Time to contain the paper monster!

Without a good system, paperwork will invariably pile up and clutter your surfaces and more importantly your headspace. Not only that, when you need something it’s often hard to find and you spend ages sorting through piles of junk. It helps to try and to go ‘paper free’ when you can and reduce the amount of paperwork coming in. See my blog on how to declutter your paperwork. But the reality is that even in our digital world we all have to handle some of the white stuff. That’s where the value of organising your paperwork effectively comes in. As well as for vital reference, you may need to keep hold of some papers that are in-process to act as a prompt. Especially if you haven’t got the hang of those phone or PC reminder systems yet. Or, depending on your age or personality, you might feel more comfortable with paper than digital. Whichever applies to you, here are my top six products that are a must-have for organising your paperwork. Here’s to keeping that paperwork monster under control!

1. Get smart with your smartphone camera.

Turn your phone into a hand-held scanner. It makes capturing paperwork a doddle and will help reduce the paper clutter radically.

I recommend the scan function that’s built into the Dropbox app.

It will save all your scanned documents in your Dropbox account, so you can relax knowing everything’s secure and backed up. Or if you prefer a standalone app, go for the Turboscan app which will link to Dropbox, Evernote, iCloud or other cloud storage solutions.

And you’re not restricted to bills and letters. Photos are a great way of capturing things you don’t want to forget. Snap that note or phone number that has been on a scrap piece of paper floating around for years. Don’t forget to name files and move them off your phone if you don’t need them there. You don’t want to use up all your memory. TOP TIP: Be sure to give your photos names that will help you find them and to file them into a sensible folder structure

2. Cut-flush folders really cut it

I always recommend these clear opening folders. You can easily slot things into them and keep them ordered into sections. The colours help your eye and brain to categorise and remember. For example, put your finances in blue, career in green, house in yellow and studies in red (see image above). Combine them with labels (see below) so that important letter or note is always easy to find. They really help with filing and finding as you can store paperwork away in drawers in tidy, manageable blocks that are easy to sort through. Plus you can quickly pull them out them and pop them in your bag for a meeting and then easily put them away again later. An added benefit of the transparent folders is they avoid that ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ effect which card folders have. If you want some things to stay confidential you can keep the clear folders in a larger opaque folder or envelope.

3.Become a label geek

Whether it’s Post-its or address labels, these sticky little helpers are an absolute must. They have a double function, first so you know where to put things and secondly to help you find them later.  Make things easy for your future self! Stick them on your cut flush folders, drawer and trays and make your organisation explicit. You’ll be grateful next time you urgently need that vital document. Five seconds writing and applying a label will pay you back many, many times in saved time and stress.

I also label as much as possible as I declutter and organise. If you have to stop in the middle of a decluttering process, it’s essential to temporarily label your piles. Labels can also serve as prompt notes. If you have a pile sitting in the hall saying DONATE it will call your attention to do it more than just a plastic bag sitting there.

As well as being great for organising your paperwork they also add really help when you’ve rearranged a room. Labelling storage boxes or drawers will help remind your brain where things have been relocated.

4. Get in with your in-trays

These simple, bamboo trays are perfect. I suggest you get four.

  1. Your in-tray where everything is collected ready for processing.
  2. Action it tray, for things that need to be actioned, ideally with a post-it to remind you.
  3. File it tray, for things you need to keep for reference
  4. Read it tray, for things you want to take a closer look at later

Read my upcoming blog Paperwork Sorted to learn how to manage your paperwork effectively. But for now, here’s the short version. Once a week, go through each item in your in-tray and decide if goes in the recycle bin or needs to be moved to the Action It, Read It or File tray. Then, do the actions or filing if they are quick or schedule in some time. I suggest you do your filing at least once a month to keep on top of it.

5. Beautiful Bisley drawers

Unless you have a big office and are managing client papers or a business, resist the temptation to invest in a large filing cabinet. They tend to encourage you to keep more unnecessary stuff. I prefer these cute, handy little drawers. They’re a great way of storing and managing a small amount of paperwork that’s regularly coming into the home. This will stop you from leaving papers all over the table and you will know where to find them.

I think of this as the trunk of the tree, the individual drawers are the branches and the cut-flush folders are the twigs (the details). You can have a drawer for each family member. Or divide your life into five sections, such as Health, Home, Finances, Family and Personal Development. Remember, these systems need maintaining, so if a drawer has got full, you will need to do some weeding. Just as trees shed their leaves, so you’ll have to keep shedding your older papers. Small and regular pruning with the occasional annual cull is the best approach.

If you are a busy mum with several kids, allocate a drawer to each child and know that any of their paperwork is kept in one place. Top tip – clear it out at the end of each term so it only has the essential relevant stuff in it.

6. Last but not least, the Organising Your Paperwork set from your Home Declutter Kit

I never do a session without these cards. Designed to help people process their decision making with ease, the cards are simple to set up and visually easy to read. This makes it easier to work through deciding what to do with each item, step-by-step, and begin letting things go. Another great thing about the cards is that they can be used to label piles if you don’t have time to finish the job all in one swoop. You will need a system to deal with all of the things you keep after you have done your big purge and these cards will also help there.Happy paper taming! Let me know how you get on organising your paperwork and share your tips below, I’d love to hear from you.


For more on this subject, see my blog on how to declutter your paperwork.


  1. Elaine

    Hi Helen
    Great tip about the Dropbox scanner app, I never knew it existed. I’ve been downoading files to store but many I have scanned on my printer and then uploaded to dropbox. Much quicker to use the app.
    Cheers Elaine

    • Helen

      Hi Elaine,
      Yes, there are more and more really handy apps these days. So glad you found it helpful.
      warm wishes, Helen



  1. Goodbye paper, hello peace - Helen Sanderson - […] the ‘File it’ pile, or set a time to do it. My blog Taming the paper monster looks at…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *