8 Habits To Keep Paper Clutter To A Minimum

Papers are easily one of the number one clutter issues in our lives. We are afraid to get rid of something, for fear of needing the information on it or needing a copy of it. We feel shame for not filing utility bills and grocery receipts. Aren’t we supposed to compare our receipts to our ATM & credit card statements every month??
And then there are the sentimental papers: the award the kids got for good attendance at school, the baptism certificate, the participation award for soccer… and the drawings, aren’t we supposed to cherish every picture our child gives to us? There’s not any more room on the front of the fridge, but…
We have this idea that we are supposed to keep every single statement, warranty, instruction manual, receipt and note from school.
Thankfully, we don’t. And here are 8 actionable things that you can shift to avoid paper piles crowding your space.

  1. Deal with papers immediately. (Also known as the “one-touch” rule)
    • Mail: As soon as you get the mail, head right to the recycling bin or garbage and toss all the junk mail- don’t even take it into the house with you, if possible.
    • School: Sort backpacks every day as they come in, have the kids do the homework ASAP and put it back into the bag so it’s done and ready for the next day. If there are notes from teachers, permission slips, etc. sign them and put them right back in the backpack. Mark significant events on the calendar with correct info and toss the remainder. Let go of all the drawings, crafty things, etc. that were just sent home for your inspection. If you find something unique, take time to take a picture with your child holding it and spend time talking to your child about the project and then let it go. Click here to read about how our family generally deals with craft & art projects.
    • Church: If you can toss the papers you get from church before getting into the car, you will be one step ahead! Many churches are cutting back on the amount they hand out in the first place, which is excellent, but even Sunday School coloring sheets can pile up in the car and on the counters. If possible, take time at church to ask your children questions about their lesson, what is going on in the picture/craft project, what was important about the story and what did your child find the most interesting. Then, make it a habit of throwing it away. (Gasp! Can you believe what I just said?! But remember, the important thing is talking to your child- if you just take the paper home and throw it away in a week, nothing significant would have taken place in conversation, but if you intentionally talk and ask questions and learn the lesson your child learn, you can toss that paper without guilt.)
  2. Have an inbox for all the papers that need to be dealt with soon. Near the kitchen, I have this wooden tray I put all the bills after I’ve sorted the mail. Once a week, my husband, Brian, pays bills and balances the checkbook, so he knows right where to find all the statements he needs. After he’s paid the bills, he tosses the statement part. We keep as few papers as possible – only what we need for records.
  3. Have a long term filing system. Some things need to be kept, tax records, personal records, etc. and for that, I have found that I do best with a drawer system. I used to do hanging files, but I would leave everything in piles rather than file it away. Now if I receive a paper I need to keep for an extended period, I put it into the appropriate drawer of the cabinet (a cabinet similar to this one).
  4. Set a weekly time to catch up on paper. Make it a habit to deal with papers: take time out each week to pay bills, etc. that are waiting in your inbox. It’s easiest if it’s consistent, like every Saturday morning. Once you are in the habit of dealing with them weekly, it doesn’t take long, and you should quickly be done within 10 minutes. Keep all your stamps and envelopes, extra checks, etc. in one area so you can sit down and take care of everything in one setting (rather than running all over the house finding things you need to finish the task).
  5. Set as many statements as possible to “paperless.” Many banks, credit card companies and various service companies are giving the option of paperless billing/statements. What a wonderful option! You still need to set aside time each week to pay/view/respond as necessary. If you are an out-of-sight-out-of-mind type person, set up a routine of weekly bill paying or set up automatic bill pay through your bank. Depending on your email service you can have your e-statements automatically filtered into a separate “bill” folder in your email, making it very easy to find what you need and have your records all in one spot.
  6. Automate bills. If any companies you deal with can automatically withdraw, it’s a great way to keep the papers at bay. Keep a minimum amount in your checking account, so you never stress about being able to cover your bills.
  7. Toss receipts. Ok, not if you need them for tax purposes, but if it’s just the receipt from the grocery store or gas station – toss them! If you enjoy looking over your receipts weekly, you can ignore my advice, but if you are struggling with paper clutter, I say let them go!! At times, if I have purchased something I need to confirm fills the function adequately (clothes for the kids, new coffee maker, etc., I will leave the receipt with it, until I have used it and confirmed I will keep it, and then I toss all packaging and receipt. My business receipts go right into the appropriate drawer for business expenses; no other receipts are kept. If you are worried: if you use a credit or debit card to purchase something, the majority of stores can easily pull up any transaction you have made there within the last couple months just by scanning your card (which means THEY have your receipt on file!).
  8. Cancel subscriptions. As with anything, if you love it, keep it. But for most of us, life takes over and those magazines we imagine reading while we sit on our porch swing sipping iced tea… end up piled in the corner of the dining room. The only time I have read through a magazine in the last ten years has been sitting in a waiting room.
  9. Avoid couponing. I completely understand that some people get crazy deals on things with coupons – and it impresses me! But I see the downside of it as well: overstocked pantry, shelves and cupboards, items purchased that wasn’t a need, “but it was such a good deal I got it anyway” and all the piles of ads to go with them. Couponing only saved me money when I was purchasing prepared foods and cleaning supplies, but since moving to a real/whole food diet… well, let’s just say, I’ve never seen a coupon for fresh broccoli or a big bag of lentils!


About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, I created a FREE Facebook Group - feel free to join me there: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group and I share videos each week on YouTube


  1. sheryl at providence acres on 09/20/2016 at 11:38 am

    You are right, paper is such a clutter problem! I have done many of the things you suggest, list automating any payments and statements possible and that is a tremendous help, but it is still a problem. I have a big bin that I toss anything I find laying around into so if someone in my household leaves things sitting anywhere, they can usually find it later in “The bin”, including any papers. Having to search through the bin for something helps them remember to put it away immediately and keeps things neat. It’s still not perfect. I still fight the clutter battle, but I think it’s a liveable amount.
    Good blog!

  2. Summer on 09/21/2016 at 7:24 am

    Great suggestions! As a homeschooler I’m curious about How you decide which school Papers to keep. (WOrkbooks, notebooks, writing samples, math pageS, etc.) also, my downfall is paper (and electronic) lists-ideas for future activities, clothes my kids need, books i want to read and such. How do you deal with stuff like that?

    • Bethany on 10/20/2016 at 10:19 pm

      Hi Summer. I’m not the author but I hope you don’t mind my two cents. I have a problem with lists too. I have two things that help: my phone and my notebook. Whenever I think of something I want to do or read (for example), I write it in the note section of my smartphone. At home I have a notebook that I have divided up into lists. I then transcribe any notes from my phone into the book. If you like electronic, then just keep the notes there. This keeps me from ending up with piles of odd papers.

    • Sue on 04/10/2019 at 10:59 pm

      Hi, Summer! Have you tried bullet journaling? I keep one journal where I write down everything. I even put my check register in the back! It totally keeps me on track. Books to read, gift ideas, grocery lists, etc.

    • Pam on 04/11/2019 at 2:06 am

      I has been using my phone app, ‘Keep’, for lists and lots of other notes. I have a shopping list and ‘To do’ lists for work, home and finances. It also stores the books to read and quotes and poems that I like to keep. Pictures and recipes too. It haa really helped me because I love notes and lists!

    • Helena on 04/11/2019 at 4:27 am

      That’s what I run into–I’m afraid of not having enough for our kids’ end-of-year portfolio reviews, so I keep everything. I need to get better about culling, or at least organizing it so I can pull what I need for the portfolios easily!

      • Licia on 03/04/2020 at 3:37 pm

        I’d suggest investing in a plastic file box or crate per child for school papers. Keep whatever your oversight committee deems necessary. Between terms or years, cull any papers that have no emotional reaction (either positive or negative). Im actually glad I kept some of my “failure” projects- until I was able to process the embarrassment I felt about them. For public school kids (especially with first year teachers) – keep the papers until grades are finalized each term, then cull whatever has no emotional attachment. The other key is to remember that each kid only gets the one box- one of my least favorite wedding presents was the 8 banker’s boxes of old school papers my dad had tucked away for me and then forgot where it was when I asked for it each year. It took me almost a year to sort through and keep only the treasures- which fit neatly in one plastic file box.

  3. Pat Lukes on 08/13/2017 at 2:26 am

    I have ‘Financial Fridays’ at my house. Meaning: Friday nights, I sit and go through my bills and file my receipts. I usually reward myself with a special dessert while doing this and can it all while a good movie is running in the background. LOL.

  4. Annie Cooley on 04/10/2019 at 3:54 pm

    Thank you from a self realized paranoidite. I even take the time to tear and shred address stamps on catalogs which inendate my daily mail. I also take the time to shred receipts, flyers with my name, and even used envelopes with my name.
    If I don’t, In the back of my mind I imagine the trash collectors and the sorters at recycling wondering just “who is this AC”. “ She must be rich to get all these catalogs”.
    Therefore, I continue to get rid of the evidence.
    Not necessary you say??? I have an insatiable desire to remain anonymous.
    Could I truly be free from this tedious, time consuming, and arduous daily task??

    • Rachel Jones on 04/10/2019 at 6:18 pm

      Sounds like a heavy burden. ❤️

    • Nan D. on 04/11/2019 at 8:19 pm

      Annie, I’m glad to know there’s at least one other person on the planet who has “an insatiable desire to remain anonymous”!!!!

  5. Tanya on 04/10/2019 at 4:02 pm

    While we are paperless for most things, paper clutter continues to be a huge issue for my household. I currently use hanging files for papers we need to keep. You explained the top of my file cabinet perfectly: piles of things to file that I never find time to ACTUALLY file!!! I am moving to the drawer system!!! Great idea, thank you!!!

  6. leslie dykeman on 04/10/2019 at 8:44 pm

    I was glad my dad kept his bills on paper because when he died knowing where he owed money was beneficial for closing accounts and settling estate. Unless you are giving access to your executor, how will anyone know your assets and liabilities?

  7. Yvonne on 04/11/2019 at 6:30 am

    Ok so by taking pictures of craft stuff and drawings you’re just shifting actual clutter to digital clutter. lol
    Jokes aside! I can see the upside. You don’t have to dust off digital clutter week after week.
    Thanks so much for these great tips. My goal is to have our house decluttered by the end of the year. It isn’t very cluttered to begin with since I’m a neat freak and don’t get emotionally attached to stuff. So this should be an achievable goal.

  8. Xena Angel on 04/11/2019 at 9:21 pm

    While I agree and understand, I have run into a few situations where removing the paper clutter has been a problem and I have not yet found a good solution.
    When my parents died, the fact that they kept all their bills and such coming as “paper” was a lifesaver. If it was electronic, I would not have been able to get access easily or in a timely manner. Right now I am still getting many of my bills and statements in paper form and keep a tight filing system.
    Now for the big one. I shred all my receipts and are done with them. However, I just had a flood at my house and nearly everything was destroyed. The insurance company wants receipts to prove what I paid for the stuff and when I got it. Well, I do not have it. The best I can do is try to find the same or similar on line. Which is great except that many of the items I have either no longer exist or do not cost nearly as much now as it did back in the day. My job would be a lot easier if I had those receipts. I was looking for an online program where I can scan and keep receipts that is free or close to it and searchable. So far, I have not found the tool I am looking for this purpose.

    • Rachel Jones on 04/15/2019 at 8:42 pm

      I think EverNote is a good app for saving receipts and notes of any kind. I’m sorry you’re having to face that, thanks for sharing what you’ve learned with us!

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