Getting organized: Streamlining paper flow

When I get a hack like this, which is so obvious in its simplicity, I wonder why I struggle with all the paper flying around my house. From Sarah:

I have a small bin that holds hanging files.  I keep it on the dining room table which is incidentally where my laptop usually is.  I have files for new recipes, new bills, receipts and bills that have been processed but need to be filed, coupons, and cards and invitations.  When I get the mail in, I sort through it immediately and file it into these folders.  Every few days I go through my purse and ask my husband to extract receipts from his wallet.  Then once a week I sit down and enter receipts into Quicken and pay bills and immediately recycle all the paper that we don't need to keep.

I can even see keeping files (or separate bins) for each kid as well to store homework projects, flyers, and art pieces they don't like enough to display but don't yet want to toss. Getting kids into the filing habit early can save time and brain cells later. This will be easier for some kids to adopt than others, but even seeing that paper can be organized this way can help kids learn to organize themselves later on.

More: Tips for organizing paper


  1. says

    Yes! I’ve got to second this hack.

    TWH and I had our own sorting system like this before Baby A came along. We, too, fill each week’s receipts into a monthly/yearly spreadsheet (that we custom-made in Excel, not Quicken) and file away those receipts.

    When Baby A was born, she got her own folder. And now she has several crates–a memory box, an art box, and play-doh stuff.

    – L

  2. says

    Wanted to add that we live in a 1920 bungalow that is beyond adorable, but at 1300 square feet leaves no room for papers and clutter.

    Baby A will either grow up to be a super-organized adult…or rebel and be super messy.

    – L

  3. says

    We do the same thing. In college, I began using similar portfolios instead of binders – made it very easy to not worry about three hole punching things to put them in binders, or opening several different folders. We also keep a small portfolio/reciept holder for coupons. It lives in the car so that we actually have coupons with us when we can use them.

  4. says

    Sarah, Lea and Amberlynn are definitely organizing gurus. Filing mail when you get it? Spreadsheets? Coupons where you can actually use them? Wow.

    The hanging file crate is also a good method of organizing the reams of paper that school-agers bring home. Even the 5-yo can file her work after we review it. At the end of the year, we pull a binder full of pieces–writing, art work, tests–that summarize the progress over the year and pitch the rest. (Big pieces that I want to keep are in an archival box under my bed.)

    I use those 21-pocket expanding files for bills, reciepts etc. There’s a pocket for every month, plus extras that I use for medical reciepts, tax-related items, the to-do list, and all that stuff you keep for misc reasons. Saves time looking for the right file, walking to file cabinets, etc.

    Our fire safe has a folder for each person, containing birth certificates, passports, report cards/transcripts, and all that other stuff.

    And don’t be afraid to pitch things! Here’s a document retention list from David Allen of Getting Things Done:

  5. says

    I discovered a drawer in my kitchen that is the perfect size for holding a wire frame for those hanging folders. (I’m sure the previous owners planned the drawer for that purpose — it just took me a few years to figure it out!) I have folders for each kid’s school stuff, medical stuff, PTO stuff, etc. etc. Now there’s at least a chance I’ll find something when I need it! I don’t use it for bills and receipts, though. I have an old desk with those little pigeon-hole cubbies that I use for those.

  6. Ope says

    I find that our kids’ schools are major sources of misc. paper. Beyond the kids we always get assorted flyers, papers, receipts etc that we need to keep around for a while but have a limited life span. For example we might get a paper with details about a field trip in March. I need to keep the paper around because I will need those details in a few months but I don’t want the paper just lying around in the open for that long AND I don’t want to keep the paper any longer than I need to.

    So, I added 12 file folders, one for each month. If I get a piece of paper that I need to save for a while I put it into the folder for the month that it will have served it’s usefulness. At the end of the month I recycle all of the paper in that month’s folder. Using my above example of a field trip in March, I put the paper into the March folder so it is easy to find and at the end of March it goes away with everything else for March. Simple and very effective.

  7. says

    If I was organized enough to do this hack. I wouldn’t need this hack. If you can sit down once a week and go through everything, then you could just pile it in a pile for the week and then permanently file it. It’s the sitting down once a week thing that trips me up.

  8. Aspen says

    In ref to the 1300sq/ft bungalow by “Lea”… You beat me by 300sq/ft. I think the main trouble with our need for bigger size isn’t that exactly, it’s the layout of our homes. I have 1 small closet in each room 1 linen and no storage in the bathroom. we re-did our basement for the sake of an extra 1000 sq/ft, and still we feel we have no room, could that be mainly because we use it as a dumping ground? hmmm. I have resorted to “hard-plastic” boxes which seem to curb the dumping on an “everywhere” scale, by using them as unorganized dumping bins. So that’s my dilema. What I have totally resolved to at this point is, not bringing into my home what we don’t need, and if it does get a welcome greeting, we observe it’s behaviour. A great example is Toys from Christmas & birthdays, If I see a broken, incomplete toy it goes into a specific bin (totally hidden from kids view – of course “out of sight, out of mind”) if the kids don’t ask for it for a month, it goes into a permanent box, at 3 months, to Sally-Anne! and I feel a huge weight off my shoulders. I guess you could call me a “minimalist” due to our circumstances, but I’d say “I’m crazy w/ chaos, it’s my cure”.

    On to article, thanks re-affirming my need for bins and file folders!

  9. Jennifer Romero says

    In the process of getting information gathered for my taxes, I realized I did not have one place for tax related information. To remedy this, I put an expandable file in the filing cabinet. I put a calendar in the front and enter each doctor/dentist appointment, location, and time on specific day. I also keep all receipts and prescription records in the file. One less thing I have to stress over!