Six Organizing Systems Everyone Needs — System #4: Paper Flow

overflowing paper inboxHow well are your organizing systems working for you?

In the introduction to this series I shared the following:

What is a system?
What 6 organizing systems do I think everyone needs?
What 5 questions can you ask yourself to see if your systems are still working for you, or if they need tweaking?

Now let’s take a closer look at each system…

What is your system for managing paper flow? Does it need tweaking? Click To Tweet

System #4: Paper Flow

WHO brings in the mail? WHO pays the bills? Do kids bring home schoolwork and artwork?

WHAT tools do you need – An action file, or other method of keeping track of paper To-Dos? Trash can, recycle bin, and paper shredder? Long term filing system and artwork/memorabilia storage?

WHEN will you process incoming paper — Daily? Weekly? WHEN will you pay the bills? WHEN will you do other paper-related tasks? HOW OFTEN will you purge unwanted and unnecessary papers?

WHERE will you sort incoming paper — The kitchen counter? A conveniently located desk or table? WHERE will you pay the bills? WHERE will you do other paper-related tasks? WHERE will you accumulate magazines and other reading material? (Don’t forget to purge them periodically — don’t let your containers overflow!)

WHY do you need a system for paper flow? So you get bills paid and other tasks done on time, thus avoiding late fees, missed opportunities, and other negative consequences. So you don’t lose important papers in mystery piles on the kitchen table, when you’d really rather enjoy a meal there. So you don’t have a whole house full of kids’ papers by the time they graduate. So you can relax, knowing exactly how and when you’ll deal with those papers!

What are your challenges and tips for managing paper flow?

Please share in the comments below!

Next System: #5 Clutter Flow

Previous System: #3 Launch Pad

If you need help tweaking your systems, or implementing new ones, ask a friend or call a professional organizer.

Copyright 2010-2017 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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  1. Sandy Dixon on July 21, 2011 at 10:04 am

    I have found that the piles that grow from unresolved paper issues not only prevents me from finding specific things I am looking for, but it poses a mental burden as well. Seeing ‘stuff’ accumulate makes me feel anxious and scattered. When I am diligent and deal with paperwork as it presents itself I feel not only more more organized, but in a better mood too! Great info Hazel.

    • Hazel Thornton at on July 21, 2011 at 10:11 am

      Thanks, Sandy! Me too. When you have a good system in place it’s so much easier to keep on top of things.

  2. Linda Samuels on January 22, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Paper challenges are right up there with the #1 thing my clients feel most challenged by. I love your who, what, where, when, why approach for finding answers to the essential questions. I think one of the things creates paper overwhelm, is thinking about all paper in the same category. And while the large category might be paper, different types of papers should have different types of organizing systems to manage them. The questions you’ve shared made that clear too. Great post, Hazel!

  3. Seana Turner on January 22, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    There are so many paperless options today that sometimes we forget to think about paper management. I find paper in every client’s space, so it still is deserving of attention. A good system like you are describing helps avoid those mixed contents piles, which are basically a time consuming pain in the neck!

    • Hazel Thornton on January 23, 2018 at 5:47 am

      Or, as I like to call them, “mystery piles”!

  4. Janet Barclay on January 22, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    Even though we don’t have as much paper these days, I swear by my tickler system. When a bill or anything that doesn’t need immediate attention comes in, I just pop it in the file for the appropriate day or month, and nothing gets forgotten!

  5. […] 2. Dishes 3. Launch Pad 4. Flow of Paper 5. Flow of Things 6. Getting Stuff […]

  6. Janice Norris on July 10, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    Nothing for me to love here! With most stuff coming to me online, I have little that’s urgent in my mailbox. In the mail house I sort the mail and immediately dump the ads addressed to “occupant” into the recycle bin provided by the apartment complex. There’s still a bunch of stuff that seems like it might be important. Some of the companies that send me stuff are the same companies that send my bill to my email. Why? I look to see what I need to keep and sometimes still create a mystery pile that’s in a Tupperware-type box to await shredding, which I do about once a week. It’s not very efficient. I don’t have a “when file” because much of it’s just policy changes/updates I think I will need to remember. So, in essence, the stuff I need to remember becomes a mystery! I will eventually recycle most, if not all of it.

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What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy

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Go With the Flow! (The Clutter Flow Chart Workbook)

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Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menendez Juror


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