1-2-3 Paper Management for Busy People – Part 1 of 4

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This is a FOUR part series.  🙂  Check out Part 2 and, shortly, the last installment describing the 1-2-3 Paper Management for Busy People series and the postscript blog: Conquering Paper Mountain.

Step 1:  Sort Incoming Paper Before You Sit Down!

Put incoming paper files in a location that is highly accessible when you walk into the house.  Note that paper also comes into your house from your printer, so the location may need to accommodate both points of paper entry.

For a while my incoming paper files were inside a kitchen cabinet, tacked to cork board glued to the back wall.  Then I found a very nice patina metal wall file with four large pockets – one for my incoming paper, the others for current editions of various magazines, newspapers, and catalogs we like –  which now hangs in our entryway.


Here are the files that I use to catch paper as it comes into the house:

To Do/Pay

If it is a bill, I don’t even open it. I just put it in this file. Other things that go in here:
  • Bank statements that need to be balanced
  • Forms that need to be completed
  • Ads for events for which I want to purchase tickets
  • Any piece of paper for which I want to take action on (i.e., make a call, write a response)

To File

This is for items I want to keep as a record but don’t require any action, for instance:
  • Tax bills that are paid by the mortgage company
  • Receipts from purchases or deposits
  • Insurance renewal certificates
  • Legal documents

This folder keeps these items together until the next time I do filing.

To Recycle

To be honest, in my house, this is not a file. If it is possible to put a recycling bin near the door, I highly recommend this approach.

To Shred

Since it takes a few minutes to pull out my shredder, I accumulate shredding in this folder and do it every week or two.

Coming Events

Most of what is in this file comes out of my printer, but not all. For instance:
  • Tickets, itineraries, or announcements for upcoming travel and events
  • Receipts from special delivery mailing (which I keep until I am sure of delivery)
  • Receipts for products (only if I print it out)

Take-Out Menus

This file location happens to be a great place to keep the menus for our favorite delivery and take-out restaurants.

Internet To Do

This holds all of the paper giblets, business cards, and torn-out magazine pages that contain the web site URLs that I want to explore the next time I’m roaming the web.

Out of Network

This is a folder that won’t necessarily apply to everyone. However a folder that serves the same purpose in an analogous area of life may be helpful:

I accumulate receipts from out-of-network physicians in this folder. Every so often I pull the folder out and compile the claims.


Before getting my wall file unit, incoming paper files were tacked to the cork-board back wall of a kitchen cabinet.

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