Home Challenge Week 11: How To Organize Paper


Be more productive, save time, and find what you need quickly.  All benefits of not only having an organized office but having an organizing system for paper too. Eleven weeks ago we started this challenge by creating a Command Center.  We started there because that is the foundation of your home.  From there, we created […]

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Be more productive, save time, and find what you need quickly.  All benefits of not only having an organized office but having an organizing system for paper too.

Eleven weeks ago we started this challenge by creating a Command Center.  We started there because that is the foundation of your home.  From there, we created a Home Binder to help organize the documents that are used on a daily basis.  Then we moved onto the closet because you should feel amazing with what you wear.  Then we organized the pantry and kitchen.  A few weeks ago we organized the bathroom so you can have a more organized morning.

A good portion of your home is now organized.  We started with other areas of the home first to build a foundation and get the main areas organized which is why we did the kids’ rooms and toys a  few weeks ago.

We are down to the final TWO weeks of this challenge! Last week we organized the Office, we are continuing on that path and organizing paper this week.  Organizing paper and the garage is the last two categories of this challenge because they are typically the toughest to organize.

Organizing Paper

My Paper Thoughts

Ahh, paper.  As much as we’d like it to escape us, the chances of that happening are slim to none.  Organizing paper is one of the most common organization struggles that people face.  If you don’t keep up with it, things get lost in the shuffle.

I’ve tried as much as possible to go digital but have realized in the past few years how using paper has kept me organized.  For me, there’s more of a connection when I write something down on paper than on my phone.  Even with reminders on my phone, I would just close them out and then forget about it.

There are definitely times when I prefer a digital copy like bills.  However, when I physically have a paper copy of something, it is easier for me to remember to do it. Plus, if I have to make a phone call about it I like writing notes on there for easy reference.

Meal Planning has been one area that we still use paper.  We keep a clipboard with the meal plan printable next to the pantry door, this way we can see it daily.  The other areas that I use paper now include my planner, journal, and bible study.  I had tried to use my phone for all of these areas and it wasn’t working out, I felt disconnected.

I still use the calendar on my phone to organize kids activities and events that are months away and then I write them in my planner.

School Paper

We’ve all been experiencing using paper since we were in school.  We can all agree that at some point in our lives, we’ve lost an important piece of paper, especially homework.  I can remember doing homework assignments over again because I lost an assignment.

It feels like I’ve been organizing paper for decades.  There are many systems that I’ve tried to keep paper organized that haven’t worked.  The one thing does remain true for all it, you need something to keep paper organized.  Whether it’s a folder, binder, or paper tray.  An organizer needs to be in place.

When our daughter started school, it was overwhelming the amount of paper that came home.  I had to figure out a system that was going to be able to sustain this.  I found a system on Pinterest that used hanging file folders with a plastic storage box and knew immediately that was the answer.

organizing school paper

The great thing about this system is once you establish it, you won’t have to do it again!  You just add the file as they get older and then when they go off to college or move out of the house, all you have to do is give them the bin. 🙂

I did pink hanging file folders for our girls and grey for our son.  This system has helped us decide what we want to keep and what we want to get rid of because there isn’t room for everything.

Organizing Paper At Home

Up until we moved, we had been using a file cabinet filing system that worked out well for us.  I used the same color hanging file folders and color-coded the tabs.

file cabinet organization

I used the Avery tab template in Microsoft Word to color all of the tabs, I made extras so they were ready to go if I need another one.  Then I used the label maker to make the label and put it on the outside of the tab.  The rainbow coloring system was used because rainbows are aesthetically appealing.

How To Get Your Paper Organized

We are going to break down paper into three sections:

A) Office Paper Files

B) Mail

C) Kid’s School Papers

Office Paper Files

Since we completed the office organization last week, we are going to continue on that path to get the office fully organized.  If you followed along last week, you should have a pile of papers stacked nicely, waiting for you to organize them.

Here’s what you are going to do:

First: Grab a garbage bag and/or a paper shredder 

Second: Set up category labels with post-it notes or paper

Third: Use the following categories to start:

  • Utility Bills
  • Bank Statements
  • Retirement Accounts
  • Taxes
  • Medical (Explanation of Benefits)
  • Medical Records
  • Car Information (Insurance, Title, Car Loan)
  • Important Documents
    • Birth Certificates
    • Social Security Cards
    • Marriage or Divorce Decrees
    • Citizenship Papers
    • Adoption Papers
    • Death Certificates
    • Will
  • Misc. (use this category for anything you are unsure of)

Once your categories have been established, start sorting the paper pile

Put each document in the appropriate category.  Don’t worry about throwing anything away yet.  You want to keep the momentum going because you don’t want to rush throwing out any important documents.

Now that your paper is sorted into the appropriate category, it’s time to start going through each pile.

Here is a guideline of what to keep and for how long:

  • 1 Month
    • Credit Card Statements
    • Monthly Bill Statements
  • 1 Year
    • Pay Stubs
    • Bank Statements
    • Insurance Policies
  • 7 Years
    • Tax Returns
    • Tax Related Receipts
    • W-2s and 1099s
  • Varies
    • Car Titles (as long as you own the vehicle)
    • Disputed Medical Bills
    • Loan Documents (Keep as long as you are paying the loan)
  • Forever
    • Birth Certificates
    • Social Security Cards
    • Marriage or Divorce Decrees
    • Citizenship Papers
    • Adoption Papers
    • Military Records
    • Death Certificates

After you have sorted through what to keep, it’s time to file them away.

There are a few different ways you can file documents.  You can use hanging file folders and file them away in a filing cabinet or storage bins that are dedicated to hanging file folders.

The other type of filing system is to use a file accordion system.  We have used a file cabinet and an accordion system and they both work out well.

The accordion system allows you to keep your papers organized without having to buy a file cabinet or folders.  The accordion is portable so you can take it with you anywhere you need to go.

Using a filing cabinet system makes finding papers easier because it’s sturdier than the accordion.  You are able to get a better visual of your papers.

Decide which type of system you like best

There are a few options:

Using a file cabinet or file holder that is portable.  You will need hanging file folders for each system. There are two different types of hanging file folders.

  • Color-coded hanging files.  This will allow you to take each category and put them in a colored file that’s easy to identify.  For example, all medical files are green and all taxes are yellow.
  • Standard color hanging files.  You can get a standard box of hanging file folders that are the same color and color code the tabs to easily access them.  Personally, I prefer this method because you don’t have to worry about running out of a file folder color.  It’s easier to color code a tab than buy a new box of file folders.

One other important tip, use only file hanging folders and eliminate the file folders you put in them.  Here’s why it’s easier to identify the tab the hanging file versus a folder.  Plus, some folders can get really thick with paper, the hanging file system will hold more.


The Post Office isn’t going away anytime soon and getting mail is a part of our daily lives.  You are likely not opening up the mail where your file cabinet is stored, so it’s important to establish a system with your mail to manage the paper flow.

Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Open up the mail in the same place every day.  This is one of the most important steps, you’ll want to make this a habit.
  2. Use a filing system or letter sorter.  Once you’ve opened mail, decide if you need to throw it away or keep it.  Use file trays or a letter organizer and label them Bills or To File.   Each week, store the papers accordingly that you need to file in a filing cabinet.
  3. Unsubscribe from junk mail. Chances are you usually throw the junk mail in the garbage. Make your life easier and step it a step further by removing yourself from direct mailings. It’s less paper that comes into your house. You can do it here

Kids School Papers

If you have kids, the amount of paper they come home with it’s overwhelming.  It’s been a while since I’ve been in school and totally forgot about how much paper you get!  Getting a system established here is important because it will also teach your child how to manage paper as well.

Here’s how you can do it:

Establish a backpack center

Design a place where their backpacks go every day.  Have them unpack their backpacks to see what important papers they have.   If possible, have a folder that is dedicated to ‘Homework’ and another one for ‘Parent Papers’.  Teach them the differences between the two.  You’ll still need to manage it a bit so nothing gets lost in the shuffle.

Keep ‘Parent Papers’ in a file system or something similar where it’s easy for you to access them

This could be a wall organizer or a household binder.  For us, we use the back of the door to our garage where we have a clipboard of the school papers that need to be turned in.  We are constantly going in and out of this door and it’s the last thing we see which is why it’s there.  If we had room for a wall organizer, we would put one there.

Create a filing system for each child

There will be keepsake items you want to keep for your child.  Whether it’s a report card or a great grade on a paper, you’ll want to keep those for them.  Once you have this system established, it will make it easier to file the papers away immediately.

Plus, it will be easy to go through them when you want to look back on their accomplishments.  Another bonus, when they move out you’ll be able to give them the bin.  Although this will likely be bittersweet, it’ll be one less thing in your house 🙂  Here’s how to establish a filing system:

  • Get a plastic file bin with hanging file folders
  • Label the file folders from Pre-School through 12th Grade

organizing school papers

Product Recommendations

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Pink Hanging File Folders

Grey Hanging File Folder

Hanging File Storage Bin


*affiliate links used, I may receive a commission if you click on the recommend product links.  I only recommend products I use or trust, see full disclaimer here

How Long Will It Take

Start with two to three hours, it will all depend on how much paper you have.  Always give yourself more time than you think.  If you think it’ll take you three hours, plan for four.  If you think it’ll take you four hours, plan for five, etc.


Getting a good organizing system in place for paper will set you up for long-term success.  Gather all of your paper in one location and start sorting into categories.  Once the categories are sorted, start going through each piece of paper and decide if you need to keep it or shred it.

Decide what type of organizing system will work best for you and purchase what you need.  Label the tabs and maintain your new organized filing system.

Download your free checking to get your paper organized today! Download

What’s been your biggest challenge when it comes to organizing paper?

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