lady sitting at messy desk with stacks of papers

How to Declutter Your Paper Piles: What to Toss and Keep

Home » Organize Your Life » How to Declutter Your Paper Piles: What to Toss and Keep

I have read so many articles and books on “how to declutter your paper piles.” Sometimes I would make progress. But then they would start piling up again.

Piles of paper can make your home feel so overwhelming. They can quickly become a source of stress.

Whether they are stacked on your kitchen counter or spilling out of a drawer. Or taking over an entire corner of the room!

Manage Your Chaos participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.

cluttered desk

You can free up space in your home by getting rid of paper clutter. It’ll help you breathe easier knowing that your living space is more organized.

This post will show you how to declutter your paper piles quickly and easily.

We’ll provide tips on: 

  • Organizing and decluttering paper piles
  • What to toss
  • What to keep
  • How to reduce paper clutter
  • Choosing a filing system
  • Determining categories for your files
  • Sorting through your stacks of papers

Let’s get started!

Where Are Your Paper Piles Coming From?

lady at desk with piles of papers

Unopened mail is one of the biggest sources of paper clutter in your home. It can be tempting to let it pile up. But you’ll need to go through it all eventually.

Open your incoming mail on a daily basis. Try to do it as soon as you enter the house. Discard junk mail and shred mail with your personal information on it.

I’m the worst at keeping a piece of mail. I always think I’ll look at it later when I have time.

The easiest way to decide what to do with it is the moment you pick it up.

These are some other sources of potential paper clutter:

  • Junk mail
  • Magazines and newspapers
  • Business cards
  • Receipts
  • Owners manuals, google to see if they are online
  • Expired coupons-go digital, or be sure to use an organizer
  • Bills including internet, utility, mortgage payments, etc.
  • Bank statements 
  • Credit card statements
  • Pest control bills and statements
  • Kids’ school papers and artwork
  • Birthday or occasion cards

Best Ways to Reduce Paper Clutter

  • Try to see if you can find owner’s manuals online. Most of the time, you can, so you can toss the paper manual. 
  • Find your favorite magazines online so you can toss them.
  • You can read or listen to your news online. . I suppose most people don’t read newspapers anymore, but I know some do!
  • Grocery store apps are a great way to find digital coupons, You can do this instead of paper coupons. The Krazy Coupon Lady says Target, Kroger, and Walgreens have the best coupon apps.
  • Use a coupon organizer book if you decide to use paper coupons. Go through them often to toss expired ones.
  • Consider paperless options such as online banking. You can also pay your bills online. You can access past and current electronic statements with a click of your mouse!
  • Buy a scanner and scan your documents into Dropbox or Google Drive! There are many options for storing documents this way.

More Ways to Reduce Paper Clutter

  • Set a box aside to save your favorite artwork from your children. Save what you love and toss the rest.
  • Consider storing your sentimental papers in a special box or folder. Only save the ones that mean a lot to you. 
  • Going through the steps to reduce paper clutter should help with incoming paper. Let’s get to work on decluttering what we have! 
  • I like what Marie Kondo has to say about paper clutter. She states that she only keeps those items that serve a clear purpose. 
  • She also keeps a special box for important papers that need action. That is literally all she says on her website about paper clutter!? 
  • She has a way of making this sound so simple! For me, it seems more complicated. Only because I can be so indecisive at times. But I’m striving to get better at it! 
  • Remember that everyone is different. And you may have different types of papers or documents. That’s ok! Take away or add to these lists according to what makes sense to you.

What to Toss

  • Junk mail, duh?
  • Expired coupons
  • Greeting cards that have no sentimental value to you
  • Old magazine and newspapers
  • Catalogs (you can find these online)
  • Receipts for gas (unless you save for mileage) and food
  • Bills after the payment have gone through

What to Keep

For Seven Years or Longer

  • Tax records- keep for at least seven years or longer.
  • Documents you used to verify the information on your tax returns.
  • Save the verification documents for your tax returns for at least seven years. This would include W-2 and 1099 forms, receipts, and payments. 
  • Save receipts for home improvement projects and remodeling projects. You will need to keep this paperwork for as long as you own your home.
  • Products under warranty
  • Insurance claims

Keep for One Year

  • Keep your bank, credit card, and investment statements for a year for tax filing. You’ll have them when you need proof of income when buying something of value.
  • Hang on to your paid medical bills for a year as well.
  • Save the paperwork if you have an active dispute with your insurance company. Save this paperwork until the dispute is resolved. Then you you’ll need to store the resolution documents indefinitely.

What to Keep Less Than a Year.

Hang on to all receipts for one year unless they are from:

  • A product under warranty
  • Tax records as mentioned above
  • Insurance claims 

This Forbes Advisor article will show you which financial documents to keep and toss.

lady filing papers in a filing cabinet

Filing Systems to Consider

Be sure to have a filing system ready before we begin sorting papers. I recommend a fireproof storage filing system of some sort.

A fireproof file or storage box will keep your important documents safe. This is so important after all the hard work you’ve gone through!

Filing Cabinet

Fireproof and Burglary resistant 2 drawer filing cabinet-This is an investment. But you can rest assured that your documents are safe.

File Document Box

Fireproof Document Box with TSA lock-We will be purchasing two of these. We will update you on how they work for us. We have a simple fireproof document bag that isn’t big enough.

File Safe Box

Fireproof and Waterproof Safe Box with Key Lock– I like the fact that this one is waterproof.

Once you choose a system, label all the files with your chosen categories.

I listed some possible types down below. You’ll be ready to fill them once you’ve decluttered and sorted all your paper piles.

Set Aside Time to Declutter Your Paper Piles

Try to pick a time that you can focus without interruption. Work on a clean, uncluttered surface. 

Start with one small area. 

Have a trash can or trash bag beside you.

Create Four Piles

  • One for papers you need to keep and file.
  • One for documents that need an action taken. (invitation, a bill that is due, etc.)
  • One for sentimental items
  • One for documents you need to shred

Keep a trash can or trash bag close by for items that need to be discarded. Shred if it has personal information on it.

If you find a need for another pile, that is fine!

As you go through your papers, sort them into these piles. Follow the lists above to keep you organized and on track.

Try to handle each piece of paper only once. Keep sentimental items in a separate box if you struggle with them. If it’s too emotional, put them aside for now. It’s ok!

You are making progress!

If photos are part of your “papers,” don’t deal with these right now! Put them away somewhere else to go through at a later date. I always start reminiscing when I go through pictures. And then I get totally sidetracked!

papers to sort into piles to file

Sort the Papers Into the Proper Categories

These can be:

  • Tax documents
  • Real estate/house documents
  • Mortgage document
  • Insurance documents
  • Property tax documents
  • Utility bills
  • Home maintenance, including receipts
  • Medical/Health, use a separate file for each family member.
  • Automobile/Car titles and documents
  • Insurance policies
  • Credit card documents
  • Banking
  • Loan documents
  • Investments
  • Vital records (birth certificates, marriage licenses, social security cards, social security numbers, will documents, etc)
  • Personal home inventory
  • Finances-including credit card statements, bank statements, investments, pensions, etc.
  • Warranties and manuals (search and see if they are online before you keep and file these)
  • Personal file for each family member for personal items

Order Files in a Way That Makes Sense to You

  • You can create sub-categories inside one of the folders. This’ll lessen the number of files you use.
  • Put your files in alphabetical order.
  • Order your files by date. Keep the most recent documents at the front of the cabinet, the oldest ones toward the back.
  • Or, you could choose to mix these approaches. Create sections for different types of documents. Then file them within those sections in chronological order. 

Final Tips to Declutter Your Paper Piles

Ultimately, the best way to organize your file cabinet is deciding method works best for you. And helps you find the documents you need quickly and easily.

If you can do all of your decluttering in one day, that is great! If you don’t have time to do this, section off areas of your house where the paper clutter is. Chip away at it as you have time.

Take time to go through your paper stacks regularly. Take care of all the papers that come into your house. This should stop the piles in their tracks.

Hopefully, there won’t be a lot of paper lying around after going through this process! The peace of mind you’ve gained will help you stay on track.

Congratulations! Sorting papers is quite an energy zapper. So this is a huge accomplishment!

lady at clean desk

Final Thoughts

So there you have it – our tried and true guide to decluttering your paper piles. We hope these tips help you organize and reclaim your desk space, counter space, AND peace of mind!

Do you have a favorite method for organizing papers?

Check out my About Me Page to learn more about my crew and me!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *