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Paper Organization Tips

posted Oct 27, 2010, 6:26 PM by Kristin Mastromarino Vander Wiede
Dealing with paper is one of the number one problems that I work with people on everyday.  While it can seem overwhelming to sit at a desk and sort through it, taking the time to create the right system on your desk top can make life a lot easier everyday.

The first thing that you should do is sort the items on the desk top into categories.  Put all the handwritten notes together. Gather the business cards and phone numbers.  Sort out all of the bills, projects and printed e-mails.  Put all of the paperclips, post-it notes and other office supplies together.   But most importantly get all the items that don’t even belong on your desk off, such as old coffee cups, napkins, kids toys etc.  This can make the biggest impact immediately.

Now you must look at each pile individually and really think about the importance of the items.  Is that business card a contact that you need anymore?  Do you even remember the person?  Do you already have them listed in your address book?  Ask yourself if the handwritten notes still mean anything to you.  Can you identify whose phone number that is that you wrote down? Is that old to do list valid anymore?  The more that you can eliminate at this stage, the easier it will be to accomplish clearing the desk into a more orderly place.

Since you have identified what is left, it is important to establish a place to hold all of the items.  Paper can usually fit into four major categories:  A “To Do” item, file, a calendar item or the trash.  As you look at each paper establish if you are just keeping it to add to remember it for a task you must do or if you can just write down the task on a To Do list and throw the paper out.  If the paper establishes a date you must remember put the pertinent information on the calendar and throw out the paper. 

When papers need to be filed you should consider two options.  First, if it is an important paper or an ongoing project keep it on top of your desk in a tickler file system.  This can be a small tabletop file within arms reach of your desk.  Use colored or patterned files and a label maker to make them easy to read and attractive.  Categories that would work in this file could be “Articles to Read,” “Bills to Pay,” “To Do Items,” “Joe & Gina’s Wedding,” or “Marketing Project.”  These categories should represent items that you frequently need to grab for information or file paper in.

For paper that does not need to be grabbed as quickly use a file cabinet for deeper storage.  Items that could be placed in here are tickler files that are no longer current, investment and bank records, mortgage and real estate paperwork, insurance papers and other household paperwork.

As you set up your desk further, make sure you keep items such as staplers, whole punches, post-it notes and the phone within easy reach.  Keep your stamps, label makers and envelopes nearby to grab easily when you need to mail a letter or create a new file system.  If you take the time to think about what you really need to do activities at your desk, you will reduce unnecessary clutter and make your space much more functional.

Kristin Mastromarino is a professional organizer at Livable Solutions, LLC (, owner of The Organized Lifestyle retail store ( and is an Associate member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO).  You can email her your questions at