Project: Simplify ’11: paper clutter results

We’ve lived in our current home just a hair over a year, having settled here temporarily. We didn’t know how long we’d be in the States, but we knew it would be long enough to not just be able to crash with another family or house sit long-term.

13 months later, and here we are, still in the same house. It’s about 1,100 square feet, with two bedrooms, no garage, and a utility closet that serves as laundry room, nursery for the baby, and the back-up box storage.

Needless to say, it’s small for a family of five.

I tell you this because it means we haven’t amassed much paper clutter. With the amount we travel and move, it bodes well not to collect many papers, to scan and digitize as much as possible, and recycle or shred the vast amount you think you might need, just in case… but really, you don’t.

But yes, papers do pile up here quickly, and they’re my arch nemesis. Don’t ask me why, but I’ll take a mountain of clean clothes sitting in the middle of my living room floor over little scraps of paper flittering hither and yon.

My solution in our home is to purge often, to have a place for everything, and to make decisions quickly. Here’s the results of my week’s Project: Simplifythe paper clutter.

My before and after

The paper pile, before:

I went around the entire house and collected all the paper just lying around, homeless. I was feeling mocked anytime I passed by a paper with no purpose.

The papers, after:

I thought of taking a photo of an empty table, to show that — well, the paper has been processed and is gone. You knew that. So here’s a few shots in action.

Here’s the “take action” box, full of heart-pounding action.

And you got it, the “to be recycled” box.

Kids’ arts and crafts

In processing the “take action” box, I found that (aside from recycling and shredding) most papers either went to a “Kyle needs to take care of this” pile, a “to be scanned” pile, and to the kids’ craft area for coloring on the flip side.

The activity cabinet

We have a simple dresser out in the living room that serves as the kids’ activity cabinet. They can get into it during playtime and go nuts — puzzles, games, drawing tools, paper, and coloring books.

Here’s the drawer full of scrap paper. If the kids ask me for a sheet of paper, they’ll know I’ll point to this drawer.

And just fyi, the top drawer is full of markers, crayons, pencils, paint, and paintbrushes. It’s easy to just dump everything in there and shut the drawer.

The bottom drawer has all the coloring and activity books.

Art collection

Drawings get a rotation of refrigerator display, taped just where Kyle and I can gaze at their beauty (in my desk, on the walls), and on the bulletin board in the kid’s room. Afterward, we store the ones truly worth keeping, then recycle the rest.

We keep the kids’ most current art in these two white boxes from Ikea (the green box houses electronic cords). This is out in the living room, so we’re able to easily toss their creations in there (making sure we jot down the date or age of the child on the back).

When these white boxes get full, we go through them again, deciding whether the items are truly worth keeping. As I mentioned earlier, I like the idea of keeping three items per year — one handprint, one example of handwriting, and one piece of art. It’s hard, though, and my daughter in particular is quite good at both writing and drawing.

For now, we thin out the collection as much as possible, then store the papers in one cardboard box per child. The plan is to have only one box of papers for each child, from birth to leaving the nest. We’ll see.

Office Supplies

We have another dresser in the living room that serves as our office supplies storage (I’m a big fan of dressers). This honestly isn’t very full — just some envelopes, printer paper, paper cutter, staples, and the like. We go paperless with everything as much as possible, so this dresser is plenty of room for everything.


I have two receipt stabber-thingies that I bought at Office Depot. One holds our family budget receipts, waiting to be processed into our budget account. The other one is business receipts for SLM. One spindle is more than enough room for a year’s worth of receipts, so I just leave them there, waiting to be processed for the year’s tax forms.

When I’m done with a receipt, I’m done. Into the shredder it goes.


We have tax returns, birth certificates, our marriage certificate, passports, and a few other absolute essentials in a simple portable file box. I’ve also got a small smattering of magazine pages I’ve torn out and are waiting to be scanned. Not many, though.

They’re all here, easily transportable.

My desk

I missed my Ikea Alve secretary desk from our home overseas, so my friend Katie very sweetly gave me her old desk. I love this thing because it’s small and it has a lid for me to close up my work when I’m done. It also serves as both my writing desk and my sewing station.

Ignore the ugly-yet-free office chair that’s actually really comfortable. I plan to paint and recover it soon.

These mini bread pans were a find at Goodwill, three for 99 cents. They store pens, computer cords, and my daughter’s stationery (a recent birthday gift, created by the adorable Olliegraphic).

I keep the many books I reference or read close at hand. As a random note, I tend to read about five books at once, and they usually couldn’t be more different (yep, Ann Voskamp and Clinton Kelly simultaneously).

When I’m done with my work, I simply close up the top and my office is gone. This is out in the living room as well (remember, 1,100 square feet), so I like vegging on the couch without my writing projects staring at me.

This week, Mandi has some great paper organizing tips, including a few vlogs. I really appreciated the one about organizing your homeschool.

And this has got to be the best paper and receipt decluttering tool I’ve seen:

Meet “Our Lady of Perpetual Procrastination,” found in Charlie and Sarah Park’s home. Love.

Now it’s your turn!

You don’t have to publish as many photos, by any means. Just a simple before-and-after shot is great — as many or as few are perfect, but in order to link up, you do need at least one before and one after photo.

Share your progress by linking below. Click the blue button that says “Add your link,” and follow the instructions. Copy and paste your blog post’s URL (NOT your blog’s home page — it should look like this:, not like this:

If you don’t have a blog, no problem! Submit your photos to the Simple Living Flickr pool, and then come back to link to your ‘before’ photo below. Copy and paste the photo’s URL.

I will leave the link submission space open throughout Project: Simplify (which ends on April 8), so even if you aren’t able to finish your master closet for a few weeks, you are welcome to share your link between now and the end date. However, to be eligible for this week’s giveaway, you must submit your link before this Sunday, March 20 at 8 a.m. CST.

And what is this week’s giveaway? Let me refresh your memory…

I Heart Organizing

Organizing fan Jennifer Jones of I Heart Organizing is joining forces with this week’s Project: Simplify hot spot to bless one of you with a whole smattering of her services. A random participant in this week’s hot spot will receive:

One Room Inspiration Style Tile, which is a combination of design and organizational solutions for any given space (head here to see an example).  The style tile is intended to act as inspiration in solving both design and organizational dilemma’s in a specific room in the home.  A style tile will include 8-15 solutions along with a complete description and resource list.  She will continue to work closely with the prize winner until they are 100 percent satisfied with the recommended space solution.  Keeping the solutions on a budget is also always considered.

Three-pack of personalized digital files, which includes a Meal Planning Calendar, and Shopping List and a Cleaning Task List.

A chart or set of labels, custom created to suite the winner’s personal needs. This could be anything from a child’s task list or a family schedule or a personal “To Do” list.  Or, a set of labels for child’s play bins.

Head here for more examples of Jennifer’s work.

I Heart Organizing will help you celebrate your completion of this week’s hot spot with inspiration to keep up with your new-found organization!

I loved seeing your results from the first hot spot, so I can’t wait to see the results of your hard work this week! Stay tuned on Monday, when I’ll reveal the next hot spot. Hint: you’ll need the help of other people in your home. Can you guess what it is?

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. I’m not sure If I’m doing it correctly. I posted my pictures on Simple Flickr pool. Then I posted the URL to the add your link.

  2. Great tips! I love reading this blog.

    If people find it hard to let go of the children’s art they can always take a picture of the item so they can have the “memory” without it making physical clutter. (I am a “memory keeper” and this has helped he let go of some paper memories.)

    • Gita Spiller says:

      We put a year’s artwork up for display and then take a photo of the “artist” with his/her own work. We then frame the best for the kids’ bedroom, and dump the rest.

  3. I loved this hotspot. I really didn’t think I would and I almost opted out because I dreaded dealing with all that unopened mail in my one junk drawer. I thought it would take me days but honestly it took me one afternoon!

    here is my post:

  4. This was a great project. It was a fast one for me, but it reminded me that I need to STOP leaving piles around my house.

  5. I come from a family that never throws anything away, and I definitely have some of those traits. They are really hard to work through, I am always left feeling so guilty getting rid of stuff I’m given. Not to mention my husband doesn’t like to get rid of stuff either. Since the topic is paper, I always save cards people send me. My mom has stacks, and I always just feel like someone spent the time and money to give/send this to me, I really shouldn’t get rid of it. But another part of me would love to get rid of it all. I don’t have before and after pics, but thanks to Tsh and everyone who comments. This is really the support I needed to get my simple life moving.

    • Gita Spiller says:

      This is the way I handle cards and personal letters from the past: Go through them all, and undertake to get rid of a certain number of them (10 or 20 etc depending on the size of your pile). Keep the most meaningful. Six months later, do the same. Continue like this until you have one, very special, box of those you want to keep forever. In a year’s time, reduce the pile further! Over a lifetime you can still keep the the box going, and you might eventually want to leave some for your kids to look at when they are grown up enough to appreciate them.

  6. This was a great project! My favorite so far, showing the most dramatic results. Can’t wait get some time to look at everyone else’s before and afters and (impatiently) wait for next week’s hot spot. Have a great weekend!!

  7. Toys, I hope it is Toys! Haha.

  8. Love this project! It even had me discover a whole pile of love letters that my husband wrote me while we were dating. Obviously I’m not shredding those, but it was fun to read through them! I plan to post a blog post about it later today (I thought it deserved one all by itself!)

    Happy Friday!

  9. Sue Triggs-Rhuda says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for the “hotspot” list…I’m playing along but am on my own time-frame and am still doing clothing…because I’m cleaning out all the closets, not just my stuff 🙂 4 bags to VVA (vietnam vets of america) a few weeks ago and so far, 3 bags waiting to be picked up on Monday…watch out closets, I’m finishing this weekend!! Unfortunately, I did not take photos when I started the purge a few weeks ago.

    Next week, paper!

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. ~~Hhhmmmmmm
    ~The dog ate my homework miss Tsh…..
    ~I added the mess to the urls:0)
    ~I AM STRIVING ON TODAY,hopefully I will have caught up by monday!!LOL

  11. Paper is not an issue for us so, I posted my year-end filing system:-)

  12. Tami Nelson says:

    Okay, I’m trying to catch up on the 2 hotspots…does anyone have a recommendation on what paperwork we really need to keep? bills, checks, receipts, etc?

  13. I’m loving this!!! My house is feeling more clean than it has in a while. I’m almost nervous to clean my house over the weekend in case I might “accidentally” clean the wrong thing the wrong way. 🙂 Can’t wait to see everyone’s results!!

  14. I really enjoyed this hot spot…..and seeing where you work.

  15. I’m still recovering from a cold this week and barely getting normal chores done, but I’ve been squeezing in some time to clean out our filing cabinet this week. Fortunately I hate paper clutter so much I take care of the piles about weekly already, but our filing cabinet is our untouched hotspot! I’ve only gone through a handful of files, but I’ve cleared out several inches of paper! I’m so excited I might get everything down to fit in the one filing cabinet instead of using the elfa one out in the open too. As much as I love elfa, I am not as keen as my husband on the open filing, especially since we recently turned our office into the tv and guest room as well.

  16. OK… you’re inspiring me… you should see my paper piles 🙁 But now I want to tackle them!

  17. I have thought about scanning docs before I shred them, but I don’t haven’t yet. What kind of system does your husband use to do that? What kind of file structure does he use so he can find them again easy?


  18. I am a new follower and if we lived in Avonlee we would be kindered spirits 🙂 I loved the rcpt idea- not a fan of drawers- they scare me since I can’t see what is growing inside of them. I live in Ethiopia so no photos etc but I have to tell you after last week I had my three interns (all beautiful young women) go thru my closet, shoes, undies, the works- and lets just say I am a new woman- at 50! so much fun and we dumped so many frumpy items. And, this is my first blog comment ever! Joyfully, sb

  19. thank you, great article.

  20. wow, this is a def HOTSPOT for me, I am so overwhelmed with paper, kids school papers I need to hold onto for ref, I have a big problem with
    “cutouts” from magazines, my husband cringes when he hears that sound, he complains about the paper in this house, whether its my coupons, kids drawings or mag clippings its endless, I too come from a family that doesnt like to throw things away, I have so much in my attic that I keep “just because” of a memory or it was from my parents which are both deceased. I am going to take some inspiration and get to work on this. Thanks for such a great article!

  21. Old versions of manuscripts go in our scrap box and become shopping lists and fodder for my boys’ stories (My elder guy is sure he knows the storyline of some books — one he’s sure kids won’t like because it’s not funny — simply from reading the pages in that box).

    I’m still having issues with bills — how long to keep paper records (some we pay online, others still come through the mail), how long to hold onto medical papers. Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated!

  22. This was a great week for me..I got Organized Simplicity in the mail AND I knocked out the first two Hot Spots! I already had a semi-firm handle on the paper thing, but I did do a quick refresher of the stuff that had let myself get behind on. Thanks!

    I wanted to share about my system for keeping paper decluttered ..which, as it turns out works pretty well I discovered this week! 🙂

  23. Yay! More empty baskets & tubs means more donations and trash out of the house! I admit I still have more to do – I didn’t dive into those boxes 2 & 3 rows back where I know there is more. But this is a great start and I feel good accomplishing the task! Baby steps…

    • One of my commenters referred me to … none other than Jennifer for sorting through and digitalizing my boxes of photos!

  24. I am by no means finished with this, but I did get a handle on the months long pile up of paper on the desk, and started working out a permanent system for dealing with it. It’s been over two years since I reevaluated our paper filing system, This was long overdue!

  25. Very inspirational!

  26. Great post! I also read 5 books at a time…how else can you get to everything? 🙂 We have that same Alme desk and are NOT using it well at all. I might commandeer it away from my honey and turn it into my work station. Can the fold-out part really support a sewing machine?? That would be awesome.

  27. i loved this blog, and the only thing i have to add, after weeding out 5 huge storage crates of “what am i keeping this for?” recently, is that unfortunately we can’t save everything. i go back to my reflections on the show “hoarders,” where the problem is not ambition, or creativity, or even organizing – it’s simply the problem that all those great ideas can’t be furthered in one person’s lifetime. i am all about saving a scrapbook (just one) for my future family, but i decided that letting go of more allows for more “margin.” so instead of filing, filing, filing i thought, why am i keeping records of such and such? do i really need every last thing i ever wrote in order to write a book in the future? i guess it’s at everyone’s discretion, but my point is just to be realistic and not over-commit… because it seems like that’s how the clutter comes back.

  28. I thought this one would be awful, but it wasn’t too bad, although I didn’t dare touch my basement. No time this week to do something that week, but that’s where I bring my boxes of papers when it gets too big. I will be organizing the basement this summer (it’s this years big summer project.) though, and I hope that I can minimize and organize it as well as you. It definitely has me on my toes to watch out for all this paper stuff to clutter up again.

  29. Loved this week’s Hot Spot. The piles of paper definitely needed to be taken care of. Now the house is much more organized, I’m feeling good, and my husband knows where to look for papers instead of always coming to me to ask where they might be. He is also happy I found a way to store his military documents.

  30. Again this week I’m too lazy/tired/pregnant to take and upload pictures, but I’m halfway through the paper clutter – all that’s left is to file what needs to be kept and start a box for saving kids’ artwork/etc. I’ve been trying all week to at least get all the kids’ papers into one location for sorting and boxing. I’m still going to try!

  31. Paperwork…not my favorite thing to confront, but I am so glad you named it as a hot spot!

    I cleaned up some of the bad hot spots and took some pictures, but I can’t seem to get the link to your blog work from my flickr page.

    Oh well, the most important thing is that I got it done! Thanks for the encouragement and team feel to something that is not usually any fun at all!

  32. Jeanine Meers says:

    Thanks for all the great tips – very inspirational! I thought it was so funny that you’re reading Clinton Kelly and Ann Voskamp at the same time, because I was doing the same thing a few weeks ago! Ann stayed, but Clinton went back to the library!

  33. I am just so happy to know that you live in 1100 square feet, we are a family of 5 as well (one of us is a teenager tho) and live in 1300 square feet and I feel like we are bursting at the seams at times! I am on break and look forward to decluttering, if you can do it- so can we!

  34. LOVE that desk! We have under 1000 square feet, always like to hear of others in small homes. Less to clean, I say!

  35. Thanks bunches for the inspiration! I got 2 of 4 “paper hot spots” cleaned off today, and hope to tackle the other 2 tomorrow afternoon. I was planning to do them in the morning, but got called in to work, so will work on them after. Thanks again!!

  36. A friend linked to your blog on Facebook–great stuff! Karen

  37. I am really bummed. The closets I had cleaned the week before you posted. This has been a busy week, but in the last 1 1/2 weeks, I have conquered up to 2 years of filing! Sadly, I have no before pics. Can I still participate with after pics?

  38. Is there any reason to keep receipts? I collect receipts in small manila envelopes by month but I’m wondering if there’s a reason to keep them or should I shred them all?

    • It really does depend…. Do you run a small business? And do you process your expenses in some sort of a budget each month?

  39. I thought I wasn’t going to do this challenge. I HATE paperwork mess.

    But my hubby helped me and together we came up with a great design for our breakfast nook that was a pile of junk. We re purposed furniture from other parts of the house and made an art station & deal with the paperwork station.

    This area is the back entrance and a true “hotspot” of all the school stuff and art stuff.

    It is neatly tucked away now and most of the big mess recycled or digitized. It feels really good. Thanks for the challenge.

    Here are my before and after pictures:

  40. This week? Massive fail. I have been fighting the paper monster for a LONG time and I still have paper everywhere. I already use a lot of the suggestions you made – like paperless billing, throwing junk mail and envelopes in the recycle before coming in the house, only keeping what’s absolutely necessary, etc. But it still overwhelms.

    We moved almost 2 years ago to our current home. Not long after the move, I put our names on the do-not-mail list. We have recieved more junk mail after signing up on the list than before! Every few months, I log in to the website and check to be sure that our preferences are correct. They are, but the junk still comes. What I really hate is that we also get mail for people who lived here before the people before us. And the people before us lived here for 7 years, I think! How do you stop that mail? The post office says there’s nothing they can do about it. Any suggestions would be very helpful!

  41. I was SO stressed to do this challenge, but so glad I went ahead and did it. I feel GREAT about what my desk and my nook looks like. Can’t wait ’til Monday!

    Now I’m off to see how everyone else did!!!!

  42. Thank you so much for the motivation this week. I’ve been in a housework funk since bub arrived and it was really starting to get me down. Just chipping away and getting my papers in order this week has made me feel so much better about things. Now I just have to keep the momentum!

  43. Ummm. Thats a fab. idea. I can’t wait for next weeks reveal. You know I’m joining the party!

  44. The “take action” box is probably the best tip for me. I’m good about recycling old papers as soon as I don’t need them, but fall into the trap of leaving important documents that need my attention scattered around the house. I always think I do it so that I see the papers and am reminded to do something about them, but it usually just ends up being a big mess of clutter I never look at.

  45. Oh I have loved the first two challenges!!! I don’t know if I should be nervous or excited for Monday… can’t wait whatever it is!!!

  46. These Hot Spots are amazing! Just being committed to tackling them each week and knowing I need/want to report and post pics on Friday totally motivates me to get to work (oh, and I absolutely love your idea of ONE container for each child’s artwork)! Can’t wait for my next challenge on Monday 🙂

  47. I failed to get my paper clutter sorted this week. But, it’s OK. (blog post about it coming soon).

  48. Great tips – and fabulous before and after pictures! The ‘stabby thingie’ is a great tool – no more last minute returns without a reciept.

  49. Tsh, I never realized how good at organizing you are (and I’m coming to realize that we’re quite similar despite the age and life differences — I too read several books at one time :D). As for the paper clutter, it’s even better now. While I already tackled the receipts and “other” papers a few weeks ago while prepping my taxes, I hunkered down and purged magazines and any remaining papers that didn’t make the cut the first time. It felt GREAT! I don’t have any pictures to show, but I don’t need to enter the giveaway; I’m happy with just making progress. Can’t wait for tomorrows hot spot!

  50. I love your bread pans! What a great idea.

  51. My “take action” box had more than just paper dumped in it. Camera cards, gift cards, pencil lead that doesn’t fit our pencils, game pieces, markers, zipdrives, etc. Makes it so hard. I decided that I won’t post since I am not done, but will keep working. I keep getting distracted and have updated my debt snowball in my binder, started making emergency evacuation kits, and moved my pantry around. It is one of my greatest downfalls that I tangent off of one task onto another so easily. All needs to be done, but then I never feel quite finished. Maybe I should have had a box that was labeled “not now”?

  52. Phew! Finally managed a post about mine. I’ve actually put mine on the Flylady forum, as I’m applying for a job and my blog is on my CV under ‘Hobbies’ and I really didn’t think it was a good idea to have a record of how disorganised I am about paperwork on a blog that somebody deciding whether or not to employ me might read!

    Sorry the link is long:

    Thanks so much for this, Tsh – as you can see, this is one I *really* needed!

  53. Tsh, I love how much detail you gave in your post! It is always so nice to see how others do things. Thanks for hosting this great challenge.

  54. Love this post!! Just in time for spring cleaning! Having a full blown business and a small child can create a lot of clutter and tons of paper piles,,, LET ME TELL YOU! I have to routinely go through tons of mail, junk mail, to do piles, piles to read, bills piles. OMG, you name it. I do love the idea in the first comment by Rachel O.. I have to keep it in mind — take a digital photo of the child’s art work and either frame it or make a collage. Thats a great idea!

  55. O well.

  56. We also have the ALVE desk and LOVE it! We had to turn our office into a bedroom for baby on the way….so this desk is perfect for our new den/office area. I love that we can just close it up and everything instantly looks nice and neat 🙂

  57. Your ‘results’ post was very inspiring to me! I love seeing how other’s organize/manage their lives/homes…makes me realize that I am ‘normal’ after all (we all are!).

    Anyway…I’m proud to have posted–better late then never. And I encourage everyone not to stress about not getting it all done perfectly–progress is SO important even if our ‘after’ pictures aren’t of dramatic changes!

    Thanks again Tsh!

  58. I know I’m late. It’s going to take me all of the weeks just to complete this paper one.

  59. Just wondering who makes that desk- I have major desk envy and need something similar (with the top portion and all) for our living room! 🙂

  60. Oh I just finally posted about this – way behind schedule, I know. But I still can’t reign this in – as my post discusses. If you have thoughts on getting this under control if you don’t happen to own a scanner, a shredder, or a personal assistant, please post on my blog!

  61. Oh you have no idea how this is going to help me. I’m late to the party but I want to come too! Love the white boxes for the kids art and the idea of keeping a few things per year – genius!
    Now, help me some more. Do you keep bills?? I have file folders full of utility bills, visa bills, etc. Papers are hard to get rid of!

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