarily the one responsible). It’s amazing how when there isn’t a set system for processing mail, it ends up everywhere except for where it is supposed to be deposited.

The other component to our problem is that we don’t have a good place to hide our paper shredder, recycling bin, and trash can in the new place (the tools we use to get rid of junk mail). The foyer doesn’t have wall space, so hiding these items by the front door is impossible. All the mail, including junk mail, has to come inside the house. This bothers me. And, instead of looking for a solution, I’ve been ignoring the problem hoping it will magically go away.

Obviously, the problem won’t magically go away.

The first goal was to put a sorting system in place so the mail has a place to go immediately upon entering the house. I had a sample of Peter Walsh’s “Inspired Message Board” system that is part of his You.Organized line for OfficeMax. Peter (or likely his publicist) gave it to me when the line was released, and I had been using the calendar in the other house but not the mail sorting components. Adding in some of the components, I created this to hang on a wall near the entrance to the office:

The second solution is to get a closed storage bin to hide the shredder, recycling bin, and trash can in the office. The bench will live immediately below the mail sorting system. Our current shredder is 18″ tall, so we need a storage bench capable of accommodating it. I’m thinking this is what we’ll use:

The toy chest is the right height and has a thin panel in the back that will be easy to drill through to make a place for the shredder’s power cord. The bench will also work well with a child safety latch, to prevent our toddler and cat from having an accident with the shredder. I don’t love this bench, but I have yet to find something I like more. I’ve made a deal with myself that if I don’t find an alternative by the week’s end, I’ll order the toy chest.

Having a set sorting and processing station will keep junk mail from over-running the house and will make sure everyone in the house finds his mail when he needs it. I’m ready to have mail in just one location and not strewn about the house and car.

What physical system do you have in place to sort mail in your home? Share your solutions in the comments.

47 Comments for “Mail sorting solutions”

  1. posted by Ashlee on

    I also have a mail sorting station right by the door. The best thing to remember is to sort it before you have time to set it on the counter, table, desk etc. The organizer I use even has a spot for extra pens, envelopes, stamps, return address stickers, even my checkbook. Its neatly organized and I never have junk mail and bills laying around.

  2. posted by Susannah on

    Thank you Erin! Finally, someone pauses from saying “Keep your shredder by the door” to acknowledge that in some households that would be a significant safety hazard! I like your toy chest solution. It seems like a good compromise between keeping the shredder easily accessible, so that it gets used, and hidden away, so that it’s not a danger to kids and pets.

  3. posted by Celeste on

    I’m intrigued by this wall-mounted shredder since it solves the child/pet safety issue. In general I’m for getting things off the floor, just for cleaning and tripping prevention.

    I would still keep my larger one where it is, out in the garage on the workbench, for bigger shred jobs.

  4. posted by Sue on

    What do you suggest for those of us who simply can’t keep a shredder by the door?

  5. posted by Vanessa H. on

    Our mail usually piles up by the front door on the ledge next to the key tray. I thought not having a box there would prevent it from piling up, because I would have to process it immediately, right? Wrong. Mail ends up everywhere. I too do not want a processing station in our small entry area, so I need to find a solution. If I would just take it directly to the desk and sort it in the 3-tray tower we have, then shred junk since the shredder is there too, I could probably be mail-free. But something about these systems make me afraid I will somehow forget about the mail and miss something important.

  6. posted by Anita on

    At our house, junk mail is recycled right away, anything that needs to be shredded goes into my purse to be shredded at work the next day, mail for me is opened right away and dealt with as much as possible, and mail for the boyfriend is left on the dining table for him to look at and likely ask me to deal with it.

    We don’t have a mail sorting station and we don’t get anywhere near enough mail daily to need one. If for any reason we can’t deal with mail right away, we have a shoe cabinet by the door and we leave the pile of mail on top of it, to be dealt with when there’s time (usually the next day at the latest).

  7. posted by Carol on

    I don’t think it’s necessary to keep a shredder by the door or even a mail organizer. Just so long as it’s somewhere in the house so that mail has a place to go and the location works for you.

    I love the idea of hiding the shredder in a toy chest or some sort of bench. Something like that would also give kids a place to sit and take off shoes and boots if you have room near the front door for a bench.

  8. posted by Laura Smith on

    I used to loath dealing with the mail, so I came up with a system that minimizes mail time to one short session a week. I throw all the mail in a pretty box as soon as it arrives each day. Then once a week I open everything. I place bills in a filling system. Each week has a file (“pay by the 7th, pay by the 14th, etc.) and after I open the mail I pay the bills in that week’s folder. I follow up by shredding and/or recycling the junk mail. It’s pretty painless and takes about 1/2 an hour a week. For me it is much more productive than opening and processing stuff every single day. Here’s a blog post with photos I did a while back if anyone wants more details. http://smithsoccasional.wordpr.....l-station/

  9. posted by Mimi on

    we have a postbox outside the house. when i come home, i take the mail, go to my workroom to store my handbag+ jacket and see who is mailing. there is basket under the desk to collect paper for recycling. junkmail goes into the basket under the desk, also envelopes of important paper. if i have to file the letter or scan it or pay a bill, i do it immediately or i put the letter on a shelf. there is a place for that kind of to-dos.
    i like that system because in my workrooms there are the files and the basket and also my laptop where i can do online-banking, so everything is next to each other. i don´t have a shredder, i just pull the papers in pieces, i don´t know who could be interested in assembling my pieces of letters.

  10. posted by Dorothy on

    I NEVER even let junk mail into the house. I keep a shopping bag in my car, and junk mail goes into it immediately.

    I live in a rural area and the mail box is down on the road. So I normally pick up mail as I drive onto our property. Also, I don’t have trash pick up, so when I take my trash and recycling to the center, the bag from the car is right there. When I’m sitting in my car (e.g., if I’m early for an appointment) I can toss no-longer-needed paper from my purse and the car into the recycle bag.

  11. posted by Katha on

    How about this one? Seems slightly sturdier from the reviews, so you might actually be able to use it as a toy box, should you find a better solution for the entry-way. Just $8 more.

    Yes, I know it’s just 17.5 inch, but I think they don’t mean its height by this, but the depth.

  12. posted by Anne on

    Those products look fabulous, but I do worry slightly that this is just a case of organising clutter rather than uncluttering. I scan and shred literally everything I receive in the mail as soon as it arrives, and have never had a problem offering a scan or a reprint of a document when needed rather than an original. If some officious person demands the original document, a simple “It no longer exists!” will quickly shut them up. Since I discovered Unclutterer, I have turned virtually all the paper in my life – books, photos, my school and college files, greetings cards, ticket stubs – into digital files and destroyed the originals. If you haven’t done this yourself, you’ll never understand the feeling of relief and lightness to have all your “stuff” at your fingertips without it taking up any physical space. I highly recommend it. I’m so thankful I found this site.

  13. posted by Debi on

    In our office, I have an armoire computer desk with little handles that a cabinet lock easily fit around while my daughter was young. I have a trash can and a shredder under the desk. That way the shredder and all the computer equipment could be secured easily and neatly.

  14. posted by JmyJon on

    I think the 2 minute rule (learned this from David Allen of GTD fame) applies here. If a piece of mail can be handled in 2 minutes or less (and most can), handle it. Touch it only once.

  15. posted by Annette on

    We have two wall mounted in-bins on the wall heading to the basement. It’s easily accessible from the kitchen and we can shut the door if it looks messy. I love the toy box idea for the shredder. I think there would still be room inside to neatly store other office supplies or reams of paper. Thanks!

  16. posted by Kara on

    Hol from ikea would be ideal for this.

  17. posted by Marrena Lindberg on

    That’s a lot of money to spend. Unless you have a wood stove or a fireplace, why not stop getting junk mail instead? Pay bills online so you don’t get paper copies. You can sign up for the do not pander list, I forget the different websites to do that. Places that you have ordered from will still send catalogs, but you can just go to their website and request to be taken off their mailing list.

    My goal is to get down to personal letters, Netflix and the occasional government letter like the census forms. Anything that comes in that is junk mail I take directly to my computer so I can unsubscribe, and then recycle.

  18. posted by Alix on

    Don’t forget to opt out of junk mail altogether! I forgot which site I used to do it (there are tons), but now, with the exception of a weekly sales insert, I get virtually none. Less mail to deal with!

  19. posted by Debbie M on

    My physical system is all over the place. The reason it works is that I don’t check the mail until I am ready to handle it.

    Here’s what usually happens: Come home from work, pick up mail, come in the house. Set down backpack. Sit on couch with mail. Sort mail into piles: recycling, shredding, to-do, and for-roommate. Bring recycling to bag in kitchen pantry. Bring shredding to shredder in living room. Set for-roommate stuff on the piano by the front door. Bring to-do stuff into the office where my computer is. Then pay my bills, enter any utility information in my spreadsheet, file bills in the shoebox in my desk drawer, cancel any catalogs we don’t want anymore. Bring any additional recycling (canceled catalog, information that has been read but does not need to be kept, etc.) back to the kitchen. Then start supper.

    Note on the toybox: It looks like something that would be very easy to set things on. Or you might want to sit on it to take off your boots. Either of these two behaviors would make the things inside harder to get to.

  20. posted by Liz on

    We run a photography business out of our home, so we have business paperwork as well as personal paperwork to file. My husband is *incapable* of filing, so we have a cork board and these bins mounted to the inside of the door to our office-stuff-storage closet.

    Two above the cork board, labelled as “Photography File” and “Personal File”, and two below the cork board, labelled as “Shred” and “Misc.” Stuff that is really urgent gets posted on the cork board. The Misc bin works for us, as it is for all those things that you need handy, don’t want to file, and aren’t trash. Things like gift cards, coupons, concert tickets and the like go in the Misc bin, then we know where to find them when we need them.

    Once every month or so, (or more likely when the bins are full) we file and shred accordingly.

    I love the little wire bins, I love that they’re cheap, and they really do work for us. I ended up buying three more to mount inside the closet for storing extra batteries, filters, cables, and all the other stuff that photography requires…

  21. posted by Marge Wheeler on

    I sort the mail before I bring it inside. I put junk in the recycle bin (coupons/city magazines that are free that I can’t stop from coming but that I don’t take time to read). I open anything important (a bill I can’t get signed up for estatements, anything unrecognizabel) and I walk to the shredder with what needs to be shredded and put anything that needs to be reviewed by someone else in the household on the kitchen table (right now just my husband). Any paper we save (bills,forms for taxes, estimates for household repairs) go in a file cabinet in hanging file folders that are labeled. Seems to work well for us.

  22. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Marrena — Oh, we’ve unsubscribed from a lot of stuff … but we still get all the local grocery circulars, local advertisements (our town sells its house number list, so we receive all the “Current Resident” mailings and can’t opt out since our name isn’t sold), and a steady flow of catalogs after we order something online (and then we have to call/go online and unsubscribe from the list).

  23. posted by Leah on

    I pick up my mail at the post office (PO Box), so I toss all the junk into their recycling bins before I even leave. If the stuff is personal, I usually just tear off my name and stick that in a pocket for throwing out once I get home.

  24. posted by gmtb on

    My mail slot is a flight of stairs that lead up to the ‘loft’ apartment. If my husband goes in first, he picks up everything that came through, junk or not, and throws it onto the dining table (somehow always this table, even in the old apartment when it was definitely not the first flat surface he saw) along with his keys and work badge and everything he ever touches.

    I keep a nice tray and letter opener for the bills and Netflix envelopes to live until Sunday’s Weekly Review, not far from the Key and Badge Dish on a low shelf.

    I’ve found that it’s much easier if I just move the items the three feet from the table to the shelf and say nothing more instead of making it an argument if we miss [one of his] bills.

    Then again I completely accept the fact that we’ve been married less than two years and such may not be the case for everyone.

  25. posted by Austen on

    Don’t own a shredder unitasker, do cut some mail such as blank ckecks and credit card offers in 1/2. Check mail by trash can, sort out only greeting cards and bills. Pay bills at once on computer.

  26. posted by EngineerMom on

    Sue – In our apartment, we couldn’t keep a shredder by the door (not enough room plus a small child). So we kept a bin labeled “Shred”. Once a week, or when it was full (whichever came first), one of us would carry the bin into our office area in the living room and shred whatever it contained.

    It worked well, provided we stayed on top of the bin, so I intentionally made it small – couldn’t accumulate more than we could shred in 15 minutes or so without the bin overflowing, in which case it had to be dealt with immediately.

    In our current home, we have space for a shredder and small filing bin near the door, but the problem for us is getting those files transferred to our permanent filing system upstairs. It’s simply not convenient. We spend most of our time on the first floor. The only things upstairs are a guest room and a guest/sewing/office room. I’m a SAHM with a toddler, and I just don’t get up to that sewing room very often. We keep a bill-paying station downstairs near our computer, so really the office part of the upstairs room is just permanent storage – filing cabinets, extra office supplies, etc.

    Our computer is in the living room because it multitasks as our entertainment center and Skype system. There isn’t really enough space to set up a good permanent-storage type of office area by the computer. We can handle keeping one ream of paper and some basic office supplies (stapler, tape, post-it notes, pens, pencils, scissors, and a calendar) nearby, but that’s about it.

  27. posted by Katie Cummings on

    I love the inspiration of your blog, I need orgnaization, thanks for your good ideas. I plugged you on my blog to share the creativity!

  28. posted by Marrena Lindberg on

    I’m pretty sure you can opt out of most “current resident” mailings, whether your address is sold or not. If you contact the sender, say, your local supermarket, they will often put you on their opt out list.

  29. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    As soon as the mail comes in the door, I sort it into junk, my stuff, and my husband’s stuff. His goes on the desk in the kitchen, and he deals with it from there. The rest comes into the office, where I sort and deal with it.

    I pull anything with potential for identity theft out of the junk mail pile and shred it; the rest goes into the recycling basket. Both the shredder and the basket are next to the door to the office.

    Most of my bills come via e-mail these days, so I don’t get many in the mail, but for any that do come, I set up an online payment or right a check right away and add a to-do item to mail it closer to the due date. When payments come, I record them in my accounting system, make out a deposit slip, and stick the check and slip in my purse to deposit the next time I leave the house. Anything else that requires action, I either take care of it right away or set up a to-do item for it.

    Pending papers go in my catch-all basket on my project shelf until it’s time to deal with them. These could be things related to future to-do items, invitations I’m not sure about yet, show applications, things to be mailed later, stuff like that. I’ve found that filing these things away in a drawer doesn’t work for me; I need the visual reminder that it’s there (but the basket is out of my usual line of vision because it’s behind me on a shelf — and it’s pretty). It’s easy enough to flip through to find what I need when it’s time to deal with it.

  30. posted by Becky on

    With a large family, walking in the door and dealing with mail immediately just isn’t feasible. I am usually dealing with the needs and wants of many little ones at that point. So I put the mail in a decorative basket close to our “landing” place (with the keys, etc.). Then, when I have some time, I go through the mail — throwing out the junk, filing all the important papers that need attention, and throwing the “to shred” and “to scan” into two containers. In a perfect world, those two containers are dealt with each week.

  31. posted by Julia on

    I bought a shredder awhile back but it became a pain so I have created a new system that has simplified my life even more. I have removed myself from all catalog mail lists and I subscribe to two magazines (one professional and one personal) and most of my bill paying is automated so I don’t get a huge amount of mail . I realized that I don’t need to go through the mail each day though I do identify the shred pile immediately – these go straight into my monthly shredding box (I don’t even open them now). And of course I scan quickly to see if there is anything urgent (there rarely is). I process mail weekly and this takes about 3-5 minutes. I do this while standing by the recycle bin for obvious reasons, anything with an address label goes into the shredding box and my action pile that goes up to my office for processing (and there’s not usually that much). Once a month I take my stuff for shredding into the office where we have a heavy duty shredder – this takes me about 1-2 minutes to shred. I have cut back on the time it takes to do all this by 70% and it’s freed me up mentally. I love it.

  32. posted by Bobby on

    All these suggestions seem to make this harder than it needs to be.

    Junk mail addressed to “Occupant” needs to go straight into the trash (or recycling). Any junk mail with your name on it can also go straight to the trash, once you remove any personal information & send it to the shredder. Any mail (bills for example) that require action go to wherever those are handled, while the extraneous paperwork included goes to trash or recycling.

    Problem solved. But maybe I don’t understand the whole concept of hiding the shredder. Mine sits on a bookshelf & is ready to go at any time. My important papers go into a fire safe (insurance, tax receipts, deeds, titles, etc.). My paid utility bills go into a file cabinet and are weeded out about once a year and go into the shredder.

    Much simpler and stress-free than some of the solutions I read above.

  33. posted by Jay on

    Most of our bills and bank/financial statements are electronic. We also have a post office box; we receive very little mail at home. We check the post office box once a week.

  34. posted by JuliaJayne on

    I immediately take the mail to the office. The junk goes into the junk mail bag (husband shreds it at work), and the bills go into their respective place. Anything personal is taken to a spot in the kitchen, which is usually dealt with on the same day. I’m finally getting myself into the habit of filing documents that need to be kept, like insurance policies, as soon as they come in the door.

  35. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    My system? The junk mail I haven’t been able to eliminate goes to my recycling bins in the garage – it never comes in the house. (If it includes any personal information, I remove that part to get shredded.) Everything else goes to my home office, and I deal with it there. That’s where my in box, shredder and scanner all live.

  36. posted by DJH on

    Erin there is a form you can fill out at your local Post Office to keep these items out of your mailbox too. I forget what the form is called but your Post Office will know.

  37. posted by [email protected] on

    I have an “inbox” and a home binder. I never thought it would work for me- but I have to say- I’ve been using it for a few months and it’s working great.
    Everyone’s binder is going to be different, and that’s the point. Here’s how I made mine:


  38. posted by Anita on

    re: opting out of junk mail. For us, just putting a “no junk mail please” sign on our mailbox works. People are becoming remarkably considerate of these signs, and we hardly get anything that isn’t specifically addressed to us.

  39. posted by Jenna on

    So many companies offer billing through email nowadays that you can eliminate a lot of the physical mail upfront.

    With what is left that comes through my door, the junk goes immediately into the recycle bin, and I do a quick sort through the rest. These get placed into a folder corresponding with what action I need to take (shred, file, read, other action). I have one day a week to handle each folder – I don’t get anything so urgent that it can’t wait a few days to be dealt with. Tackling items of a similar nature all at once also helps me to streamline the action, so I’m not going between the shredder, filing cabinet, etc.

  40. posted by lucy1965 on

    I’ve just collected my mail for the day. Lab results: whole lot of nothing, see you next year, into the shredder. Would I like a new credit card? No, I wouldn’t, thank you — into the shredder.

    Finally, the copy of Portal 2 that’s been obsessively checked on for two days: identifying bits pulled off the bubble mailer, mailer tossed into the recycling bin, game deposited beside the PS3 for when we’re all done with work.

    One thing I noticed and liked about the new apartment: there’s a sorting and shredding station, with recycling bins, downstairs in the mail room.

  41. posted by cjh57 on

    I think the main reason people want to hide the shredder is to protect children and cats from shredding fingers etc.

    Anita, I don’ think the USPS is allowed to discriminate in delivering junk mail. If it has your address on it, you get it. How would they know what is junk and what you want to get? Maybe you are just lucky recently! 🙂

    If you have a po box, and there is mass mailing advertising addressed to “Boxholder”, then you will not be able to stop that mail since there is no box number on it. I don’t know about other mail addressed to Resident – I am pretty sure it can go to non-specific addresses also, since where I work (government agency) has done mailings to every household in the city and, as far as I can remember, we didn’t use point addresses.

  42. posted by Cal on

    I have a cat that loves loves looooves to shred paper, so I’m forced to sort my mail as soon as it enters the home or risk cleaning up little pieces of it later.

    I use a Rubbermaid chest of drawers to sort my mail into Recycle, Shred, and Keep. The shredder gets pulled out of the closet once in a blue moon to handle the shred drawer.

  43. posted by Dm on

    Recycling bin, large, in garage. All junk mail goes directly in an nowhere else. From mailbox to bin. Works great.

  44. posted by katrina on

    After I check the mailbox, I walk into the house via the back door. So I have to walk past the recycle bin. All junk mail goes in the bin.

    The mail is either opened as soon as I get into the house, or is put into a small correspondence tray for sorting later if I can’t stop to sort it that moment.

    I open the mail beside the recycling bin in the kitchen. All envelope go into the bin (labels with my address torn off the envelopes first), bills etc are put into my planner, letters and postcards go into the tray.

    Labels are torn up and dropped into the compost.

  45. posted by SM on

    I literally just found out about this and thought of this post — have you heard about Zumbox? They digitally converts all of your mail so you receive no paper: . Might be a good alternative to not even needing a shredder.

  46. posted by Anita on

    @cjh57 – I still get anything that has my address on it, but the “no junk mail” sign has cut down on flyers and the like (anything that doesn’t have an address on it, basically). Before this, we got a big handful of junk every day; now, hardly any.

  47. posted by Laurie on

    Here’s a great suggestion – get off as many of the junk mail lists as you can and this will drastically decrease the amount of mail you have to sort/shred/pile/file!!!

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