How to Organize Paper Clutter Without Feeling Overwhelmed- Podcast or Post #13

Are you overwhelmed by paper clutter? This Podcast or Post explains how to declutter & organize paper piles at home without feeling overwhelmed.


Today we’re talking about practical suggestions that will help you motivate yourself to start cleaning up if you are dealing with piles of paper clutter that feels overwhelming to declutter and file. 

We’re going to break down different aspects of tackling paper clutter (without losing your mind.)


(Below you can read the post or play the podcast version- about 34 mins.)

Play the audio for this podcast (above) or download it by clicking on the 3 dots to the right of the volume control. (Otherwise, you can read the post below.)

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✅Download the Free Paper Organization Roadmap– This includes a summary of the main tips, steps, and organization supplies from this Podcast & Post, it includes a detailed list of important papers to keep, and more.

The Main Paper Filing Supplies Recommended for File Cabinet Alternatives

(Keep scrolling to read the full post and to see all the products we recommend.)

Note: If you use Amazon & have an Amazon Prime membership, you can cut shipping costs with your filing supplies. 

Sign up here to get a free 30-day Amazon Prime trial.

File Boxes– These are the ones I personally have & recommend.

✅Regular Hanging Files These can be used to separate & organize papers into smaller categories & sub-categories.

✅Box-Bottom Hanging Files– These can hold larger groups of papers or multiple regular hanging files within them.

Articles Referenced:

Organizing with Binders: The Best Way to Organize Important Paperwork by Katie @ Organizing Moms

How to Reduce Paper Clutter by Dana @ A Slob Comes Clean

Recommended Book for Wives

✅ The Empowered Wife’ by Laura Doyle– This book will help you deal with your husband’s clutter and everything else as a wife.


6 Tips for Getting Started When You’re Overwhelmed by Paper Clutter


The truth is, knowing the how-tos and having the best supplies to organize and file papers are only going to benefit you if you take action. 

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Done is better than perfect,” and that’s true of paper clutter too. 


Tip #1: Pick one main organization method for papers & stick to it consistently.

a woman's hands shown filing papers in a filing cabinet

Being consistent will get much better results than staying in a paralyzed stage of trying to find the perfect solution. 

So out of the methods you know of, and what you can do starting today or this week with the supplies you have, (or the budget you have if you need more supplies,) commit to one method and just start.

But, what if there’s a better method or strategy and you want to find the perfect solution??

The answer to that is nothing is perfect, (at least when it comes to paper organization.) And all successful methods for filing & decluttering papers involve work, effort, and being consistent.

Honestly, even if there is a better method out there than what you’re using, it’s better to motivate yourself to start and be consistent in managing papers with an inferior method than to waste time learning all of the best possible methods, with the most sophisticated organizers, meanwhile still having piles of disorganized papers.  


Tip #2: Decide how much time you can commit to tackling your paper piles on the days you clean or on certain days of the week. 

clock next to a pile of papers that need to be filed

If you work on organizing papers for just 10 mins a day, a few days a week, that’s okay. Or if you want to get done faster, you could do 30 minutes a day (or even more.)

There is no right or wrong answer. Of course, the more time you can do, the more quickly you’ll diminish those piles of clutter.

I suggest catching up on filing with smaller blocks of time more consistently versus longer filing sessions less frequently. Working on paper clutter 10 minutes for 5-6 days a week until you’re caught up, is better than 2 hours every few months.


Tip #3: Use a countdown timer during the times you designate for organizing papers.

a woman looks at her watch starting a countdown timer before she starts filing her paper piles

Now that you’ve decided how long you can commit to filing, set a timer for the amount of time you’re going to work on papers. And focus completely on that task until the timer goes off.

When the timer runs out, you can stop. This will help you feel less overwhelmed. Because no matter how many papers you have in a pile to file, you’re only going to spend a set amount of time tackling papers. 


Tip #4: Take care of papers that come into the home ASAP.

black woman sorting mail as it comes into her home so she doesn't accumulate paper clutter

This, right here, is what will stop your paper clutter piles from getting bigger. 

In most homes, there is a constant flow of paper clutter coming into the home.

~Mail = papers coming into your home.

~Work papers (that you/your spouse/family bring home) = papers coming into your home.

~Pay stubs = papers coming into your home.  

~School papers your kids bring home (if you have kids that go to school,) = papers coming into your home.

~Paperwork & records from doctor’s visits = papers coming into your home.

~Receipts from shopping trips & other errands = papers coming into your home.

These are just some examples of what can turn out to be a lot of incoming clutter.

Of course, we all get junk mail and papers that we don’t need to keep. But some papers coming into our home really are important.

Either way, whether the papers coming into your home are things that can be tossed, recycled, or shredded, or they are things you need/want to keep, it’s important to take care of them as they come into your home. 

If you don’t take care of new papers immediately, your paper piles will get bigger.

But if you file, organize, and declutter these new things as they enter your house, you won’t get more behind on paper filing and clutter. Even if you take a while to go through the unorganized paper piles you already have, those piles will only get smaller and eventually be gone. 

If you have a strategy for incoming paper clutter AND you have a strategy for the papers you’re behind on taking care of, you will get completely caught up. 

So if nothing else, make sure you have a strategy for taking care of papers as they enter your home. 

Some people take care of the mail as soon as they get it.

Dana from A Slob Comes Clean says, “Simply heading straight to the trash can from the mailbox has greatly reduced our paper clutter.” (She was referring to things that don’t need to be kept.)

Personally, I try to take care of mail immediately most days.

But I also have 10 minutes planned in my daily cleaning routine to address paper clutter & to file papers. This gives me time to take care of new clutter. And also I’m able to work on taking care of older clutter that needs to be filed.

I’m currently in the process myself of redoing/revamping my paper files.

I previously used a small filing cabinet, but it keeps breaking. And it didn’t have sufficient space for everything we need to keep for our family of 6. (I’ll share what I’m now using for a filing strategy later in this post.)


Tip #5: Communicate with your spouse/other adults in your home about their papers.

a wife discusses papers she's filing with her husband sitting at the kitchen table

If you’re married or have one or more other adults living in your home, there’s a good chance you’ll come across papers belonging to someone else.

I can understand if you feel somewhat frustrated by another person (or multiple people) leaving papers strewn about your house. And in general, if you can get family members to help around the house and pick up after themselves, that’s ideal.

But you definitely don’t want to put your spouse’s or family’s important papers somewhere they won’t be able to find them. Or even worse, you don’t want to throw out something they need.

When keeping your home free of paper clutter you want to accomplish 2 things:

1. You want to have a strategy in place to consistently manage and organize papers in your home.

2. You also want to simultaneously maintain a nice relationship with anyone else who lives in your home, while you keep your home free of clutter.

In order to accomplish the 2nd goal, you’ll need to show respect for the belongings of everyone else in your home. And this includes papers. 

Now, if you live alone, or live with one or more people who either always take care of their papers or don’t care what you do with them, then you don’t need to worry about this too much. 

Otherwise, though, you’ll want to find ways to communicate kindly and respectfully with your spouse/other adults in your home about their papers.


2 Tips to Show Respect to Your Spouse/Another Adult in Your Home When You Find Their Papers in Shared Space: 


1.) Make sure your body language, tone of voice, and choice of words come across as kind, calm, and respectful. 


Acting and speaking out of frustration will not get you the results you want.

I understand if you’re frustrated when someone else is leaving a mess of papers.

But I can tell you right now, (and I’ve learned this the hard way, I’ll admit,) that approaching them out of frustration and irritation will have a negative affect on your relationship. And it often will make your clutter problem worse.

If your spouse or another adult in your home is on the receiving end of your frustrations, even when you have a legitimate reason for getting frustrated, there’s a good chance that they’ll get defensive or upset. And they will be less inclined to control their paper clutter.

So wait until you are cool and collected and can have a genuine smile and calm demeanor before approaching any other adult about their clutter.


2.) When you come across your spouse’s/another adult’s paper clutter, ask them if they need it or where they would like you to put it. 


Here are some examples of what you can say when you ask/approach an adult about their paper clutter:


1. “Do you still need this paper?”

2. “Where would you like to keep this paper?”

3. “I’m working on organizing a pile of papers and I found your papers for {insert type of papers}. Where do you think they should be kept?”

4. “I would love to have the surfaces in {insert room you are currently working on} cleared off. I put away all the papers I know what to do with, but I don’t know where you want these papers. Where do you think they should go?”

5. “I’m not sure where you would like to keep your paperwork for {insert type of paperwork}. Is it alright if I put it with the other paperwork under the file {insert name of file}? Or do you think they should be kept someplace else?”

Now the examples I just gave are simply suggestions. You know best how your spouse or any other adult who lives with you will likely respond to how you approach them. 

If they don’t mind you touching their papers or filing them, then you don’t need to ask them each time. But if your spouse/loved one is touchy about you handling their papers, then find a way to ask that comes across to them as respectful communication.

Worst-case scenario, if they don’t give you permission to move their papers, then you can organize/file everything else. And you can occasionally express your desire for the surface the papers are on to be clear of clutter.

It’s important that you don’t try to force them to take care of their things or complain in any way.

If the surface the clutter is on or in is within your husband’s/spouse’s personal space, such as on top of their dresser or on or inside their desk, it’s important you allow them to control their own environment and give them that respect. The same goes for any other adult that lives with you. 

Sometimes my husband will keep certain papers in one of his dresser drawers or on top of his dresser. And it doesn’t look organized to how I personally would like it, but the papers are in his space.

He has every right to decide how he wants to organize his own papers and his own space. So I don’t say anything to him about how he manages his things. I’m thankful that he keeps his papers within his space. And I’m thankful he doesn’t insist that they remain as visible clutter in the main areas of our home. 

My goal is to have the main areas of our home- the shared spaces- free of clutter.

My husband doesn’t try to micromanage how I keep my personal space or even how I clean and organize shared areas of the home, including how I file family papers. So I want to show him the same respect.

Showing respect to another person’s papers doesn’t mean you have to agree with their decisions on what to keep or how they organize their belongings. But you allow them to make those decisions.


If you’re a wife that’s finds it challenging to get your husband to pick up after himself or find yourself getting frustrated with him in general, I strongly recommend the book ‘The Empowered Wife’ by Laura Doyle.

She also has free weekly podcasts. But her book is a really great starting point for showing how to communicate with men in a way that actually gets positive results.

I’ve found the majority of what she shares to be very practical and helpful with communicating with my husband and even other people. And I now have a lot less frustration.

This book teaches a lot of important skills that help wives and women in general. I’ve found them very effective for how I communicate with my husband regarding the state of our home. The skills and cheat phrases she teaches have helped me get more help around the house. So I highly recommend her book for that reason. 

Just a note: The reason I focused on adult paper clutter here, is because if you have kids, you and their other parent have 100% control over what you want them to keep and where they keep it. If your kids are old enough to put away their own papers, you have authority to tell them that.

Sure, as parents we want to be kind and respectful when we talk to our children. But we also have authority to tell them what to do with their things and what they can keep.

Whereas with your husband/spouse/roommate/another adult, they have control over their own belongings and what they keep. So when it comes to shared living space, we want to show respect to them and their belongings.


Tip #6: Keep a physical or digital list of the categories of files you have and where they’re located.

a woman writes a list of all the paper files she has

Personally I use & their app to keep track of my paper file categories so I can see at a glance the file categories I already have and which file box they’re in.

This helps me avoid duplicating files I already have and helps me to quickly locate them when needed.

For our family, we have a household of 6 people that I have paper files and records for. I tend to keep physical records instead of electronic, so there are a lot of files we keep.

I have a step-by-step guide on how to set up a free Trello account and how to use it to keep track of files starting on page 10 of our free Paper Organization Roadmap.

So now that we’ve discussed tips for getting started with paper clutter when you feel overwhelmed, let’s talk about some paper storage ideas and the supplies you need to file papers.

I’m going to share both the supplies I personally use as well as some things other people use. Different supplies can be used depending on what you need to file and what works best for you.


Paper Organization & Filing Supplies You Need 


Note: If you use Amazon & have an Amazon Prime membership, you can save on shipping for many organization supplies. 

✅Sign up here to get a free 30-day Amazon Prime trial.


1.) A Place to Organize/Store Papers

paper storage items including binders, a file cabinet, and a magazine holder

Here are 6 different paper organizer options:


1. Filing Cabinets

filing cabinets for paper organization and storage

Using a filing cabinet is probably the most common way people organize and file papers. The downside is they are also one of the more expensive paper storage methods.

Filing cabinets generally have multiple drawers that hanging files can hook onto.

(I have a file cabinet I use, but it keeps breaking. So I actually use the next paper storage item on this list as my main method for keeping important papers.)


How to Organize Papers Without a Filing Cabinet


The rest of the paper organizers we’re going to talk about are file cabinet alternatives.


2. File Boxes


These file boxes we purchased on Amazon are my favorite paper storage method, out of different things I’ve tried. And they are a great alternative to filing cabinets.

These work similar to a filing cabinet, as they are designed for hanging files to hook onto. 

But I like these better because they are less expensive, and they are also a bit more mobile. It’s easier to move these around and store them in different places. (A traditional filing cabinet is harder to move, takes up more space and is designed to be more stationary.)


3. Magazine Holders 

white magazine holders (can purchase on amazon)

Because they look visibly appealing, magazine holders are a nice solution for papers you want to keep in a more visible location, such as on a desk or book shelf.

I have a few of these that I had purchased for previous paper filing attempts. (I’ll be honest that they aren’t my favorite.)

In my opinion, they are a little harder to organize & separate things. But if you use these for a bunch of magazines, (as the name implies,) or papers that you don’t particularly care how they are arranged, they’ll do the job.


4. Binders

dark blue open binder

I personally don’t love using binders for general paper filing, especially if you need to hole punch your papers first to put them in. I think it’s best when possible to store papers in a way that is fast to file them.

However, binders are good for specific types of paper organization.

Binders can be used for storing recipes & meal planning, for organizing bills & a home budget, and for other home management uses for papers that have an ongoing use.

Katie from Organizing Moms shares some ideas and tips here for how to use binders to organize your home.


5. Photo Album / Scrapbook


When it comes to memorabilia, you may want to get a nice photo album and/or scrapbook. These can be used specifically for preserving memories, to save things in a nicer way.

6. Folders

colored folders for organizing papers

Folders can be useful, as binders are, for storing specific papers that have an ongoing use. (To be honest, I like binders better than regular folders because it’s easier to flip through papers, in my opinion.)

There are other paper organizer options, but these 6 are some of the most common to use for home organization.


2.) Supplies to Label & Group Papers


~1. Hanging Files

assorted colors hanging files for paper storage and organization

These are specifically needed for use in file cabinets and file boxes designed to fit/hold hanging files.

Hanging files in themselves aren’t advantageous, unless you have a proper cabinet or file box designed to fit them in. (They usually have small metal pieces on the ends, and could even be a hazard if they aren’t stored properly.)

Overall, my favorite filing method for papers we need to keep long-term, out of everything I’ve tried, is using file boxes with hanging file folders

And just as a side note, I once had a major paper organization/filing FAIL by trying to use a regular box/container with regular folders. (The folders ended up falling over.) And it’s much harder to find papers you’re looking for in a regular folder versus a hanging file.

In addition to regular hanging file folders, there are also box bottom hanging files.

These are designed to hold a larger group of papers or multiple regular hanging file folders within them. (I personally use these too.)


~2. Tabs


Hanging file folders almost always come with attached tabs or attachable plastic tabs & insertable papers you can label and put in the tab.

There are also stick-on tabs you can purchase to label papers or groups of papers. I don’t like these as much as the ones that come with hanging files, because stick-on tabs can fall off. 

~3. Dividers


Dividers can be used to separate papers with different filing methods, and they usually have attached tabs on them.

I have used them to separate categories in binders and magazine holders. And they can be used within hanging files as well. Just be sure to get the right size for what you want to use them for.

If you aren’t using hanging files as part of your paper filing method, you may want to use either the stick-on tabs or dividers that come with tabs attached, so you can label and separate papers.


~4. Markers


You want things to be labeled in a way that’s bold and dark enough, so they’re easy to read.

When it comes to what you use to write on tabs and label your files/categories, I prefer and recommend markers over pen/pencil, as well as black or darker-colored markers, specifically.

Personally, I like using Sharpie’s black or darker colored permanent markers.

Note: You may want to use a finer tip Sharpie/marker if you’re labeling smaller tabs or have multiple words you want to write and fit on a single label/tab.


~5. Stapler & Staples

When paperwork has multiple pages, you can staple it together so pages don’t get lost.

~6. Paper Clips 


If you want a less intrusive/less permanent method of keeping multiple pages together, you may use paper clips over a stapler.

I prefer getting paper clips in a mix of smaller and larger sizes.

I also like the heavy duty clips. These are great if you have a thick stack of papers you want to keep together that is too big to staple.


~7. 3 Hole Puncher or Clear Sheet Protectors (that already have holes punched)


If you use any 3-ring binders for filing papers that don’t already have holes in them, you’ll want to use one or both of these.

You’ll either need to punch holes in papers you put in a binder with a hole puncher, or you’ll need to put your papers in plastic pockets designed to be inserted in binders.

3.) Supplies to Get Rid of/Separate Papers


~1. Shredder 

paper shredder for confidential papers you don't need to keep

Shredders are important for papers you need to get rid of that have personal or confidential info on them.

I like shredders that are cross-threaded as they more thoroughly shred things.


~2. Staple Remover


Chances are there are going to be times you need to remove staples. And as the name suggests, a staple remover really does the job best.

~3. Scissors


When you go through papers, you’ll probably end up needing scissors for something at some point. There may be certain papers you need to cut things out of. Or you may even want to trim some papers so they fit in the location where you want to store them.

For instance, instead of keeping an entire magazine, you may want to cut out just the recipes, exercises, articles, or other pages you want to keep specifically.

Types of Important Papers to Keep

woman sorting through papers determining which ones are important to keep

In our free Paper Organization Roadmap PDF, there’s a full list on page 6 of specific important papers you may want/need to keep. We’ll go over the general categories of things here, but for a full list you can download that free printable.

~Legal Papers/Documentation-

These include things like a marriage license, birth certificates, court records/orders, custody agreements, etc.

~Financial Records

Some financial records to keep are receipts of debt paid, the latest copies of bills, tax records (for as long as you legally need to keep them,) paystubs, etc.

~Employment Records

You’ll want to keep important papers from any current/past employers that you/your household members need, contracts, client/customer records, retirement info, other business records if you/family member are self-employed, etc..

~Medical & Health

This would include personal medical records for each family member, copies of any health care proxies, health insurance info, exercises, general health info, etc.

~School/Education Records

If you have school-age kids, you’ll want to keep any important papers from their school, report cards, progress reports, as well as things like college degrees/vocational info/records/certificates/licenses if you or a family member are currently in school or taking classes for something, and/or past records for completed education. 


Memorabilia is generally any thing that has sentimental value that you want to keep. And paper memborabilia would include things like cards, letters, pictures, etc.

These are some of the main categories I use to file papers. You may have other categories you personally need to add to your own filing system.


Should You File by Category or Alphabetically?


Personally, I prefer filing by category.

It’s my experience that it’s easier to find things when files are categorized, such as with the categories we just discussed. But you can do what is best for you personally.

You can also choose to alphabetize the files within each category.


How to File Paper Piles By Category with Hanging Files

hanging files used to organize papers in file boxes or file cabinets

I use both types of hanging files I mentioned earlier:

1. Box bottom hanging files for each category– these can hold a lot of papers and multiple hanging files.

2. Regular hanging files for sub-categories within each category- This helps me to more easily find specific papers.

Step 1: Take one paper, (or 1 group of papers that go together,) at a time, and decide if you need to keep it.

a woman holds papers from a paper pile she is sorting through

If you know you need to keep the paper(s) you’ve picked up, move on to step #2.

However, if you don’t need to keep it, you can either shred, recycle, or throw it out, depending on if it has sensitive information, and/or if you can recycle where you live.

Alternatively, if you don’t need to keep the paper(s) you’ve picked up, and you know you’ll actually take care of it later, and you prefer to focus solely on papers you’re going to file now, you can make a discard, shred, and/or recycle pile(s) to deal with later.

If you don’t need to keep a paper you pick up, the rest of the steps won’t apply. So you can repeat this step with the next paper you grab.


Step 2: Check if you already have a file in the appropriate category to put it in.

a woman picks up a hanging file titled 'health insurance' to put more papers inside

If you already have a file in existence that’s appropriate, add the paper in question to that file.

Then repeat step 1 for the next paper you need to file.

I have an electronic list of all my files in each file box, so if I’m not sure, I can check at a glance.

If you don’t already have a file that matches the paper you want to file, make a new file.

The following steps I go over now will show how to do this.

Note: Some papers you keep will involve more than one category. So you’ll have to decide what you want to file them under. For example, records of medical bills involve both the categories of ‘financial’ and ‘medical’.

Note: When you find a group of papers that go together, (for example, 3 pages of a medical record,) staple or clip them together before filing, so they stay together in the file folder.


Step 3: To make a new file, grab an unused hanging file & label the tab.

blank tabs on hanging files that need to be labeled

The name you write should be a simple, memorable way to describe the category/sub-category you’re going to file related papers under.


Step 4: Put the paper(s) in the file, and put the file in your file box or filing cabinet.

a woman's hands are seen placing a new red file inside her filing cabinet drawer with the other files

Step 5: Add the name of your new file to a list of file category names you use. (Optional)

a woman writes a list and keeps a note in her phone of what files she has for paper organization

Having a list of which files you’ve made is the fastest, most efficient way to keep track of the work you’ve already done. This helps you avoid making duplicate files.

Unless you have a memory WAY better than mine, or have a low level of paper clutter, (which I’m guessing you don’t since you’re reading post about paper clutter,) you probably won’t remember every single file you’ve already made.

Personally, any time I’ve gotten behind on filing papers, I’ve had to catch up gradually. As a busy mom, I don’t have 5+ hours at once to devote to reorganizing all the papers I’ve saved.

I used to have a physical notebook I used to mark down what file categories and sub-categories I had. But I now use the Trello app & website to keep track of what I organize.

Starting on page 10 of our free Paper Organization Roadmap that you can download, I have a tutorial with pictures showing how I use Trello to keep track of files I’ve made and how to set up a free account.

( is a website & app that you can use for organization and I use the free version. Although it is marketed toward businesses, I enjoy using it for home organization. I find it really customizable and easy to use.)

Alternatively, you can keep a list on a paper or index card in the front of each file box/cabinet. Or you can use a different electronic or online organizing tool that you like.


Step 6: Repeat these steps with the next paper (or group of papers) in your paper pile.

after filing a paper, a woman sits at her desk and picks up a couple more papers to file

So those are the 6 simple steps you can use to file papers with hanging files. Just get through these steps with as many papers as you can during each filing session. And soon enough, you will have diminished your paper piles, if you just stay consistent.


Before you go, don’t forget to download our free printable Paper Organization Roadmap.

In this guide, I have written down a gist of the supplies and steps we discussed today. It also has a full, detailed list on page 6 of types of important papers to keep. And starting on page 10 there’s a step-by-step guide for how to set up a free Trello account and use Trello to keep track of the files you have, as well as examples of how I use it to organize other areas of my life.

So make sure you grab The Paper Organization Roadmap.


If you stay subscribed to our emails, we’ll send you tips and our other printable home management resources. We’ll also notify you of new Podcasts or Posts. I will also let you know when I’m done with the cleaning and organization courses I’m working on. I’m always working on something so there are some more great things to come!


In the next Podcast or Post, we talk about how to make time to clean. Life is busy, but we don’t want our house to get out of control because that just makes everything harder.


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So thanks for reading, and have a great day!


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