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Organizing 101: Importance of Paper Organization

Paper is one of the simplest items to accumulate in a home and most tedious item to organize. Staring at the stack of papers on your counter or desk can feel very overwhelming, and it feels simpler to just shove it to the side and have it multiply instead of addressing it.

What if I told you paper didn't have to be scary? What if, all those paper items could be easily decluttered, organized, and maintained long term? Sounds like a trick, but I promise you it's not. Organizing paper is no different than physical objects or digital items. You can achieve the same amount of personal joy and relief by managing your paper files as your kitchen, and this article will explain how!

Where did all this Paper come from?

Before the world went cold turkey on paper and switched to digital, receiving items in the mail, be it ads, catalogues, or letters from friends was the only way we could keep in the know about the latest sales, life events, and services. Now with social media, email, and paperless receipts & billing offered to everyone, less important items are dropping in our physical mailbox day to day.

This, however, does not stop the piles of paper from accumulating in our homes.

I live in an apartment and have paperless billing for all my important documents, taxes included, and still every week my mailbox is full of junk mail and the occasional correspondence that demands my attention. If I was not able to maintain what came in every week, within a month or so I would have piles accumulating in my apartment.

Now imagine, if those piles haven't been touched in months, maybe even years. It would get out of control, feel suffocating, overwhelming and begin to affect my mental health, my living space and productivity.

Who can benefit from Paper Organizing?

The honest answer to this question is everyone.

Paper is a part of all our lives, both the items that are junk and should be tossed and the items that are important and should be filed away in an organized and simple structure.

The Clients I typically work with for paper organizing fit one of three general categories.

  1. Older or elderly clients who are more comfortable with paper than digital.

  2. Home offices with an abundance of paperwork and no system

  3. People who had a bad experience and now save every paper even if has no value.

I say this because these clients are usually drowning in paper to the point that it is preventing them from completing important tasks, finding valuable, time-sensitive information or paying bills on time. It also makes them feel anxious and stressed about being in their own home, or unproductive in their home office.

Paper clutter can manifest itself in a variety of ways, and on a variety of levels, but the process of handling the clutter remains the same, no matter if you are a home business, or managing your family's important documents.

How do I manage my paper?

Before I became a Professional Organizer, I worked for almost 8 years in Records Management. I spent three years classifying documents for a variety of organizations, big and small. Granted, these were digital file systems, but the same principles apply.

We always started with purging the files that did not need to be kept you know drafts of drafts, saved exported emails, etc. Then, the files that were to be kept were organized and categorized into a folder structure that made sense to the Client. Finally, to help with maintaining the system long-term, retention periods (time duration to keep files) were applied to the documents so routine cleanup could be simple and manageable.

These are the same steps I walk through with my paper-organizing clients. When I'm working with a Client, the ultimate goal of any organizing journey is to keep it simple. This is vitally important when it comes to paper items.

Yes, some paper items need to be kept, either for a certain duration (i.e. 7 years for financial documents) or indefinitely (i.e. marriage license, death certificate etc.) but this is a small percentage of the average paper clutter in a person's home.

Below is an infographic to help you determine what paper items are good candidates for scanning (kept digitally), shredding/recycling (depending on the sensitivity of the item) and filing (paper copy kept). Feel free to use this with your Organizer to help make decisions on items, or to cut back on the amount of items kept in paper format.

Once the exercise of decluttering the paper items is completed (either with an organizer or on your own), a filing system should be created to house those files being kept in paper format. This system should be both simple and personalized to each Client so they can easily find the items they are looking for and file new items away as they come in.

I always remind my clients that if the system does not make sense to how you would locate the file, then the system will not work, and will be abandoned before long. To ensure long-term success, always consult your Client on what categories they would like and what types of items should be filed there.

Stay tuned for future articles that will discuss in more detail functional filing systems, paper organizing strategies and the variety of items available to help organize your files based on your needs!


Now that you have a better understanding of paper clutter and how much effect it can have on both your life and your space, I challenge you to embrace the paper stacks and declutter the unnecessary!

Even if you can only do a little bit at a time, small progress is still progress!


Ready to get started?

So am I! Please check out my services to find the perfect organizing package for you!

Fill out the form here to arrange your complimentary 30-minute phone consult with me, a Certified Professional Organizer, today!

Know someone who is looking to speak with a Professional Organizer? Check out my Client Referral Program to see how referring others can get you rewards!


About the Author: Brittany Smith lives in Ottawa, Canada with her husband and feline furbaby Zoey. She is a Certified Professional Organizer, Owner, and Founder of Control the Chaos, a Professional Organizing business that provides personalized in-home, virtual and digital organizing services aimed at transforming anyone's chaos into calm.

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