7 Ways to Organize Your Paper Clutter

When your house is being taken over by paper clutter from school, use these ideas to organize all the papers.

Today is Day 9 of our 30 Day Decluttering Series and we are tackling one of the worst forms of clutter there is: Papers. Specifically papers from school.

I don’t think that there is any mom on the planet who isn’t fed up with the huge amounts of paperwork that comes home from school! Sometimes I think that it’s absolutely impossible to deal with it all and that we are doomed to drown in a sea of papers.

Because the majority of the papers coming into my home are from school, I think it is very important to teach my girls to learn to deal with the paperwork themselves. This is something we are working on this school year. In years past, much of it would just stay at the bottom of their backpacks until there was quite a load of paper they were carrying around!

Because I haven’t had a working system until this year, many important papers would get lost in the pile that just grew on my desk and I would forget important events, not send signed papers back to school, or miss things like buying school pictures.

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So here’s how we are trying to stay on top of the school paper clutter at our house this year:

1. It starts with the backpack.

The girls know they are to take all the papers out of their backpacks as soon as they walk in the door.

They put their lunchboxes on the counter, and then they should get their homework and any other paperwork out immediately. Getting it all OUT of the backpack is the first step to success, and should be simple enough for any kid to handle, whether they are in Kindergarten or are a senior in High School. (Not to say that they won’t need lots of reminders at first—or maybe forever!)

2. Deal with papers immediately, if possible.

If there is something you need to sign, sign it right away and put it back in your child’s folder. That’s the easy part.

If any of the papers can be dealt with immediately it makes a huge difference in the paper clutter.

If you need to send money, write the check and send it back tomorrow. If your child’s classroom needs Kleenex donations and you have a box on hand, stick it in the backpack and throw that paper out!

3. Have a designated “inbox” for important papers.

This is something new for me this year, but so far it’s working well.

Instead of letting the important papers from school pile up on my desk until I forget they exist, I have an inbox. Anything I can’t deal with right away goes into my inbox. Ideally, I should go through these papers at least once a week, so I have designated Friday mornings to do it.

The inbox is for action items. Right now, I have the yearly calendar from the violin association in it because I’d like to transfer the dates into my planner. I have a fund raising order form for the middle school band. I have some jewelry I need to send back to the company, and I have a huge pile of thank you cards I need to write for the board I serve on.

Note that not everything in my inbox is school related. It’s just stuff I need to do, and I have set Fridays aside to do it.

4. Have a designated “to file” spot.

This is for those papers that you need to keep, but don’t require an action performed. I’m supposed to file on Friday mornings as well, but I admit to being lazy about the filing and I only get to it once every couple months.

The school papers in the “to file” basket are usually work the girls did that they’d like to keep (art projects, writing assignments, etc.), report cards, testing results, and things of that nature.

When they bring home completed assignments, have your children tell you what they’d like to keep and what you can throw away. Explain that you only want to keep their very best and favorite work, as you will have a truckload of it by the end of each school year if you keep everything.

Some of my children are more willing to let go of their work than others, but that’s okay, because putting it in the “to file” basket doesn’t mean you will have to keep it forever. It’s an intermediate step that makes everyone happy for now.

Keep designated "inbox" and "to file" baskets, and sort through them often.

5. File whatever you can digitally.

If you need only the information on a paper, but don’t need to perform an action, and don’t want to keep it long term in your filing cabinet, take a photo and file it in a digital file cabinet like Evernote.

I love Evernote. You can download it to both your phone and your computer and have access to all files anytime you need them. If you upload something via your phone, it will automatically sync to your computer, and vice versa.

Things in this category would be flyers for an upcoming school event, classroom rules and homework policies, student handbooks, daily classroom schedules etc. I just tag these things with the name of my child and “school” so I can find them quickly.

6. File keepsake school work by year.

All of those papers that my children want to keep end up in a file in my filing cabinet. By the time I file them, enough time has passed that I will ask the girls again what they’d like to keep from that pile. By then they are usually willing to put a few more items into the recycle bin. Well, except for my youngest. She’d keep every single math page she’s ever done if I’d let her! So I just explain that we can’t keep everything, only the best things.

I have about three years’ worth in my filing cabinet right now. I then put each year into a large manila envelope and stick it into a bin in the basement—I have one for each girl. Before they go into the manila envelope, though, we will go through the folder one last time and make sure everything is worth keeping.

When my eldest was in Kindergarten, I scanned her best work and saved it to a DVD rather than filing the papers. That became too much work for me, so I prefer the filing, but it is another idea for getting rid of all the papers.

File the papers your child wants to keep by school year.

7. Make a study bin for your older children.

My eldest is in high school now, and her school load is obviously more taxing and requires a lot more studying than it did when she was younger.

This summer, she lamented how disorganized she felt with the papers and study guides she was supposed to keep so she could study for exams. She lost several, or they were in the bottom of her backpack or locker and she couldn’t find them when she needed them.

So we made her a “study bin.” I had an old portable file box in the basement that wasn’t being used for anything. We dug it out, and she organized it by subject and put pertinent folder labels within each subject. She files papers in there weekly so that she has them on hand to study from when she needs them.

Make a study bin for your older children to keep study guides and other important papers in.

It’s been a really great solution for her. Hopefully it teaches her some really important organizational skills as she goes through high school—she will need those skills even more once she’s in college!

Use a file folder box to create a study bin for your older children. This way they are able to keep all of the study guides and important papers in once place and be more successful at school. Plus 6 other ideas for keeping your kids' school papers organized and your desk free of paper clutter!

My middle daughter is having some trouble with organization this year, too. It’s her first year of middle school, and it’s just different than elementary school that way.

We are still looking for the solution that is perfect for her, but all of the above steps are definitely helping. We may even make a study bin of her own, if she feels it would be helpful.

Paper clutter is the worst kind, if you ask me! These ideas work for other types of paper clutter as well, but it’s definitely the ones that come from school that threaten to drown me more than the others!

What are your best solutions for organizing school papers?

Find all of the posts in this 31 Day Challenge here: A Place for Everything: 31 Days to Less Clutter and More Peace.

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Christine @ Rustic & Refined

Fantastic tips!! Tweeted & pinned this too 🙂

Hilda Rodgers

These are great tips Lara! I do a very similar process with dealing with paperwork right away and it has saved SO many hassles! I like that you have your kids go through their school work several times to weed out only the best. I'm trying to get my kids to do that more too.


I have to deal with her wanting to save every little piece of paper she brings home. I have to dispose of a lot of them when she is not home. I love your ideas for organizing by the year – she is still in grade school but I love the tips for when she gets to middle school.

Jill Morgenstern

Good ideas! I do have the big stuff (test scores, awards, writing/essays) arranged by year. But my boy doesn't even manage emptying his backpack once a year, much less once a day!


Yes, we did the once a year backpack emptying before, too. I won't say I'm perfect at getting them to do it every day, but we are REALLY working on it!


Yes. I have to throw a lot out when she's not home AND make sure that the garbage is dealt with before she gets home, because she WILL find it in the trash, LOL!


We are doing better. I still have a few piles in my office to go through in this month of decluttering, but it feels good to have new rules that make it much easier.


Thank you! They are working well for us!