Updated: Apr 4, 2022
When you decide to start decluttering and organizing your home, there’s a step you need to take before you even think about donating a pile or purchasing a bin. It’s important to begin by clearing away the trash and miscellaneous papers that are in the way.
Step 1: Grab a trash bag and go on a treasure hunt! Fill the bag with everything from receipts and wrappers to broken toys, old bills, holiday cards, you name it!
Step 2: Walk through every single room of your home. Paper piles up everywhere, from the obvious spots like kitchen countertops and the office to the laundry room, dining table, and beyond. Be ruthless and see how many bags you can fill up - you’d be surprised how much accumulates in a short amount of time.
There are several categories I want to talk about specifically from a Professional Organizer standpoint. I see trends in the papers my clients consistently have a hard time letting go of. Here are my recommendations regarding the following categories:
This is a big one and often really difficult for many parents to tackle because artwork is sentimental. We love our kids, therefore we should love their art, right? To that - I say… sometimes. There’s no physical way you can save and store all the artwork your children bring home. The papers from school are plentiful, backpacks are full, and sometimes it’s all very overwhelming.
Save only the very special, memorable pieces. We’re talking three to five pieces of artwork or papers per year. Are you having a dilemma whether or not to save something? Display it on the fridge for a few days, enjoy it, smile when you see it, then throw it away. Ruthless? Yes. But you can either have the space or the stuff. You can’t have both. Plus, your child will never wish you saved more of their papers. I promise.
What I encourage my clients to do is purchase a box similar to this for each child. It’s a hanging file box that’s plastic, weathertight, and stacks easily if you have multiple children. Insert hanging file folders and label each one with specific grades and activities. Simplified KC offers our signature “Milestone Box” which quickly and easily allows clients to sort and store special milestone moments and papers for their children. These boxes don’t take up much space, and force you to limit what you save. Most importantly, they store papers upright. I always say that papers die when they get laid down and stored flat in a box. Every now and then, I go back through each grade for my kids and pare down even more of what I saved if a folder gets too full. You’ll know you’ve saved the right amount when you can get through an entire box within about 10 minutes and each piece you pull out brings a smile to your face. If you can’t remember the specifics of a certain piece, you might reconsider throwing it away or recycling it.
Speaking from experience as a (slightly) more grown woman, mom created a box for me when I was younger. After I purchased a home (i.e. storage space of my own), she gave me the box of papers ranging from Birth through College and I’ve never wished she would’ve saved more. To be honest, I’ve only gone through that box once and still tossed several items that I didn’t find sentimental. There will come a day when you’re unable to store everything for your children, and to give them a slimmed-down snapshot of their artwork over the years is a true gift both in time and space. So long story short - toss 98% of the papers your child brings home and file the keepers.
Instruction & User Manuals
In a word: TOSS! Always toss. If you have an issue with a product in your home or need instructions, manuals are always online. In fact, you’re more likely to check there first before even referring to the hard paper copy in your home. Need an example? The other day, I vacuumed the living room and couldn’t get the top to snap back into place. Did I go looking for the instruction manual? Nope! We watched a YouTube video and figured out the problem. So don’t feel bad for getting rid of the bulky manual or feel like you’ll be unable to search for what you need if you get in a pinch. These items are space suckers, organization nightmares, and you probably won’t be able to find a specific manual when you need it anyway!
Command Center papers
AKA “in-between papers”. You know the ones - papers that you need soon but don’t need right now. These look like permission slips, bills that aren’t on auto-pay, coupons, and the occasional information you need to save briefly. How do you keep them from piling up in a stack on your kitchen countertop and inevitably being lost in the shuffle?
First things first - when you bring papers in from the mailbox, don’t let any junk mail touch the surface of your countertop. Immediately recycle what you can. This includes coupons you know you’ll never use, flyers, etc.
The papers from your child’s backpack should be dealt with immediately when they come home from school (or as soon as you can that evening). Take everything out, look through it all, make a big deal out of the math papers they crushed, then recycle. Permission slips get signed immediately and put back into their backpacks. Anything that can be addressed in two minutes or less should be taken care of immediately. If there is any artwork that you love and want to save, put it in their Milestone Box for safekeeping. If there are items you want to display for a few days on the fridge, do it! Just don’t forget to remove those items once a week so the clutter doesn’t accumulate.
I created a Command Center organization system recently which eliminated the visual paper clutter in our kitchen. Not only are papers easy to find, they are hidden from view which lowers my stress level immensely when I walk into the space. I routinely create these for my clients too, because the reality is that sometimes you need to hang on to specific papers. You can create something similar by using a hanging file box like this clear one or a solid acrylic version. Since it sits out on our kitchen countertop, I preferred something that looked nice and fit seamlessly with the aesthetic of our home. Form + function for the win! This was a fantastic solution to our paper problems as we labeled each tab. We set ours up with folders for my husband and me, our kids, paid bills, and other important tax documents. Customize these to your heart’s content - just be sure to look through each folder once a week to keep items from getting lost or forgotten.
Scan or Photograph what you can
I have clients who consistently store papers because there is specific information they want to keep and refer to. Remember that it’s not necessary to keep those items forever in paper form. Instead, photograph those that contain information you need to keep and save them in a labeled, organized folder on your phone. If you prefer a scanner, you can go that route, but I find that storing digitally on my phone saves so much time.
Magazines & Newspapers
Raise your hand if you’re guilty of saving magazines promising that you’ll read them soon. Anyone? Just me? Save only the current issue of a magazine and recycle the rest. Or consider donating them to a nursing home or doctor’s office if you prefer not to recycle. Those items are bulky and can quickly take up space in your home if you’re not careful to consistently go through them.
Emily Wimer is a Professional Organizer based in Kansas City. She works with clients locally in Overland Park, KS, and virtually all over the country. Email Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our Website to schedule a free consultation. We are excited to hear from you and wish you happy organizing!
Please note: I do use affiliate links on my blog and make a small commission each time you purchase something through one of my links. I appreciate your support! As always, all opinions are my own.