{organizing with style} Managing Kitchen Paper Piles with a Simple Filing System

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

One of the blogs that inspired me to start my own was iHeartOrganizingThis year, iHeart’s Jen is issuing a monthly organizing challenge, and February is focused on the kitchen. While I certainly need to give my pantry a major overhaul, I just knew I wouldn’t be able to complete that project this month - and fortunately in the meantime it’s behind a closed door. So I instead decide to participate in Jen’s challenge by tackling a smaller problem, but one that’s out in the open - our kitchen counter paper pile. 

Our paper problems - and attempted solutions - have been evolving over the years. It started out that mail would pile up on the entry table, but that was the first place visitors would see, so we had to nix that plan right away. Then I put a basket inside the entry table to corral papers that needed action or filing, but that didn’t work well either, because once the papers went into that bin they were out of sight, out of mind. And even then, because we typically enter the house through our kitchen door, a lot of paper ended up coming in to the kitchen and never leaving.

As a result, we decided to start bringing the mail straight into the kitchen - at least consolidating all of our papers that needed attention in one place. But who really wants to see an ever growing pile of papers on the kitchen counter?

Then I had the great idea to get a basket for the kitchen counter to hold all of the papers - so we had a slightly more contained pile of papers. The only way in which this really helped, however, was that it made it easier to tuck it out of sight when we had people over.

The problem remained that while all those papers needed some kind of attention, we had to dig through the pile to find anything, and papers still got overlooked at the bottom of the basket. While we have a good filing system in our home office, I just don’t have time to file items each day as they come in to the house. Plus, many of the papers required some kind of action before they could be filed. And other papers would never get filed away at all - just needing to be reviewed or acted upon before being recycled.

I finally came to the realization that what I needed was not just a place to contain the paper - but a system to actually ORGANIZE it. And I also decided that if that system were going to continue to be housed on my kitchen counter where I had to stare at it day in and day out - it had better be pretty!

Off I went to Office Depot in search of some paper organizing options. Low and behold - right inside the front door was their new collection from See Jane Work, including some gorgeous file folders that were a perfect match for my kitchen. (Now, you probably have to be a pretty big fan of organizing to think file folders can are gorgeous - but really, aren’t they?)

Next I started looking for a container to house the file folders - but I had three specific requirements

(1) It needed to be closed on the sides to ensure that no papers could fall out of the file folders - so the matching paper sorter from See Jane Work was out:

(2) It couldn’t have any excess spaces that might attract additional items to the kitchen counter (since I already have a good drawer system in the kitchen for pens, notepads, and the like, I didn’t want or need space for these items on the counter), so this option from the Container Store was out:

(3) It had to be pretty!

Finally after some internet searching, I found this acrylic paper sorter that fit all my requirements. I liked that it had five divided sections - enough to keep everything separated, and best of all, because it was clear, it would show off my pretty file folders! I found a good price on Amazon.

The next step was to sort my existing pile to identify the major categories of paper that live in our kitchen, and make myself a list.

Once I revised my list a couple of times, I was ready to label my file folders. But the folders are so pretty, and I was afraid to write directly on them in case I decide, after a month or two of living with the new system, that my categories need some revamping. So I decided to first place a clear address label on each folder, so that I didn't have to stick the handwritten file label directly to the folder. By doing this, I’ll have the option to easily peel off the handwritten label without damaging the folder, and replace it with a new label if I decide to change things up in the future. An easy solution to my fear of category commitment.

It came as no surprise to me that magazines and catalogues made up a large portion of my countertop paper problem - so I decided to give each their own dedicated section in the new paper sorter. This way they have a place to reside until I can read and recycle them (only after tearing out inspirational ideas of course), but by limiting their allotted space, I’ll be able to see when the they are adding up and will be motivated to read and recycle the older ones rather than just letting them sit at the bottom of a pile.

Here’s how it all came together:

We’ve been living with this new system for a few weeks now, and it’s worked great so far. It’s much easier to see what we have and what we need to do with it. And when I have the time, I can just grab one folder and know which papers need to be filed away in our home office. I love how pretty it looks sitting on my counter, but also how easy it is to to tuck away in the pantry if I want it out of sight when guests are over. 

Thanks for the challenge, Jen. My kitchen still has some hidden problem spots, but at least the most visible of my organizing challenges has been conquered - and is now quite a bit more stylish than a towering pile of paper!

Kitchen Filing System


  1. love this!! great solution ;)

  2. love this too! what exactly do you put in your "take action" folder? just curious how you're using it? thanks!

    1. KT, I use my take action folder for all items that require some action (other than bills). Right now the folder contains an RSVP card that I need to mail back, the renewal card for a magazine I need to decide if I want to renew, and a form I need to submit for an FSA reimbursement. I've been putting things in there as they arrive in the mail or come home with my son from day care, and then once or twice a week I pull everything out of the folder and take the necessary actions all at once.

    2. This is great! I can see something like this working in my kitchen. We have the same paper pile issue. Right now it's "contained" as one giant stack. EEK!

  3. Love this! I have always categorized my pile, but never in such a pretty way. Definitely hitting up Amazon tonight. So much better than digging through a pile or piles!

    1. Happy paper organizing, Sarah! Making it look pretty has really helped me be motivated about keeping it all organized! :)

  4. hi Angela, just discovered your blog, love your set-up. where do you store your big basket with all the incoming mail? do you still use it to corral all the mail before you sort it all into your file folders?

  5. Jaclyn, I used to have a basket on the counter where the file sorter is now. The basket is now being used for a different purpose in another room. When I bring the mail in each day I sort it immediately. Most gets recycled and anything else goes into the appropriate file. Eliminating the basket altogether was key for me, because with a basket it was too easy to let things pile up.

  6. I enjoyed reading your post. I have the same paper sorter at my house and it does work perfectly to keep my important files organized. It is so easy to see everything.

  7. “I finally came to the realization that what I needed was not just a place to contain the paper - but a system to actually ORGANIZE it.”— I agree. Sometimes, it’s not enough to have the space and a container to store the paper piles. They must be filed up to maximize the area and make the room look neat, not to mention make it easier to find later on when you need them.

    Ruby Badcoe

  8. Love it... I am going to use this great filing system in my work and home office!!!


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