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How to Organize Paper Clutter {Organizing Challenge Week One}

Get Organized once and for all!! with this ten week plan for how to organize everything in your entire house!

Are you ready to tackle some serious home organization with me?

Last week I shared my 10 week challenge and plan for organizing your entire house.

In this series we will be tackling these areas:

Get your whole house in order in ten weeks! Details and a plan and a challenge at the happy housie

Welcome to WEEK ONE!

I’m super excited about this week  because paper clutter is one of those things that weighs on me…

It doesn’t necessarily take up a lot of space.

And you can stash it away pretty easily.

You know…out of sight, out of mind.

But even if you tuck it away; you know it’s there.

Those unpaid bills. Incoming Mail. Outgoing mail. Unclaimed medical receipts. Piles of other receipts to sort through. School papers. Etc. Etc.

And although it doesn’t take up as much room as a lot of other types of clutter; it creates more mental clutter.

Because it’s that feeling of tasks undone. Jobs you need to complete. Nagging at you. Stealing away your peace.

So that’s why I wanted to start with the paper clutter first…

Let’s get started!

get your whole house organized with this 10 week organizing challenge; week one is all about paper clutter and setting up a command center - details at the happy housie

Paperwork and Command Centers

The goals for this first week of the challenge are to:

  1. Go through, purge and then organize your paperwork {which we are talking about today}
  2. Develop a system for your incoming and outgoing paperwork and create a space for it – such as a command center {tomorrow’s post}

This includes:

  • mail
  • receipts
  • medical documents
  • insurance
  • banking
  • tax information and receipts
  • important documents
  • keepsakes
  • school papers / newsletters etc.
  • homework papers
  • keepsake artwork and schoolwork (though I plan to store this away and then work on it separately during WILDCARD week)

So… Job 1 is always to PURGE.  And it has to get messy before it get’s better.

Take EVERYTHING out. And I mean everything… unless you already have it organized and filed. In that case, you will want to do a quick look through your files to see if they are full of old papers that you don’t need to hang onto anymore.

Go through it all. Recycle any paper that you don’t need. Shred (or tear up) that includes personal information (names, addresses, banking etc.).

Here is a super helpful infographic to help you know what to keep and what to throw! You will want to keep your tax-related documents for 7 years in case you get audited.

Shred, Scan, or Store Tips to Help You Eliminate Paper Clutter


If you are having trouble deciding, ask yourself these five questions:

5 questions to ask yourself when you are decluttering paper and organizing paperwork and files as part of the 10 work organizing challenge for your entire home

When or why might you need this?

I think that there are a lot of things that we hold onto “in case” but that we don’t really need. If you have a niggling feeling that you “might” need a piece of paper, but aren’t sure why; then try to imagine any specific situations where you might need it. Can’t come up with any? Take the hint and let it go!

Could you find the information anywhere else?

If you needed to, you could find copies of most bills online. Same goes for instruction manuals. And it also rings true for bank statements and investment statements. Let them go.  If you really need the information, you can access it online or through the bank or business.

Would you be better off with a scanned copy?

If you are nervous about letting a paper go, but don’t really think you need it, you could also make a scanned copy. Most printers have a built in scanner, and there are also all kinds of apps for smart phones now that create scanned documents using your phone’s camera. You can then feel secure that you have a copy of the document without needing to actually keep it. Some things, like receipts needed for taxes are much easier to scan so you don’t have piles of messy receipts hanging around waiting for tax season.

How recent is it?

Some documents you need to hang onto for a set period of time and then you can part with them. For example, the rule of thumb for anything tax-related is 7 years. The infographic I shared above has a great list of what and when you can let go of various important documents.

Is it worth my time to file this?

Here is the big question. Holding onto something means you are going to invest the time and energy into sorting it. Organizing it. Filing it. So you need to decide if this paper is worth your time to file (and to then look up and find again if you need it). That one question is a great test of whether you keep it or ditch it.

Purging complete.

Now you need a system to handle what you’ve kept. And to handle what will be incoming in the future…

Once you have gone through and purged all that paper clutter, it’s time to file all the papers and documents that you do think are important and valuable to hang onto. A simple FILING CABINET will do – metal or plastic will work.

I bought a basic boring metal one, like this…

black file cabinet

Basic File Cabinet

And then I painted mine to add a little fun punch. I shared the full tutorial on how to paint it here. {PS – I painted it over two years ago and it’s held up amazingly well!}


But if you plan to keep your files in a closet or in a less central space then we have ours, then you might want to just go with a simple plastic file bin, like this:

File Bin

Plastic File Bin

You’ll also need hanging file organizers and files…

Hanging Legal Size File Folders / Coloured Legal Size Files / Legal Size File Frame (depending on what file system you have chosen, you may need to purchase the frame separately.

Now it’s time to get down to the fun part…


It helps to organize your files into categories; label each file, and then organize them by theme. I shared an entire post about how to set-up an easy to follow and find colour coded file system

And if you want to go paperless?

My uber-organized friend Abby has an amazing system and ebook for that!



And what about all that daily incoming paperwork??

I’ll be back Wednesday with some inspiration for how to set that up in your home: Essential Elements of a Command Center.

I’ll be sharing some great tips for how to create a central area that will help you manage everything that is incoming and a monthly system for making sure that paper clutter does not overtake your life again!

Now… it’s time to get sorting, purging, shredding, scanning and recycling all of that paper clutter…

How to tackle all that paper clutter and organize it once and for all as part of the 10 week organizing challenge - get your whole home organized in 10 weeks at the happy housie


Join the challenge!

Sign up to have The 10 Week Organizing Challenge sent to you weekly!

Head over here to read more details about the challenge!


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  1. Hi this is Kristina visiting from Home and Garden Thursday. I know what you mean about paper. I don’t care if I can’t see it, it still weighs on me! I really like how you broke up everything into one step per week. That makes organizing a lot less overwhelming. I am looking for ways to organize that I can share with my audience so I will be pinning this.

  2. I have spent all day organizing papers. I’m in a unique position. I know all the basics of filiing when I was in the Navy. But they had a really great system set up. My issue is I have to keep all my active duty medical information, all my VA disability paperwork, all my VA records, my Post 911 GI Bill (VA); anything having to do with the VA because they do lose items quite frequently and I am so afraid that the day will come when I will need these things and have purged them. Also we have had issues with A&T, so much that when we get the bill, I have to end up getting a person’s name and employee number so I will have that for the next bill. I have set up a file for my DD-214, my living will etc. but I am so confused about the VA stuff, because in the military if you don’t have something documented, it never happened. I need your help. Thanks

    1. Hi Melissa! I have written an entire e-book around the 10 week organizing challenge, or you can follow along on my blog or you can sign up to have weekly emails delivered throughout the challenge. The e-book includes printable checklists for each area in the 10 week challenge, including paper clutter. See the details in my original post, or check out the ebook here. Hope that helps!

    1. Hi Melanie!
      I’m still working on that with my own boys stuff. I currently have it stored in totes, but it’s on my 2018 do list to go through and purge it and only keep what I love. I have bought some of these artist portfolios to store it in (and make scrapbooks of their early years) -aff link. I also wrote a post here and here about dealing with kid’s artwork and schoolwork that you might find inspiring! Hope that helps:)

  3. Thank you for starting with papers! I always end with papers and thus have run out of steam by the time I get to the papers.

  4. THANK YOU!!!! I am very organized! BUT, we just retired from the Military & going through some of the boxes brought nostalgia back! I want Nostalgia to go away! I am not the only person in my family! SIGH! I need to be patient & move through this. Your site is awesome! I am doing the 10 week process, again! I love love love your home! It is gorgeous! Step 1…Coffee. Step 2…papers! I am so glad I came upon your site! Renewing Faith is one step at a time!

  5. I have a unique situation – I have been taking care of my mom in her home for over 2 years, and with her being very sick for 3 months last year, I let paperwork get out of hand.
    I decided I would tackle every last piece of paper here, file it, and store it in a plastic file box (which is not what I preferred – I love my filing cabinet). Knowing that you and many others were doing this kept me motivated and I have got it done!!!
    When I sell my home and move in with my mom I will be doing up a command center here which I had at my home.

    1. Hi Pam! There are definitely times in our lives where it gets more difficult to keep up with the paperwork and clutter; but ironically those things hugely contribute and add to our stress during busy or difficult times as well. I’m glad you have gotten to tackle your paperwork now. Maybe maybe it’s just me, but the process of organizing things is actually really calming. Weird??

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