A Headache-Free Strategy for Sorting an Overwhelming Amount of Paper Clutter

Mail. Bills. Bank statements. Filing. Paper clutter everywhere you turn. Every surface is covered. Bags and bins of paper are stuffed in closets and hidden away (sometimes for years). Sound familiar?

The thought of sorting through this much paper can definitely produce a giant headache. I get it. What’s needed at this point is a different approach.

Here is an effective strategy for dealing with a backlog of paper – minus the headache!

1. Set up a project zone.

Gather all paper (don’t forget the hidden stashes) into one space. It may feel overwhelming to see all your paper in one spot, so try to find a spot that you can walk away from or shut the door (a guest room, bonus room or any other non-public space).

Note: If the quantity of paper to deal with prohibits this – simply start with current, visible paper from the main surfaces of your home. Older papers can be dealt with on a second pass.

2. Gather some basic supplies.

Having everything you may need at your fingertips will prevent having to leave the room and run the risk of not coming back! Some suggestions: trash bag, recycle bin, pen, post-its, notepad, folders and bins for grouping (see below).

3. Here’s my favorite part: sort your papers like you’re dealing a deck of cards!

This is the key step that will get you through the piles quickly and headache free.

This is not the time to make decisions and process every separate piece of paper (doing this will slow you down and that overwhelm and headache will be back in no time). Instead, simply grab a small handful of papers at a time and sort into broad categories.

Think of it this way: when dealing a deck of cards, you don’t stop to analyze each separate card and determine your strategy until your entire hand has been dealt.

Depending on your specific situation, some suggested categories are:

  • Financial
  • Medical
  • Real Estate
  • Tax Related
  • School/Children
  • Personal Reference
  • Memorabilia

Note: Although this is not the time to analyze or make decisions about every scrap of paper, you may be able to sort some papers directly into these last categories (but only if it’s an immediate, obvious decision):

  • Requires Action
  • Trash/Recycle
  • Shred

4. Containerize and label each category.

Once everything has been sorted, simply drop each category into a labeled folder, bin, or box (depending on its size).

5. Now, when you’re ready you can prioritize and begin to process each category.

This is the point where you can begin to process and make decisions about each separate category. With all paper relating to a single category in one place, it will be much easier to decide what you can get rid of, what you really do need to keep, and what system going forward will work best for you.

At this point, you’re way further along than when you started. No more paper clutter throughout the house. No more wondering what’s in those piles. And hopefully, no more overwhelm and headache.


How are you handling overwhelming amounts of paper? Will this strategy work for you? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Organizing,


  1. Kay Erl on March 22, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    Ha! I get to step #5 & don’t come back for quite some time. However, did finish all the boxes in the bedroom two months ago. Wow, the space I now have in that room! I’m great at keeping all other things organized, just not paper.

    • Kim Cossette Andre on March 29, 2018 at 7:39 pm

      You’re not alone, Kay! Congrats on making it to step #5. I’ll do a follow-up for you on how to move forward from there. Stay tuned.

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