Paper spreads around like snowdrifts in our home. It’s everywhere and hard to contain. We plow and shove papers to different areas of the home, but sooner or later it starts to pile up.

I’m an English teacher, so piles of papers are a regular fixture in our home. Our six-year-old brings home folders of school papers and artwork daily. She leaves trails of paper projects and scraps all over the house, making me curse the existence of scissors.

Decluttering paper was the toughest challenge we’ve had yet in our family’s home organization project using the Marie Kondo method from her bestseller Marie Kondo method from her bestseller The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. The KonMari method is ruthless in its once-in-a-lifetime purging process, but leads to a minimalist home where your family is surrounded only by items that spark joy.

Tackling my daughter’s papers was manageable. We came up with a system two years ago to deal with her artwork and school papers. The rule of thumb is that 99% of all of her artwork and papers get recycled.

We take photographs of artwork and papers we want to remember with our iPhones and post them to Notabli, a safe app for saving and organizing your child’s moments. We created an Art Room for her in Notabli where we post these items. At the end of each year, we print out a memory book of her art.

The 1% we do keep goes into a special memory box we keep for her. Sometimes she likes to pull this out and look at former books or projects she’s made. It’s a very small box.

To be honest, we recycle and throw away 99% of her projects behind her back. She hasn’t quite figured out where all the paper goes. It’s easier than tears and hurt feelings.

We want her to feel free to get messy when creating with paper. She’ll make a mask, construct armor, cut up snowflakes, or make books with paper. Our challenge is getting her to clean up her scraps after her projects.

We’re discussing these behavior changes during problem solving time in our weekly family meetings based on Vicki Hoefle’s Parenting on Track.

My partner got off easy with this challenge. All of his papers are digital. He didn’t have to do anything for this challenge.

I was the one who shoveled and plowed for three weeks through the piles of paper and snowdrifts that plague our home.

Marie Kondo’s rule of thumb for decluttering your home from papers is to discard all papers from your home. I suggest you invest in a paper shredder if you decide to use the KonMari method.

Kondo advises holding off on sentimental papers and keepsakes like old journals or love letters for this step in the decluttering process, as they slow you down. Instead she recommends focusing on papers that bring you no joy.

Papers people hold onto that clutter up space include credit card statements, warranties, greeting cards, used checkbooks, and pay slips. Shred or recycle them all.

Only keep greeting cards that “spark joy in your heart”, says Kondo. Once you read a greeting card, you’ve gotten everything you can out of it. The same can be said for lecture materials. Kondo argues “that precisely because we hang on to such materials, we fail to put what we learn into practice.”

Kondo acknowledges everyone needs to keep some papers around. She suggests the following tips for organizing papers you keep:

  • Keep all paper strictly in one location, where they can’t drift to other rooms.
  • Organize paper by three categories: needs attention, should be saved forever (contractual documents), and should be saved for short term (others).
  • Do not further subdivide papers. Keep all papers together in same folder or container.

There should be few papers in the needs attention folder. This folder is for bills that need to be paid, permission slips that need to be signed, or forms that need to be completed. You should be looking at this folder daily with the intent to keep it as empty as possible.

Papers that need to be kept indefinitely should be placed in plastic sleeves and placed in a binder for easy access. These include items like home mortgages, birth and wedding certificates, or graduation certificates.

Papers that need to be kept for a short time get placed in one container. These might include items like warranties, filed taxes from the previous year, or notes for a course you’re taking.

This sounded like a nightmare to me since I’m a teacher, but I went all in on this challenge.

Fortunately I went 90% digital with lesson planning and collecting student work three years ago. This made it much easier to mercilessly recycle old papers for my job.

I took a lesson from my daughter’s art room on Notabli and photographed old notes from students or papers I wanted to keep for sentimental reasons. Then I tossed them out. They will get printed into one book rather than stored in files taking up space.

I’m also a writer. Sometimes I type, but other times I use paper to sketch out ideas or get feedback from others. I applied Kondo’s method by dividing my writing into three categories: assignments needing immediate attention, short term projects, and long term projects I might not revisit for months or years. This was the one place where I deviated from Kondo’s method – I couldn’t mix up my writing with other papers.

At the end of three weeks, I’d shredded seven trash bags worth of paper. I can now say that all of my papers are contained in one folder for needs immediate attention, a binder for permanent items to keep, and a binder for temporary items. All of my paper resides in the office space of our home.

It brings my partner and I much more joy to no longer have paper piles all over the home. I’m more organized and pay closer attention to papers needing immediate attention. Decluttering papers is an arduous task, but I guarantee you won’t miss those papers once they’re shredded and gone.

You can learn more about our family’s home organization project here. You can also visit earlier posts from our project to learn how to declutter books or clothes from the home.