How to Divide and Conquer Paper Clutter

If each time you look at that large pile of papers on your desk or counter and feel overwhelmed it is time to use a “Divide and Conquer” system to get it under control.  Separating the papers into smaller piles according to what “action” they need will make the job of decluttering those papers much easier.

Here are eight easy steps to those piles of papers under control.

Step 1

Gather up all the paper piles from your desk and find an area where you can spread out. The floor, a table, or any large flat surface will do.

Step 2

Take four folders and lay them out on your work surface.  Then label the folders with the following titles:  1) Papers that need immediate attention,  2) Papers that need action taken soon,  3) Papers that need to be filed,  4) Papers that need to be shredded, recycled, or trash.

Step 3

Now go through your large pile of papers and separate them into these four different piles. Don’t take the time to put them in the folders yet, just stack the papers up on top of each folder.

Step 4

In the pile for papers that need immediate attention you will put things like; bills, refunds with deadlines, forms to be returned to your child’s school, forms to be filled out for doctor’s appointments or business appointments. This pile is also for all those notes you’ve made to remind you to make phone calls, reply to email, etc.  Anything that needs to be taken care of within the next couple of days.

Step 5

In the pile labeled “Papers that need action soon” you will put the papers that need action taken but there is no immediate deadline or urgency.  This may include; reminders for maintenance service on appliances, bug spraying, or car maintenance.  It may also be reminders for renewals of magazines or newsletters, etc. These are usually sent out way in advance.

Step 6

In the pile for “Papers that need to be filed” you will put paid bills, bank and brokerage statements, and receipts that you are keeping.  In this pile you may also include articles you have cut out and want to keep for future reading.  If you have personal memorabilia in you large stack of papers to declutter then these will go in this pile also.  This may include photos, your child’s school work, letters, cards, etc.

Step 7

In the last pile you will put all the papers that you don’t need to keep.  Don’t take the time now to separate the papers to shred, recycle or trash.  You can do that after your original large pile of papers is separated into the four piles on top of the folders.

Step 8

Once you have separated all the papers into the four categories it will be easier to work on one folder at a time. Work through the “immediate attention” pile completely before going on to the other piles. You’ll feel a lot more in control once action has been taken on those urgent papers.


Make sure you separate the original pile of papers before you start working on the individual piles.

As new papers come into the home or office don’t start a new pile on your desk. File them immediately into the proper file.