Friday, February 23, 2018

How to organize a family office and paper clutter {spring cleaning series}

Welcome back to this organizing, spring cleaning series!  Today's post is a final post and wrap up of this series.  We will discuss how to make a family office work efficiently with some organization, and how to manage the paper clutter that often builds within a family. Most of us are managing households, children and can probably all agree that the pieces of paper that pile up day, after day, can be overwhelming.  I'd love to show you what seems to work in our home.  I have teens in high school, but this same system worked when they were younger as well so I believe it can simplify your life and transition with you as time passes. 

I'm so thankful to my previous boss for sharing a few of these ideas- they aren't my original ideas, but I still remember the day she came to speak at a MOPS group I attended.  I didn't know that I would someday get to work for her, I just knew instantly that she was my person, as she shared about home organization.  She talked about the binder and the yearly envelope files I will share with you in this post.  I began using her ideas way back when I had preschoolers and it's worked so well that I've never tried any other system. 

**If you haven't read the kick off post, "How to organize anything," you'll want to flip backward and read that {here} first. That post is key, as it highlights the practical how-to steps needed to organize any space, room or mess. With papers, you'll swap out a recycle bin and possibly a shred bin, rather than donate or consign bins... you might also make a pile for "to be filed" and things such as that.  But the method of sorting and putting into categories is still the same idea as what I shared in the first post.  It's the method I use with every organizing job I do in my home, big or small and how I work, one drawer or one cupboard at a time.

As you can see from the top photo, we chose a desk with two small banks of drawers.  It was from Ikea, and functions very well for us, with a nice, large desktop.  We use a small bookshelf for the printer and a few bins and files.  More on that in a moment. 

This second above photograph shows how you can utilize small dividers for tiny office items.  I purchased a pack of valentine cards last month from Target, and loved the little tray they came in.  I repurposed it here, rather than tossing it out and it's perfect for random small items.  I said in a previous post, that I'd rather be a fresh and different voice in social media, one that shows ways of organizing by using what you have on hand, or repurposing things, rather than making a perfectly staged and picture perfect space.  That's not real life and it certainly doesn't have to be picture perfect to work functionally for a family.   
I do still use quite a few small acrylic trays (Amazon) and love the variety of sizes they come in... but every now and then, a simple box from the packaging of items, works just as well if not better.  And the price of free is always welcome. 

I am showing you all of the drawers on one side of the desk.  The other side belongs to my husband and he organizes by making (somewhat untidy) paper piles. Many, many piles. I gave him four drawers and a large bin for his piles.  I have learned to let him have his piles...  Ask that man where something is, and he knows... and heaven help me if I move any of them! 

Which moves us into Part two of this post... 

Here is a point I've not made in this series yet.  It most often comes up with offices and paperwork.  Organization isn't a one size fits all approach.  While I have a small bit of experience, I'm certainly not an expert, I merely love the topic. But some people have the capability of being fully aware of what they have in a pile, they cannot maintain files for the life of them.  (Some people have piles of forgotten things and are just a hot mess of paperwork they need to sort... this isn't what I'm talking about here.) My husband truly is organized in his own way. He has a bill paying system that scares the heck out of me, but we never miss a payment so it obviously works.  The tricky part is knowing which one you are, or those you live with are... people who are actually organized though it doesn't look like it because it's not your own organizing system... or those who need serious amounts of help and a system that actually works. 

Offices are a great place to determine this. 

Then move forward.  I'm only going to share our story and our system somewhat, but there are a lot of ways to adapt it to whatever your style is.  
You can see our "pending" bins above.  His was full at the time I snapped this, but a week later, it's almost totally empty.

(Apparently he did things with them over the week, and I have a "to be filed pile," sitting here for me to put away.) 
You may be wondering about our daily papers and the practical ways we move them around. In our home we have a mail bin that is hanging from the kitchen island. That's the first line of paper catching, as it greets us when we walk in from the garage.  Once that's all been sorted, receipts and bills get moved into the office (and into Adrain's piles someplace. I generally don't see them after this.)

All other papers find a home daily. Nothing builds up much, which is where a lot of people struggle. If you have places where things go, and they go there daily, you never have scary buildup waiting for you to deal with.  In our home, if it's a bill, Adrain takes it. If it's recycling, it gets tossed into the bin immediately.  If it's kid paper, household or medical things, I tend to take them and I'll share more on  how I manage those in a moment.  We have a locked file box for tax and household documents that seldom get accessed, and a "working file" bin next to the printer, in which I keep our papers neatly sorted- whatever he hands me when he is done often goes into some of those files.  We stay pretty on top of shredding and recycling.  I guess what I'll end this segment with is, when it comes to files, make certain you've got some, but too many are overwhelming, and not enough are frustrating.  Make sure you have logical categories and edit them regularly. 

The first photo in this Part two section, shows what I call our "Life binder."  It's got everything I'd ever need in a fire, streamlined and organized and is sort of the end of the line with household papers.  (Some good things to keep in a binder like this might be a list of passwords and logins, address book/phone numbers, emergency contacts, loose leaf paper, spare keys in binder pockets and Xeroxed copies of credit cards, passports and such. There are many more papers you might want to tuck in here... and even paint colors, house photos, inspiration pictures, etc.)  

If you have children in the home, this kind of system works well for a "working" file of their school year.  I like to keep a school calendar in the front flap, and a pocket divider for each child inside.  Every time they bring home important information about a sport or class, I pop it into their divider then everyone knows where to go if they need something.  I also grab programs from concerts or events we attend, photos snapped through the year, and anything they might want to keep for posterity.  I add those into the folder envelopes as the year goes along, and when a sport ends, I quickly edit the file and delete any papers that aren't needed anymore. 

Once we get to the end of the year, I pull everything out and tuck it inside a clear file envelope with their grade label clearly marked.  (I will show that in just a moment, and found mine at Office Max.) I also keep a list of all of their community service projects which I'm sure will come in handy when they are looking at colleges, (shown, below.) 

At the end of each school year, all of the saved papers, awards, teacher notes, report cards and photos go into one of these envelopes.  Each one is labeled by year and placed into a clear bin.  The bin stays on each child's closet shelf and if they need access to anything, they have an organized way to locate it. I can't even begin to tell you how much this has streamlined "mom life" for me.  Not to mention that they enjoy pulling out envelopes every now and then, and peeking backward at a year's accomplishments and memories. 
Whew!  This was a big finale post!  If you stayed with me to the end, congratulations.  I do hope you've enjoyed this large scale peek into my home and how I keep things rolling along.  It is so worth the effort, to begin digging in and getting things in order.  Living an organized life is so incredibly freeing.  You save money in the long run, because you always know what you have and where you have it.  You feel less stress, because of that as well.  If you have questions, I'd love them.  I can't believe this series is over!  If you've missed any, simply click on the post titles below, to jump back and read. 



  1. Great tips on cutting down paper clutter and being organized. My face was the file for the kiddos. LOL, I needed to know this when my kiddos were littles.
    Thank you for sharing your organization tips with us. I learned a few things that will be helpful to us in keeping our home organized.

  2. Meant to say my fave tip was the kiddo files.

  3. This series has encouraged and inspired me! And this time of year, as we get ready to enter into Spring, has me motivated to get some tasks completed. Thanks for all the work you put into preparing this for us!!

  4. I really admire and commend you for taking the time, effort, and, yes, courage to show all of us what works -- and doesn't work -- for you! I've taken many of your suggestions and started incorporating them into my life already. Thank you for your honesty and willingness to share what you've learned over the years. We're so lucky to have you!

  5. Thanks so much, this series was awesome! You've given me some great ideas that I can't wait to implement!