Your Weekly Organasm: Paper Organizing: Quick-and-Dirty Ways to Save Yourself from Drowning in Paper

We should all be more organized about where we put our papers, AMIRITE? Because if you lose a piece of paper, it could be gone FOREVER.
Publish date:
March 17, 2014

The last time I lost a piece of paper, it was a Big Deal. It was some 401K rollover paperwork, and it had lots of sensitive information like my social security number scribbled on it. And since identity theft happens to be a very real fear of mine, I searched everywhere. I went through my filing cabinet, then searched impossible places like in between the pages of all the books on my bookshelves. I followed that up with some sleepless nights because OMG, I had lost my paperwork and what if somebody steals my identity and all of my money? I was so wracked with fear and guilt that I couldn’t even confess what I had done to my own husband. After all, his financial future is tied up with mine.

And then, I found them. When I reprinted all of the necessary papers and started filling them out all over again, I realized that I needed my husband’s notarized signature. So when I confronted Mr. Min, he told me that I had given them to him just before we went on vacation weeks ago, and they were in a folder on his work desk. So yeah, that was embarrassing. But the moral of the story is that we should all be more organized about where we put our papers, AMIRITE? Because obviously, if you lose a piece of paper, it could be gone FOREVER. And if you’re me, that can be traumatizing.

To stop that from ever happening again, I decided that I needed to tighten up my act. But you should know that I don’t organize things the conventional way. If I can find a shortcut, or a lazy way of doing things, I’m always going to take the easy way out. So I’ve developed this multi-step organizational system that isn’t Pinterest-perfect, but it’s quick and dirty, and it totally works for me and my weird brain. And now, I’m going to tell you all about it.

I hate stating the obvious, but I stop mail at the source

I would suggest signing up for online banking for all of your credit cards and utility bills, whenever possible. Automatic payments help, too. If you don’t want to deal with logging into multiple accounts every month, you can use a online bill-pay service like To opt out of getting catalogs and other junk mail sent to your home, you can do it all in one stop at It’s not as effective for stopping credit card offers, though. For that, you can go to

I use a magazine as a letter sorter

This is how I deal with new mail as it enters my home. The beauty of this method is that I don’t need to clear a lot of table space for it, I don’t need to buy a thing to make it work, and it’s totally customizable. This makes it easier to roll up my sleeves and just plow through huge stacks of mail. In fact, all that I need is this:

A magazine, the thicker the better

Post-its or post-it flags

Most of my mail belongs to one of four categories. For example, I’m always going to have “Action” items, or things that require some sort of action on my part, such as paying a bill, depositing a check or responding to a wedding invitation. Things like pay stubs and tax reporting statements belong in my “File” category. There are also “Shred” for all of my credit card offers, and “Trash” for stuff that belongs in the recycling bin.

After writing all of these categories down on individual post-its, I’ll stick them to the pages of my magazine–kind of like the tabs on a manila folder–spacing them out as evenly as possible. The goal is to use the magazine and the tabs as a letter sorter. Then, working quickly, I go through all of my mail, one by one, opening the envelopes and sorting everything out into the various tabs. If I ever need a new category, I can always stop, create a new tab and find a random page to stick it to.

I stop when I run out of mail, or when the magazine is full. Then, I empty the contents out into the recycling bin, paper shredder, my filing cabinet, or wherever else I think it belongs. When I’m finished, I can sit down at my desk to deal with my “Action” papers. I guess if you want to get all fancy and throw some money at the problem, you can buy an accordion folder or lots of manila folders and use them much the same way.

I use my Bisley drawers to help me put off filing my papers

This is part two of my game plan to sort papers the lazy way. I have a Bisley 5-drawer cabinet ($99). It’s not cheap, but I was lucky enough to get it for half off on Craigslist years ago. I use one of the drawers to hold the user manuals for all our household appliances, and the bottom drawer for pens and other office supplies. The top drawers are for my paperwork, and they are labelled Action, File and Shred. I switch them up every now and then, but this is what makes sense to me right now.

The Action drawer is where I keep my bills, and pending invitations.Some of these papers are further subdivided into manila folders. Since I can’t see the side tabs when I open a drawer, I label them by using Post-it adhesive tabs on the bottom of the folders. This helps me find what I need, quickly and easily. And to help me react to my action items more quickly, this drawer is also where I keep a Ziplock bag that holds my checkbook, spare envelopes and stamps. Since it’s transparent, I can see all of the contents. Plus, it prevents my checkbook from getting lost within the drawer.

Next, the File drawer holds all of the papers that I plan on putting away in my file cabinet. I try to empty it out frequently, but I have the luxury of putting it off as long as I have space in that drawer. Every drawer in my beloved Bisley is 1 7/8 inches deep, so to me it represents lots of borrowed time. I also have Shred drawer. My credit card offers tend to pile up in there until I’m ready to pull out my paper shredder and just deal with it.

I use my smartphone to keep track of my Action items

Since I have a 9-5 desk job (and I’m not an early riser), that means I have to find a few spare minutes during the day to do things like call my doctor for an appointment or ask about discrepancies on my credit card bill. So, I’ve found that it’s a good idea to photograph my Action items using my password-protected smartphone. That way, I can avoid carrying extra paperwork in my purse (and potentially misplacing it), while still having access to crucial information.

I also have a filing cabinet

Mr. Min and I have a drawer each in our Erik File Cabinet ($99) from Ikea. I got the idea to opt out of using the plastic hanging file tabs that you’re supposed to use with hanging folders. I’ve always hated them because it’s such a pain to rearrange and create new categories. Plus, I always seem to run out of tabs, or lose them, before I’m done filing. So instead, I’m using a combination of manila folders and hanging files. I’m placing multiple folders within each hanging file, and using the tabs to organize my paperwork. Hanging files can be expensive and together, they take up a lot of room, so this helps maximize my space while also saving me some money.

I’m also using tab positions to help me find stuff. So, folders with top tabs deal with “Inspiration” or items such as my writing clips and vacation planning, middle tabs deal with “Money” such as utility and credit card bills, and the bottom tabs are for “Nostalgia” or items that I’m saving from the past, such as my marriage certificate and correspondence with friends.

To help me keep track of the contents of my filing cabinet, I also created a sort of “Table of Contents.” I handwrote all of the categories on the front of yet another manila folder. This I keep in the very front of my files so that I can refer to it when I need to. This would also be the place where I would log where the files are going whenever I take them out of the filing cabinet.

Another thing that I do is scribble account numbers, credit card numbers and company phone numbers directly on the relevant manila folder. Having a surface that I can write on is a definite advantage of using manila folders for organization. I also keep a basic summary of the times when I’ve called utility companies, what occurred, and the confirmation numbers. This is for convenience, so that I don’t have to stop and look through the contents of the folder to find what I want.

Now, it’s your turn. Just how much do you hate junk mail? And how do you deal with massive amounts of paper, both at home and at work? Shower me with your brilliance, xoJaners.