3 steps to making peace with your papers

People who know me really well are chuckling right now. Me?    Trying to give you advice on your paperwork organization?  It’s  nearly outrageous.   I’m the creative, artsy, right-brained, ADD, ENFP type who has never balanced her checkbook.  Isn’t that what the bank is for?  I’m posting this while my sister is out of town on purpose.  She’s the organized one and when we were younger, I always wanted to trade rooms with her because hers was always tidy.  I was convinced  that particular room  must just be easier to keep clean.  Alas, every space I occupied was creative and unique but never organized.  She’ll get a hearty laugh out of this post.

Here’s why I decided to tell you about my system. You see, I’m a stacker. I make lots of stacks. And as soon as I clear the stacks, I make more stacks. I adore stacks. Only when the stacks topple over and my water bill is late do I reconsider my proclivity toward stack making. And the truth is, I’ve struggled for years with my papers.  One thing I know about myself is that if something can be made beautiful (and almost everything can), I will be inspired.  I searched high and low for a system that could be pretty.  After my extensive searching for something that wasn’t bulky, I found these acrylic boxes at, some pretty sunshine colored file folders and a labeler and off to work I went.  With the help of my staff, of course.

In about six hours, I turned chaos into beauty.  It’s a system that’s sustainable and requires minimal effort to maintain.  And it’s pretty.


Right before the fire, I found this book that inspired me (I’m still looking for it in my archives!) and made me feel that even I could conquer the paper stacks.  So, I got my system organized and then 2 months later, it all went up in flames.

It’s taken me this long to set it all up again but I’m so excited to  know exactly what to do with every piece of paper that comes in my door.

Here’s how even an artsy, messy girl got her papers in order.

1.  Create a filing system in a way that works for you.

I have 3 of these boxes:  one for home finances, one for everything related to our rebuild and insurance, and one for important personal documents,  homeschooling related materials and keepsakes.

In my home finance box, I have a folder for every bill I pay and for all our bank and insurance accounts.   You’ll have to decide how many boxes you’ll need but 2-3 will probably be plenty.

I plan to keep things in this box for a year and then (copying my sisters’ method), I’ll combine anything important into a 2012 folder so that I can start fresh in 2013.

2.   Create an ‘incoming/outgoing/to be filed’  center.

I use this acrylic 3 tier organizer and have a section for incoming/outgoing/to be filed.  With this sort of system, you immediately have something to do with your mail besides stack it.  And then when you find time to process through it, you know where it is.   The whole, ‘touch each paper once’ idea is finally starting to work at my house.  I throw junk mail away, put bills into ‘incoming’ and then use my smart phone to add things to my calendar that I need to remember, like weddings and birthday parties, etc.  And due to my tendency to forget to look at my calendar, I send myself 2 alerts for everything I enter into my calendar.  How in the world could I ever  miss a dentist appointment, you ask?  I don’t know but it still happens occasionally.  One thing is for sure, if it’s not recorded in my phone with 2 alerts, it probably won’t happen. But, I digress.  

3.  Don’t be afraid to throw it away.

Trust me on this.  I’ve developed a low threshold for throwing things away.  Why?  Because I lost everything once and turns out, you don’t really need that much.  You can survive your life fairly well with very few papers in it.  And anything you really need, you can probably get from the person/company who sent it.  If you’re brutal on the front end, there’s less to process through and file and the chances are better that you’ll keep up with the system.   In my case, there’s one very important caveat—-insurance.  I have to keep every receipt of everything I buy so that I can turn it into insurance for reimbursement.   But after I’m through with this process, I’ll only keep receipts for major purchases.

A few examples of how  it works for me:

graduation announcement—add the date to my calendar and set an alarm a week ahead to send a card.   If  I can attend the event, I try to RSVP (in a perfect world) and if it’s a photo announcement, I keep those in a file folder labeled keepsakes.

wedding invitation—add the date to my phone (calendar) and even add where the couple is registered so I’ll know where to look for a gift.  Set reminder alarms.

homeschool catalogue—I almost always throw them away because most if not all of the info can be found online.


I’m sure this system is way too simplified for you OCDers out there but it works better than anything I’ve tried and it seems to be sustainable.  Don’t tell me about your excel spread sheets because I’ll start to convulse.  There’s nothing pretty about that unless you think spreadsheets are pretty :)  I’m sticking with my cute little boxes and my smart phone.

Hope this helps my ADD, artsy friends to see a glimmer of organized hope!  You’ll feel like a full fledged adult with a host of properly filed papers.  I love it so much I’m contemplating converting to OCDism and buying a paper shredder.  Heaven help us all.


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  • I love this Edie!!!!!! thanks for the inspiration. I can totally do this. I too glaze over when people start in with the excel spreadsheets….I just need a place to put stuff! I have piles of stuff here and there- BUT, have a huge file cabinet in my school room just screaming to be used! Thanks.

  • Southern Gal says:

    Yay. If you can do it then I can, right? You cannot even begin to fathom the depth of the paper clutter in my home. Keepsakes sidetrack me every time. I have a perfect two drawer file cabinet right beside my desk full of keepsake nonsense and years worth of paid bill receipts. Why? I have no clue. So my sentimental heart is tackling the paper clutter this summer along with my gallery wall and painting my dining room table and covering an ottoman or two and…
    Maybe that’s my problem.

  • Jeni says:

    Love this system, but you didn’t say where you bought the file boxes. I love them! I am all about things looking pretty as well. It drives my husband CRAZY!!

  • Heather says:

    I love reading about other people’s organizing systems! Your yellow folders are so pretty.

  • Laura says:

    One thing that I do in addition to your system – when I get an wedding invite/birth announcement, I add the details to my perpetual calendar so that I won’t miss the date in following years. Great post, Edie! You’ve inspired me to shred this weekend.

  • karen says:

    i am so passing this on to my husband. he is the one that i keep after to pick up his papers!!!

  • Great Ideas. I am in need of some major organization. In fact, I’m currently trying to come up with some ideas to organize all my homeschool STUFF so that it looks pretty and not like a classroom since my “classroom” is my kitchen/dining room. I do like the boxes you featured.

  • Terry A. says:

    Paper is my nemesis. I need all the help I can get!

  • Sue says:

    Thank you for sharing this – this is something I think can work for me. You had me at “I’m the creative, artsy, right-brained, ADD, ENFP type who has never balanced her checkbook.” I feel like I’m in very good company :)

  • Liz E. says:

    Spreadsheets can be beautiful things. I actually have 4 main financial spreadsheets (with multiple tabs each) that I use to manage our bank accounts, bills to be paid, and forecasting for our fluctuating incomes. Don’t convulse =)

    I love your cheery yellow file folders. They put my plain vanilla ones to shame!

  • Nikole Hahn says:

    Ooooo….another stacker! Hey there! Me, too. I’m a stacker. It’s my husband’s chief complaint, but I intend to get organized about it. Like you, it’s got to be pretty.

  • My Dad and I are both pilers, not filers, where my Mom was the other end who had everything neat and tidy, in it’s place. I’ve since found that using binders for my own personal record keeping has been working. I still create the many piles across my desk, but once in a while, they make it to the binders. I bet you are like me where you know exactly where that piece of paper is in the ten mile high pile.

  • Maria says:

    Post Katrina I am not as organized as I see to be…my summertime goal is to get it all under control again…I love the acrylic box idea!

    Thanks for the ideas!

  • Maria says:

    Ah…auto correct fail again. “as I used to be”

  • Barbara says:

    Doing it the first time, instead of just moving the piles around is my goal! I usually manage pretty well, but it doesn’t take but a nanosecond for things to explode! It requires constant attention, it seems.

  • carolyn says:

    Thanks for the tips. Paper gets me every time….I can see 4 piles from where I’m sitting without even turning my head. It’s bad.

    Maybe this will work for me too?? One can hope!!

  • we are working on home office stuff this weekend. Not very fun way to celebrate start of summer, but nontheless….and it’s goign to be super hot, so i think this will stick. Your post couldn’t be more perfectly timed :)
    Have a good weekend Edie!

  • Jessica Washburn says:

    That’s exactly how my system works…like a charm. I’ve been doing it that way my entire life (learned from my Pops when I worked for him for 7 years). I remember you getting your beautiful files in order and then the fire happened. I always thought what a bummer that was…that and the blue sweater. :(

    Did you get the book I sent you. I forgot to type a note before I hit ‘order’.

    XO, Jessica

  • I am married to Mr. Stacker himself. :-)

  • Ruth says:

    I am also a stacker. Excel spreadsheets make me convulse, too. I like things to be pretty and functional.
    This sounds like a great system. I do not have a smartphone but can still make it work. I will have to implement this since I am basically starting with nothing and for the foreseeable future we will be living in a very small space. The less clutter the better.

  • tara lowry says:

    I’m a HOT mess.
    I’m ADD out the wazoo but I’m also a little OCD.

    I’m also Sanguine/Melancholy…I’m telling you, I’m one conflicted chickadee.

    Your system rocks and I’m super proud of you for doing it!!!!

  • Jo says:

    O I so needed this! I have piles of papers that I move around the kitchen until they start to topple. Then they get moved up to the ‘office’. And in the kitchen I’ll just start a new pile. I HATE doing the paperwork and have yet to find a system that works. I’m going to get myself some boxes!

  • Anne says:

    I used to throw away the homeschool catalogs, too, until recently. I realized that a catalog can be taken into the bathtub whereas a computer cannot. I earmarked tons of pages to look up online later. I actually found things I didn’t know existed before just because I forced myself to look at the entire catalog in the tub one night.

  • Jennifer says:

    It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who struggles with the whole organization thing….all these tips are great! I love the incoming/outgoing/to-be-filed center….I need to create one of those for my desk today. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • em says:

    thanks for the tips. there is one I would add that is super helpful for me, I take a picture with my smart phone of all invitations and announcements. This way if I ever second guess what I have put on my calendar, I can go and refer to the picture of the paper invite which has already been recycled.
    also… i’d love to know where you purchased your acrylic boxes, they look like I might need some of my own. many thanks!

  • Jennifer says:

    This is such a great and simple solution. Where did you get the clear file boxes?

  • Trina says:

    I always say “I’m a piler, not a filer.”

    Do you really think a pretty box will do the trick? Maybe I just haven’t found the RIGHT pretty box.
    Maybe one day I’ll find a system that sticks.

    Great post, Edie!

  • Oh, Edie, this post just cracks me up! I am a stacker. I try to convince myself that I am NOT, but I am. Recently I had to come to terms with it myself, and since we had two wooden filing cabinets, I decided to go for it and get them organized. My hubby is organized in his HEAD, but that is all. I wish you could have seen his filing system. (just for starters, we had ALL the papers, including the booklets, from income tax returns dating back to 1984…..) My house actually felt lighter after I burned papers for several hours in the fire pit out back :)
    I have been collecting darling file folders for two years in anticipation of this event. I LOVE MY newly painted (black) filing cabinets with Martha Stewart vintage pulls. I feel, well, ORGANIZED! Here’s to happy, pretty, filed papers!

  • I loved this post Edie … thanks for sharing! Good luck! :)

  • Jenn says:

    Ooo… my toes are tingling in anticipation of feeling like a grown-up with my papers all organized! My husband would be SHOCKED :) But this is a “must do” thing for me. We’re starting homeschool in the fall – I can’t delay anymore!

  • Pamela K. says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I have been trying to tame my paper monster. Right now, it’s in a cage, but still wild. lol! I actually took the ginormous step (in my world anyway) of recycling all my magazines except the current month. *gasp* I still struggle with statements/receipts and wonder how to file them that will work for me. And as far as the keepsakes….I won’t even go there! :-/ Anyway, so glad that you have a system that works for you and thanks for sharing!

  • Sara says:

    I’m an ENFP and professional in the arts/educator type too! No wonder you’re my favorite blogger. You got me going on TJEd as well. I just ate that series up. Very inspiring!

  • Sara says:

    …and btw, I am an ENFP, and guilty of stacking! You’re right about being inspired by beauty. I’ll have to try this out.

  • I giggle! I just bought a paper shredder last week! No lie. I think I’m in love with it. I’m now looking for things to shred. lol. Wishing you a grand evening. Toodles, Kathryn @TheDedicatedHouse

  • Kristi says:

    I really really really laughed out LOUD when I read this! My name is Kristi and I haven’t balanced my checkbook in 14 yrs………. and I LOVEEEEEEEEEE STACKS! And swear every time I clean one, I won’t make another….. LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL! My goodness! No wonder I love reading your blog ;)

  • Tonja Giles says:

    Oh, Edie! What a clever girl you are!! I’m also the right-brained, stacker-girl. You have inspired me and I’m off to create a pretty paper-put-away system like yours :>)
    xoxo Tonja G

  • Jan says:


    I’ve read this post before, but found it while working on inspiration for my own project. Where do you keep the boxes? That’s a big dilemma for me.

  • brenda says:

    where di you find the boxes and where do you keep them in your home ?? AND do you have any challenges with out of sight out of mind issues ??

    even when using a guide about how long one should retain certain paperwork I still get caught in more than a little bit uncomfortable dilemmas with being in a position of urgently needing something I have disposed of.

  • Emily says:

    A “keepsake file”!! What a great idea! I think this may be the game changer for me:) I am a major stacker also, this post is very helpful, thanks!

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