Rethink Your Approach: A 3-Step System for Organizing Paper

What if I told you that the average adult couple needs just one standard size file drawer to store all the paper they require for their personal lives?


Many people I talk to about organizing immediately bring up their struggle with paper. From the influx of mail to all the paper that comes home from school with kids, the sheer amount of paper in our lives can be really overwhelming. Yes, even in the year 2019, when we have theoretically gone digital!

There’s just something about paper. Maybe it’s a holdover from an earlier age, when every single piece of paper was potentially important… and also irreplaceable. Maybe it’s because we’ve been burned by digital storage in the past. Maybe it’s because we still don’t fully trust the privacy of digital storage. I suspect that for many of us, it’s a combination of the above. 

No matter why we struggle with paper, we can’t avoid it, so we need a way to deal with it! And in order to get to a place where we have only the paper we need, we have to reframe the way we think about it. 

I’ve developed a three-tiered system for addressing paper that I use in my own life, and that serves as the basis of paper management systems I set up for all my clients.  It works like this: when a piece of paper comes into your home, it can fall into one of three possible categories:

1) This is an important record that must be kept in paper format (e.g. mortgage paperwork, car title)

> All important records should be kept in a neatly organized filing system. I personally recommend a drawer because it is less likely that files will get banged up or rearranged. 

Pro tip: if you have a folder labeled “Miscellaneous” - you’ll never find those items when you’re looking for them! File documents the way that you would think to retrieve them.

2) This represents an action item (e.g. pay a bill, RSVP to an invitation)

>All paper action items should be kept in one location within your field of vision where you usually take care of these sorts of tasks. The idea is that you will constantly be presented with these items so you won’t forget to do them, but they won’t be spread everywhere creating clutter that overwhelms you.

Pro tip: once you’ve done the action item, toss the paper immediately and enjoy the feeling of relief!

3) This can be tossed immediately

>Anything not in the above categories can be thrown away. Notice that I said, “can,” not “must.” I encourage all my clients to reframe their perspective on paper and let go of the pieces they don’t need, but I also acknowledge that everyone has a different comfort level and may need to move to a low-paper lifestyle over time.

Pro tip: most of the paper that comes into your home fits in this third category!

If a deluge of paper is overwhelming you and your household, try on my three tiered system for size and let me know how it goes!


Tips on Minimizing Paper - From a Digital Organizing Guru

Today’s post comes from digital organizing wizard Corey Padnos, founder and CEO of Organizing Division. He helps people transition from paper to digital organizing systems, and manage their tasks along the way. I’m a big fan of Corey and his work, and I know you will be too!


The internet gurus tell us we should have less of it and go digital.

But that's easier said that done.

What about those pesky receipts that are in your cupholder? Or that card that you got from your Aunt that you feel guilty about tossing? Or that business card of that guy who you met at the networking event that you going to call sometime soon when you get a chance but you left the card in your other pocket?O r your kid's artwork?

Let's be honest:  Scanning everything if you don't know what to do takes time.  


That's why we have this blog post.  My company specializes in digital organization--the art of organizing your digital life--and we have virtual assistants to help keep you and your digital life organized.  Being digitally disorganized is a time consuming and expensive problem.  (Really, on average, the problems I solve are anywhere between $5,000 to $17,000 per month.)   BUT that doesn't mean you have to be disorganized.  
Using these apps are going to get you two things:

  1. You'll decrease your paper by at least 50%.  I promise.  If I'm wrong, email me.

  2. You'll make Lucy's job easier next time she organizes you.  She will love you for it.  

So, here are some apps to make your life easier.


Your random papers and receipts...

Scannable (free): A scanner on your phone that can save the images as a PDF or a JPEG.  It also links directly to Evernote (which you can read more about below).  

Where to store your random papers...
Evernote (free): Evernote is a cloud-based note taking app configured like your private notebook.  You don't have to scan your papers into separate files but instead you save them into searchable notes.  This makes it easier to find the papers you've scanned while saving precious hard drive space.(Here's a great course on maximizing your notes.)

Your business cards...

APPBY (free): This app searches for the contact information on the business card and imports it directly to your smartphone's phonebook.  Scan.  Save.  Toss.  Done!

Your kid's artwork...

ArtKive (Free and paid version): ArtKive has the edge for saving your kid's artwork because you can put it into a coverbound album after you've taken pictures of it.  This way, you can safely throw out the artwork and keep it all condensed as memorabilia.

I hope these help.  Please drop me a line if you’re curious about how to use these apps or you're looking for some remote support to offload pesky tasks that hamper your creative energy.  

Weekly Peek

I recently hosted a bridal shower for a very dear friend of mine.  She was one of my college roommates and is marrying the younger brother of one of my husband's college buddies (I may or may not have set them up...), so as you might imagine we're pretty excited for their wedding!  So I thought I'd share the vendors I used to pull off a pretty, breezy get-together to celebrate the upcoming marriage of one of my very favorite people in the world.

The Place

The bride requested a simple shower: brunch, mimosas, NO GAMES. My kind of party! We selected Presidio Social Club in San Francisco for a couple of reasons. Most important: their brunch is delicious! Other bonuses: there is parking so we could load up my car with the bride's loot after the event, they have a long table in the middle of the restaurant perfect for a party, they don't charge a minimum for reserving said table, and the event staff were pleasant and very easy to work with.

The Flowers

My go-to flower shop is Bloomers.  I'm not exactly a flower buff so I never have very specific direction to give them, but they always produce beautiful arrangements. For this bridal brunch, I just said "bridal shower, blush and ivory, low," and voila! Plus, Bloomers is just around the corner so I can stop in when I'm out and about in the neighborhood.  

The Paper

I used Minted* for my Christmas cards for the first time this past year, and the site has become my go-to for paper.  There are so many options, all created by talented independent designers, and (unlike many other sites, cough - TinyPrints - cough) every piece is highly customizable.  Plus, once you find an invitation you like, chances are good the same designer has created menus, place cards, and other items to coordinate!

Photo courtesy of Jade Chocolates

Photo courtesy of Jade Chocolates

The Favors

I believe that favors, if provided at all, should be simple and consumable.  The bride is not generally a sweets person, but she does indulge in dark chocolate from time to time.  Jade Chocolates was a new discovery to me (I found them on Yelp!) but I will definitely go back.  They use incredible high quality ingredients to create a wide range of unique Asian-inspired flavors.  We picked Lychee Rose Green Tea and Lilikoi (passion fruit) for a fun and delicious little favor that did NOT get left behind.

The Presents

While a bridal shower usually focuses on kitchen, bed, and bath items, this bride and groom live in a small apartment and are not looking to fill it with more stuff.  Instead, we decided on a wine or "stock the cellar" theme.  Every guest brought a bottle (or a few!) and I provided gold paint pens so they could write messages on the bottles.  Now, whenever the couple opens a bottle from their stash, they'll be reminded of the friends and family who joined to celebrate their marriage.

When it comes to events, I always think the most successful ones keep the details simple and let the occasion shine through.  Based on all the chatting, seat switching, and devouring of tasty brunch that went on at this bridal shower, I think it's safe to say it was a success!

K, I am so happy for you and A, I can hardly stand it!  


*This post contains referral links, which will earn me cash back or shopping credit on the linked sites.  I was not asked by any of these companies to advertise their products or services.