Mail clutter. It’s the worst.
Over the years, I’ve tried several different systems to get rid of mail clutter. I’ve tried going digital, but I found there are some papers that need to remain hard copies.
I’ve tried complicated filing systems, with a category for each paper. The problem? I began to procrastinate on filing because it took me so long to find the right files for the right papers.
Most recently I’ve tried the “throw all the mail in a cardboard box” system. That actually works pretty well for me. I know where to find papers when I need them, but the system is very unattractive. And I waste a lot of time weeding through all the papers.
A System to Deal with Mail Clutter that Works
This week I said goodbye to my cardboard box. I finally have a system I think I can deal with. It’s neat. It’s not too complicated. The filing is a snap. And it combines the best of my digital and paper worlds.
Supplies for a Simple Mail Filing System
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The best thing about my new mail filing system? It’s inexpensive! I found everything I needed at Walmart.
- Small Filing Box – $5.87
- Pendaflex Hanging File Folders – $4.32 for 12 (in store)
- Pendaflex Regular File Folders – $5.94 for 50
- Label Maker (optional) – $22.10
- Chalkboard Sticker (optional) – $1.97 for 3 (in store)
- Chalk Pen (optional) – on hand
- Paper Shredder (if you don’t have one already) – as low as $24.88
- Trash Bin – on hand
- Recycle Bin or Box – on hand
If you already own a paper shredder, you can create this mail clutter busting system for under $20, and you’ll have plenty of file folders left over.
Set Up a Mail Filing System that Works
To make a mail filing system that works for me, I had to really think through how I interact with my mail. This system will work for anyone, though your categories may be different than mine.
First, I used the label maker and the included tabs to label eight hanging file folders to separate my mail.
File Folder Labels
Outgoing Mail. Outgoing mail is right in the front, so I can quickly grab the mail on my way out the door. After I stamp and address any mail, it goes into this folder until I head out to the mailbox.
Action Needed. I use this folder to store mail that needs action. For instance, if I receive a wedding invitation, and I need to RSVP, the invitation goes in this folder until I RSVP.
Pending. This section is for items that need action, but the action can’t be taken until something else happens. Right now I have the kids’ yearbook receipts in this folder. They may need to show proof of payment to receive their yearbooks, but I won’t know until they try to pick up their yearbooks at the end of the year.
This is also a great section for storing copies of rebate paperwork until you receive the rebate or paperwork you’ve called about and on which you are awaiting a callback.
Calendar. Anything that is attached to a specific date on a calendar is stored in this folder. After I RSVP for the above-mentioned wedding, I may move the invitation to the calendar section of my file box, so I have directions on the big day. Of course, I add the event to my Cozi calendar before I file anything.
Bills to Pay. Even though bills require action, my bills have their own section. I like to keep them all together for easy access on my bill paying days.
Coupons. I don’t coupon as much as I used to, but every once in a while I come across a coupon I know I’ll want to use. Those coupons are stored in this folder, so I can quickly grab them as I head out the door to go shopping.
To File. I try to file papers as soon as they come in the door, but sometimes I’m crunched for time. Anything that needs to be filed, like insurance papers, goes in this folder. I try to do my filing once a week, so the paperwork doesn’t add up.
Envelopes. I have a file folder full of legal sized envelopes, so if I receive mail that needs a response, I can take care of it right away without hunting for an envelope.
Projects. Sometimes my actionable mail belongs to a project. For instance, right now I’m working on a women’s conference at our church. I have a lot of paperwork for that project, but I don’t want it intermingled with my other mail. I created a file folder for that specific project and hang it in the hanging “Projects” folder.
A Manilla Envelope for Receipts. Because I’m self-employed, I need to keep track of my receipts. I placed a manilla folder in the back of my file box to hold all of my receipts for the year. I use an accounting software to categorize all my expenses, so I don’t need to organize my receipts. I just need to keep them for tax purposes. An envelope works well.
After labeling the hanging file folders, I label regular file folders with the same labels. The exception is the projects folder. I name the regular folder with the name of the project, and I may store more than one regular folder in the hanging folder.
I have a couple of reasons for using both a regular file and a hanging file for each section.
- When working on a project, paying bills, or filing, I can easily grab the regular folder out of the hanging file. The hanging file serves to save the file’s place in the box while I’m using the papers in the file.
- If I forget to return a file to the file box, it’s obvious, because there’s an empty hanging file folder. It’s a reminder to locate the folder and return it to its proper place.
My New System for Processing Mail
These days when I get the mail, I deal with it right away.
Junk mail gets recycled before I even walk in the front door. We live on a country road, so I pass our recycle bin before I even enter the house. If that’s not your situation, keep a recycle bin or box near your mail file. Put junk mail in recycling right away.
Sensitive junk mail gets shredded right away. Credit card offers, bank statements (I reconcile my account online), and anything that isn’t needed but could be used to steal my identity gets shredded in the shredder that I keep near my mail file box. Right away. No exceptions.
A note about paper shredders. You really need one. Identity theft is rampant these days, and it can mess with your credit for years. Spending $25 on a paper shredder is well worth it.
All other mail gets put into the appropriate file. I schedule time each week to check my action needed, pending, and outgoing mail folders. I schedule a time to pay bills twice a month.
I also keep an “Encouragement Box” near my mail file. I made the box a couple of years ago to remind me to send encouraging notes to others. It holds my thank you notes, regular note cards, pens, stamps, and scissors.
If you don’t have an Encouragement Box, you might want to store stamps with your envelopes and keep a pen and pencil holder nearby.
Variations to my Mail Filing System
As I mentioned above, I used categories that work for my life. You may want folders for your husband and each of your kids. Or maybe you need a folder for school papers. Or a folder for work.
The important thing is to think through the realities of your life. I considered making file folders for my family, but past experience tells me they’d never look in the folders.
So, I deliver my family’s mail to the appropriate bedroom, so each family member can deal with their own mail in their own way. Do what works best for your family.
Final Thoughts on Dealing with Mail Clutter
If you want to make your mail filing box more attractive, you could label it with a chalkboard sticker and a chalk pen. Or cover it with Duck Tape.
I always figure I’m more likely to use something if it’s attractive.
Since I’ve begun using this system, my paper clutter has disappeared. My husband is thankful that my cardboard box of mail has gone away. And as much as I hate to admit it, my filing system has saved me a lot of time. No longer do I have to dig through a box of papers every time I want to pay a bill.
If you’re struggling with paper clutter, I highly recommend you try this system, customizing it to fit your lifestyle.
Question: How do you deal with your mail clutter?
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