Today I worked with a lady to organize aaaalllll the mail which had accumulated throughout her house. Here’s what she had to say about sorting paperwork,

We’ve went on vacation for ten days and I came home to a tornado of paper! Right before we left I had to pull out the kids’ immunization records. Then there were school announcements and who knows what else. I need help!

Big mistake

We gathered her papers from everywhere and sat down at the table to sort them all. At first she had the whole pile in her hands and she started to make a mistake I’ve seen SO MANY people make!
Do you do this?

Either watch the video or read ahead to find out.

She started sorting paperwork by picking up each page and mumbling. Then she’d pick up the next paper and mumble. Then the next.
Some people take the papers and put them in a new pile without making a decision about them.
Some people hold the papers one by one up to their chest while they keep looking at the next paper. Then the next.
You get the idea.
Very little gets accomplished because you aren’t deciding what to do with each page.

How to fix it

Once you have your stack of papers, clear a large swath of counter space to use. If you have any portable filing container, or baskets you put your action items in you’ll want to bring that over as well.
Bring a recycle bin, too. Most of this stuff is going to be trash. That thought will help you begin the job.
At least 80% of the paper in your house belongs in the recycle bin. Click To Tweet

Armor up

Put on some music if you can handle that. If it’s too distracting try an instrumental channel, or something in another language. I love the Brazilian channels on Pandora and Spotify.

If this is a really daunting task to you, get a fun treat or promise yourself a little reward (a netflix episode? what do you recommend?) once you’ve finished.

Sticky notes to the rescue

If you are without a portable filing container and you may get interrupted, use post-its to keep track of which category is which. The goal is to only look at each page ONE TIME. And if you forget what the piles are, you’ll end up looking at your pages many times and that gets old really fast!


Organizers have an acronym for sorting things and for a general feeling of efficiency. OHIO- Only handle it once.
This can apply to lots of things. Today we are applying it to your papers. Stay focused.

Go through your stack one page at a time and mindfully place each page in the right pile. Here are some popular categories:

  • recycle
  • on FIRE (to this today)
  • to do
  • file for reference
  • for husband

Don’t make too many categories. Keep it simple and keep going. Go slowly and deliberately until the original pile is done.


Instead of waiting for the paper monster to return, try to sort the mail as it comes in. Recycle the junk right away. Right away! And handle your kids’ papers daily, too.

If you miss a day, no big deal. Keep going the next day.

It also helps to have a 2 baskets or containers in use at all times. One container where all incoming paper goes. The second container is your to-do in-box. As long as you don’t start piling everything into the in-box, you’ll be fine.

Get our FREE, 3-part series of short videos about paper organizing:

What other issues do you have when sorting and organizing paperwork? Ask in the comments and I’ll answer in a future post just for you!

Thank you sincerely for reading and sharing this article/video.



  • Darl

    I need help in knowing what to keep, what to recycle. For example, prescription summaries that come each month.

    • A general rule is only keep things that:
      1 you can’t find really online
      2 you will certainly need

      Almost every utility bill can be found online. Don’t keep those longer than 1 payment cycle.

      As for prescription summaries, you probably won’t reference those again unless the medications change often or radically.
      If you feel you will use the information for reference, I’d keep a summary every 6 months or so. (Scan a copy of you’d rather have a digital record than a paper record.)
      There’s no right answer for medical records. I usually ask people what feels comfortable to them?

Your thoughts please