Organizing your bills, household paperwork, receipts and more

Bills, receipts, coupons – I often feel like PAPER is my arch nemesis. Piles seem to stack up faster than I can sort them. But about seven years ago I came up with a pretty good system and I’m still using it – so I thought I’d share it with you. . .

The key to me filing my papers (and being able to find them later) has been a small counter-top filing box (see below). It’s looking a little crooked (thanks to my son sitting on the lid) and it’s seen better days, but it’s still very functional and not bad for being nearly seven years old. I paid about $10 for it at Office Max. It hangs out in our kitchen, dining room, living room – where ever I happen to be “working” at the time, this organizer is near by.

When we get mail, bills, or when we have things we need to file or work on, they go in here. My husband is familiar with the system – so we are both empowered to file and stay organized. By having a place for all our paper – it makes it easy to put it where it belongs. By having it in our living space, instead of the office upstairs, it’s easy and accessible – which means we keep up with it.

When it’s time to pay bills, or send a card, or find a bill – I grab this and it has everything inside. Stamps, envelopes, a calculator, addresses, etc. By making it easy – I keep up with it (see the theme here?).

These are some of the folder categories I have inside:

  • Bills to pay
  • To file or keep
  • Addresses, envelopes
  • To shred
  • To pass along (items I need to give to someone else)
  • Rebates to do
  • Pending rebates (copies of all rebates I’ve sent off and I’m waiting for my money)
  • Business receipts to file
  • Charity/donation receipts
  • Kid’s papers
  • Daily Deal Vouchers

Get started with this system:

  • Find the right table-top file box. You don’t want it too big (or else you won’t want it around in your living space). You can find them at most office stores, Target, Walmart, etc. You should be able to find one for $10-$15. Pick a design/style that you wouldn’t mind looking at for a while. Amazon has a whole bunch of portable file organization boxes but I think you can get a “cuter” one at Office Deport or Office Max.
  • Folders and labels. Depending on what your box comes with when you buy it, you might need to buy labels and folders. My favorite labels are Avery Labels and for these, I used the Avery clear file labels.
  • Figure out your categories. What are your most common piles of paper. Bills? Receipts? To Do? Work? Kids homework? Make a list and narrow it down to a good dozen categories. Too many categories and you’ll be overwhelmed.
  • Put it in plain sight. Out of sight, out of mind. Don’t stash it away. Put it where you sort your mail or where you pay bills. It’s portable – so you can always take it to the office if you need to pay bills – but you want to put it in an accessible place so you can stash your papers easily.
  • Empower others. I’m a control freak (suprised?) – but I explained the system to my husband, so he’s empowered to find any papers he finds laying around the house. This helps us both work toward being better organized.

When my “to file” section gets too full – I move those files up to my file cabinet in my office for longer-term storage. Nothing should live in here long-term except for your addresses, stamps and tools (like calculator, stapler, pen/pencil, etc.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts. How to do tackle the never ending piles of papers?

I have also updated my calendar and meal planning schedule and tackled the spice cabinet.

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Comments

  1. What would be an example of the “daily deal vouchers” category??? Is that like the envelope of coupons for local places/things that you get in the mail? (i.e. Money Mailer or Super Coups)

  2. How long do you keep your documents long term? And what documents should you keep? I have piles and piles that are overcoming me and have no clue what I should throw out!

  3. What would you consider Daily Deal Voucher? Any other ideas for folder labels?

  4. Can you please tell me where can I find a file box like that? The only ones I’ve seen are the expandable kind or the ones that don’t sit up well on their own. I would love to find one like yours!

  5. I just found this website today. Thank you so much for the very great idea. I have created one of these for my office and hope that it tames that paper mess on my desk and helps keep me organized. Thanks again!!! :)

  6. This is awesome! It’s just the solution I’ve been looking for to tame the paper beast. Thank you!!!

  7. Love this idea! Thank you! Paperwork piling up in the kitchen has always been a problem for us. This sounds like a great solution!
    One solution we have found to make filing quicker is having a file folder for each month instead of having one for each company, etc.

  8. I also made a binder to go in to the kitchen by the phone, in a desk top file type basket that also organizes pens/pencils/notepads/address book/greeting card file binder . With plastic dividers that have pockets, this is where I put school informational papers that come home and need to be kept. There is a divider section for restaurant take out menus that are stored in page protectors. That does help with some clutter, but the mail is another issue. I’m going to try this idea and hopefully I will make it work and not forget to look for the bills to pay since they will not be on the counter where I can see them everytime I walk by them. Thank you for sharing your ideas!

  9. I like this idea a lot! However, my fear is that if I take the bills and put them and other important papers inside a file folder, “out of sight, out of mind” will happen!

  10. Inspired by a quick trip to the container store, I bought a plastic, open-top filer for $4.99. I rummaged through my cabinet and found some hanging folders, bought some colorful new file folders, found some removable label for making labels and voila, I feel SO much better about the volume of incoming paper that seems to find its way to our countertop. Thanks for the inspiration and great ideas!

    • Jenny – Thank you so much for sharing! I’m so glad that my post inspired you and that you found a frugal solution to organizing your bills and paperwork. :)

  11. Thanks for all of the great advice I find on your site. I have not yet braved the binder system, but am looking forward to it after tackling a few of my other projects, like the filing system, my spice cupboard and the communication station, which is shaping up to look much like yours and another posters it sounds like. An obstacle I have been facing is where to put the big, ugly filing system I have been trying to implement, thanks for the advice, to the kitchen counter it goes, till it gets replaced by a prettier one. :)

  12. Thank you for sharing this. I have a box like this that sits in the closet not being used, and a huge pile of papers always on my desk. I never would have thought to use it to tame the stack! you are amazing! I cant wait to read more on organizing :)

  13. Love it! I have a very similar system but with 3 kids (2 in school & sports) I have a different category for each child’s school work, sports, and then each child’s school for PTA etc info that I need not them.

    I will admit my “to be filed” folder is always over flowing!!

  14. Great idea! I have the same issue with our “office” being upstairs, so I tend to go nuts with the clutter that ends up on the kitchen counter (stuff to shred is a biggie around here!) I actually have a file folder that I used to use for coupons (until I moved to the binder system…) so I’m planning to use the tabs you included to make ours.

    Thanks for the tips! :)

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