Keeping Papers Organized and Off the Kitchen Counter

Mary Cornforth Cawood

This article, entitled "Keeping your papers organized – and off the kitchen counter," comes from Jessica Downing-Ford.

Confession time.

I am a piler. I come by it honestly from generations of pilers. By this afternoon, my counter will be a testament to the schedule I’ve kept with after -school activities, a PTO meeting, out-of-town clients that required a day of commuting, a school-night sleep-over with my niece (scored me BIG childcare trade) and an extraordinarily busy work week.

Who even wants to think about cooking a meal when it will take an archeological dig to uncover the countertop, right?

Try this industry standard for clutter busting:

Action Files

As the name implies, this system is for papers that are in-process: Bills to be paid, forms to be filled out and returned, things that need to be filed elsewhere and even recipes that haven’t been tried on the family yet.

Keep your categories general and broad so you don’t get caught up in the “filing” process. Tab each file with a name that resonates for you: Unopened Mail, My Kids, To Pay, Deal With Me, To Shred, Articles & Recipes, To File, are some of the tabs I use.

Don’t be afraid to add your style to your organizing! The more personal it is, the more likely you’ll be to connect with it.

You’ll want to house your Action Files in a portable, attractive box, something you’ll want to see and use and that goes with your decor.

Create a zone in the most central area of your home (most often the kitchen) where you agree to ALWAYS open your mail and process your children’s school papers (and empty your purse from time to time). Include in this space your Action File Box, a bin for recycling, paper clips, postage stamps, envelopes and a stapler so you can manage your paper wisely from the time you bring it in your home.

If you don’t have time to process your mail every day, don’t open it! Put it in the file “Unopened Mail” until you can give it your attention.

The beauty of these files being portable is when it comes time to perform an action. When accomplishing “Pay Bills,” for example, bring your files to your office and work where the kids can’t (as easily) throw off your groove and where “To File” items can find a more stationary delegation in a file cabinet.

Like ALL organizing systems, your Action Files will take maintenance and tweaking. Sometimes you’ll add files to your box like “Summer Camps,” “Bathroom Remodel Project,” “Braces” or “Tax Preparation” and sometimes you’ll remove an under-used category. Sometimes, they will overflow, and sometimes you’ll wow yourself at how “on-top-of-it” you’ve been in your management.

I sort my counter and wallet into my Action Files about every other day to avoid build up and perform my “actions” about twice a month. I have found Action Files to reduce bill-paying stress and make juggling two (almost three) businesses, two kids and a home a far more feasible undertaking.

Don’t worry about it doing it like me. Do it like you! If you make the files, open your mail near them and occasionally sort your piles into them, your counters will be more readily accessible.

(Oh, and when company is coming, you can toss your Action File Box in your office – or the broom closet – and your counters will look like they’ve always been clutter free!)

Jessica Downing-Ford is a Grand Junction mom of two and a personal organizer. Visit her online at Read her monthly on

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