How to reduce the paper clutter throughout your home.
It’s everywhere. Bills, old documents, reports, drawings by your kids, birth certificates, tax filings, manuals, etc. I see families with huge filing cabinets stuffed with papers that they haven’t touched in years.
As an aspiring minimalist, I believe that physical clutter creates mental clutter. AKA, your overstuffed filing cabinet with years and years of documents is leaving you feeling overwhelmed. But, what do you keep? What can you toss?
I’m sharing what to eliminate and how to organize the paper clutter around your home. From important documents to gift wrap, let’s get a system in place. Let’s go!
Creating a Paper Records Module
AKA, a place where you file important papers. It doesn’t (nor should it be) a huge filing cabinet. I use an inexpensive plastic filing bin from Walmart and use hanging file folders. I store this bin on a shelf in my closet. It’s easily accessible, yet out of the way. It’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.
In my storage bin, I have folders for the following items…
- Important Documents – birth certificates, marriage license, other government docs.
- Taxes – W-2s
- Banking – I keep checks in here since we rarely use them, but sometimes need them. I also have some business paperwork for Hello Hayley, LLC.
- Memorabilia – Paper items that are meaningful to me and I like to look back at – a few newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, race bibs.
- Health Insurance
- House Documents
In the back of my paper storage bin are our diplomas and a massive envelope that has the title to our house.
You’ll notice that these folders aren’t stuffed! Here’s a little more info on what I keep…
According to Nerdwallet, you only need to keep 3 years worth of W2 forms (in most cases). I don’t keep any pay stubs, as all of our records are electronic. Nerdwallet says you can keep pay stubs for 1 year to ensure they match your W2, then shred.
By all means, KEEP the legal documents that you’re required to have a physical copy of! Birth certificates, passports, marriage licenses, wills, etc. If you have to pay to replace it, then keep it.
I keep my passport and in a safe spot in my dresser. All other important documents are stored in my paper filing box.
Bills and Insurance
In the folders for retirement, health insurance, cars, house, etc., I keep one piece of paper for each that has our account number on it. I don’t keep any monthly or quarterly statements. If I ever need balances or more information, I can log into my account online or call the company directly. Since I have my account number, it’s easy to look up info I could need.
If you haven’t, I recommend enrolling in paperless billing and using auto-deductions whenever possible. Every single one of our accounts is set up to auto-pay. We don’t manually pay for anything that’s a monthly, quarterly, or yearly payment.
We get tons of coupons in the mail… and we actually use them! I struggled finding a way to organize them that was out of the way and didn’t look cluttered. Finally, I settled on 3 plastic food storage containers from the Dollar Store and I keep them in my cupboard.
I’ve labeled them with, “Expire Soon,” “Expire Later,” and “Gift Cards, Bills, & Other.”
Expire Soon includes coupons that expire within the next month. Expire Later includes coupons that expire in 1+ months. The third one is for gift cards and anything we get in the mail that’s an imminent “to do.” I also keep receipts in here if I think I might return something soon.
This is a big one. Mail adds up SO quickly and usually creates a permanent little home on your kitchen counter that’s always occupied. It’s often the “drop spot” and accumulates more and more and more clutter!
I’m not perfect and my drop spot can get cluttered too. However, I don’t dread going through my mail.
In Arizona, our mail boxes are usually in one big mail kiosk down the street instead of by the driveway. Due to the inconvenience, I only get my mail twice a week (on a good week!).
As SOON as I get home with my mail (my do it NOW hack!), I put the pile on the counter next to the garbage and throw away anything that’s junk, which is 90% of the mail. I don’t entertain any credit card or refinancing offers that come through the mail. If I didn’t need it before, I don’t need it now.
The other 10% usually ends up in one of my coupon containers above. If it’s something that needs to be taken care of but I can’t do it that second (like, I need to make a call), it will sit on the counter as a reminder to do it the next day.
Did you know that every appliance manual I’ve ever needed has been found online? I have the manual to my rice cooker bookmarked in my Chrome browser because I always have to check the right quantities!
If you ever need to figure out how one of your appliance works, Google it. There’s no need to keep paper manuals.
Wrapping Paper and Gift Supplies
Since living a more minimalist lifestyle, I’ve tried to minimize the amount of “stuff” I give as gifts. Most of the time I give experiences or gift cards, along with a card.
That being said, I have a few supplies on hand for when I’m giving a physical gift. Recently, I’ve liked using brown wrapping paper that I can “dress up” for any occasion! I also have a bag of gift bags and tissue paper for quick wrapping.
A few years ago my cousin sent me this card box that has been a life saver for last-minute events. I keep it stocked with thank you cards and a few birthday cards so I don’t always have to scramble to the store.
PS – Did you know you can find $1 cards at the Dollar Store?! Yaassssss!
Kids’ Artwork and Drawings
As tempting as it is to keep every cute craft your child brings home, it eventually causes clutter. I recommend getting a large plastic bin and using it to a couple things from each year of school, through high school graduation (like this memory box from Mums Make Lists). We’ve always called it a memorabilia box!
My mom just gave me my memorabilia box last year and I consolidated all my belongings from birth through college into one plastic tub.
Remember, in 25 years, your kid doesn’t need to look back at 15 dinosaur drawings they did as a 3 year old. Just the best one will be enough. 🙂
I want to differentiate this category as nice artwork that you’d actually hang up in your house. In high school, I did a few pencil drawings that I was incredibly proud of; however, I would never want to hang them up in my house. So, they lived in a closet for a few years.
While decluttering, I came across my artwork. I decided to take nice pictures of them with my phone and put the photos in a folder in my OneDrive. Then, I thanked them for teaching me how to draw and I threw the paper copies of the artwork in the trash.
Was it hard? Yes, kind of. But they’re serving NO purpose sitting packed away in a closet. They’re just clutter. And I can still look at them on my computer whenever I want to!
So, here’s my consensus with nice artwork: Hang it, sell it, or throw it.
Music Books and Sheet Music
Ohhhh heavens. A good friend reminded me about music books and sheet music. I took piano lessons for about 9 years and played trombone in bands for 11 years, so the paper clutter here is REAL!
I had a few favorite piano books that I held on to through college, but once I bought my own house and took our family piano, my parents gave me all the books and sheet music I had collected throughout the years. I had well over 50 books and loads of folders and sheet music.
These days, I only play piano maybe once a month, so while I want to keep some music, I don’t need to keep 50+ books.
I kept only my favorite books that I enjoy playing and could actually play out of, which turned out to be about 10 books. I put all my favorite sheet music in plastic sleeves in a binder so they’d stay organized. All my piano music lives in a cute basket next to my piano.
So think: How often are you using the music? How much are you storing? Don’t store for “what if.” Only keep the music that you love to play.
It was a hard decision, but I opted to donate all my piano lesson books. I hope my kids want to learn piano one day and if so, I thought I could re-use them, but that’s AT LEAST 5 years away and it’s not worth me storing all those books for that long. They’re bulky, heavy, and we can afford to buy new books when (and IF!) the time comes.
Also, if my children choose not to learn piano one day, I don’t want to feel the resentment of, “But I saved all these lesson books for you!” Avoiding future conflict.
Final Thoughts on Reducing Paper Clutter in Your Home
At the end of the day, remember this: It’s just a piece of paper. If there’s something you need from the piece of paper, take a picture and stick it in an album on your phone. Decluttering your filing cabinet and other paper clutter can feel overwhelming, but it’s actually a lot easier than many other parts of your home – you can simply throw away or recycle all of it!
Any other paper clutter that I missed? Make sure to leave a comment below so I can add it to the post!