Hate filing? How to herd those papers.

As a professional organizer, the most common household and office issue I see is paperwork.

In the home, it is a mound on the dining room table or kitchen counter. In the office, it covers the desk, forcing the owner to take refuge somewhere else to get any work done (thank you, Starbucks, for cleaning off your tables regularly!)

People want to use the table/counter/desk for its intended purpose. They are embarrassed and intimidated by the ever-growing drift of paper. Yet it remains, because they don’t know what to do with it.

Two things need to be in place to banish that paper clutter: a plan for where to put it, and a commitment to develop good habits, to stop it from piling up again. Let’s leave the habit discussion for another day, and focus on the where.

Popular opinion indicates that all those papers should be filed. If you’re a left-brain type who adores putting things in order, sorting that pile is just a matter of finding the supplies and the time to do it. However, many people are not inclined that way. They may be more creative, right-brain people. They may live with ad/hd. They may be visual processors, certain that once that paper goes into a file, they will never see it again. Herding papers, for these people, is about as easy- and successful- as herding cats. Are they doomed to living with the pile until it slides off the table one day and buries them? No.

I’ll share the definition of Organized that I believe in: Being able to find what you need, when you need it. Sorting that paper into categories- even large categories- and making it easily accessible, will make a huge difference in how fast you can find things.

Set aside a morning or afternoon when you are feeling energetic. Have a recycling bin and shredding bin handy. Then start sorting into very broad categories. Throw out the junk mail as you go. Use sticky notes to remind yourself what each pile is. Here are some ideas to start:

  • Money-  bank statements, investments, pay stubs
  • People- business cards, addresses, phone numbers
  • Stuff I own- instructions, manuals, warranties, receipts
  • Projects- vacations, crafts, decorating, or work – this is very individual
  • To do- bills to pay, invitations to answer
  • Important documents- house/car title, passport, birth/marriage certificates

When you have tossed what you don’t need and semi-sorted what you do need, choose your place to put it. Some ideas:

Things that you need frequently (to do and current projects) will stay handy in labeled trays. (Black plastic, available anywhere. Pull-out trays, Ikea Kvissle.)

trayskvissle letter tray

If you don’t have shelf space for that, try a wall-mounted rack. (This one is also Ikea Kvissle.) These do come in clear plastic, so you can see what you need.



If you have a lot of piles, consider a stationery holder. It has the same function as a filing cabinet, yet everything will still be easy to see and access, and the shelves will keep them sorted. (Available at office supply stores with different numbers of compartments.) You can label the shelves if need be; they don’t have to be alphabetical.

literature sorterIf the piles are large, or you don’t have shelf space, consider see-through plastic drawers.

drawers 3Things that are not used as often may go in boxes with lids. Just be sure to put a label on it, such as “Important Papers.” (These are Ikea Kasset.)kassett-box-with-lidIf you really need to keep a stack on your desk, or need to carry papers from place to place, there is a way to keep them together, labelled, and visible. Pendaflex created PileSmart products with you in mind. (Available in office supply stores)

pilesmart jacketsThese jackets are transparent, so you can see what’s inside, and open on two sides, so it is easy to stuff a pile in them (including those little bits that get lost.) They come in different colours, and have a label area on the end so you can easily identify which pile it is.

pilesmart label clips

Paper clips with labels attached allow you to immediately identify your pile, and retrieve it if there are several stacked together.

Some people are filers, and some are pilers, but all can find what they need with a system that works for their personality. And they can all reclaim their dining tables and desks.

No product or remuneration was received for these recommendations. Specific stores and product lines are mentioned only to assist those who may wish to obtain similar systems.


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