A Solution for Lost Papers and Late Bills

One of my biggest troubles with the paper pile is remembering that I needed to respond to a letter or pay a bill, and then not being able to find it.  Or worse, not remembering at all because it was “out of sight, out of mind.”

Bills, invitations, birth announcements, and other mail were getting lost in the midst of all the papers I should file.  I needed a place for the incoming mail and papers that require a response.

The second principle for organizing paperwork is:

Papers requiring action should be kept in one easy-to-access location.

Several of you mentioned having an inbox and a set day to go through paperwork.  (If you haven’t yet read the helpful comments, there were many good ideas.)

An inbox would be ideal, but I have no desk.  I also have a little girl who wants to draw on every paper in sight.

A correspondence notebook is my solution to keep the mail organized.  An old planner binder filled the need perfectly.

  • Papers to take action on go in the front pocket.
  • A clear zip pouch holds the checkbook and stamps.
  • A pen has a place to go on the side.
  • Stationary and extra envelopes are in the back pocket.

I like that it’s portable so I can take it with me.  It doesn’t hold much, so I’ll have to keep up with the papers and not let them get out of hand.  I’ll do mail and paperwork on Tuesdays, with a reminder on my calendar so I won’t forget.

I’m hoping to avoid having to say “Sorry I meant to send this to you earlier…”

I’m glad so many of you are going to work on your paper piles with me.  Have you started yet?  Here’s what’s coming up next:  you’ll need trash bags, because it’s time to toss!
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Hi. I am an Australian living in Mongolia. I came across your site while looking for worm composting instructions (yours are excellent). I have to laugh at the picture of the paper pile, as behind me is one that looks very similar. It disappeared the other day as a local girl that helps me with some clearning (one benefit of living overseas) decided to put all that paper away somewhere. It took me over a week to find it all and put it back in the pile for sorting! I’ve got you on my RSS feed now, so I look forward to future posts.

  2. I love this idea! I have used something similar for sorting occasion cards and another for coupons. It just never occurred to me to use one as an action file. The idea of carrying it around for those moments waiting in line, in the car for kids, or in waiting rooms! I wonder how many hours you just saved me? Thank you!

  3. Jessica Lucas says:

    Thank you for this idea! I’m going to implement it today. I have the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ problem so you’re idea of scheduling a bill/paper day is great.

  4. I worked in billing for five (long) years and I know what I am talking about. The great irony of working in billing is that someone who does not make a lot of money, is helping someone who often makes considerably more than they do.

    If you want to make your life easy, please, please, please go on auto pay to a credit card. Your bills get paid and nothing bad happens to your services. No lost checks, no mistyped information, no payments misapplied to the wrong account. Just the bills getting paid and peace of mind. The only time an auto pay customer called me, was maybe every three years to update the expiration date on a credit card. Even that can be done online now.

    And please avoid checks. They clear so much faster now and the chance of human error is great.

    Get your statements emailed to you and place them in a folder on your computer. At the end of the year, back up the folder, whether to a removable hard drive or burn it to a CD.

    Now many of you may say, I can’t do autopay. Probably most of you can. You know why I know this, cause I’m on autopay and after taxes and deductions, I made about $1700/month. If I can pay that way, I bet most of you can too. It’s not that I’m being arrogant or mean, it’s just that based on the posts I’ve read, many readers have things like houses, two incomes, multiple cars, and children. If you can afford that lifestyle, then you should be able to manage autopay.

    Finally, if you screw up with paying a bill do not call the company and ask for a favor. Be an adult and face the consequences of your actions (or inactions). If your mistake costs you, you won’t make it again. If you really want to know what a billing agent says after you are off the phone, it’s the same thing every time, “pay your $#@& bill!”

  5. Great idea! I am always looking for new organization ideas. Right now my “important mail” goes in a little tray on a linen dresser in the dining room.

    Rachel’s last blog post..12 Weeks of Christmas Carnival Details

  6. Are you familiar with Flylady.net? She has all sorts of organizing tips and solutions. It sounds like you’re looking for her Office in a Bag.


    Though, if you’re like me, you’ve got half a dozen bags like this at home. It never occurred to me to use it this way until I saw how she set it up.

  7. Great idea for recycling the day planner. I use a similar method; all papers requiring my attention go into my calendar which is with me at ALL times. I couldn’t make it without my calendar. However, if the day gets busy and I don’t check my calendar….well, that’s another story.

    Nancy’s last blog post..I Love the Innocence

  8. This is a great idea – thanks for the idea!

    A Frugal Housewife’s last blog post..How to Clean Frugally

  9. In addition to getting electronic statements, you can also see if your bank/credit union offers online bill pay. Once you set up payee information, all you have to do is login and enter the amount of the bill and that’s it – no papers, stamps or clutter. (I wrote about this here if you’re interested in more info: http://www.livsimpl.com/2007/08/20/online-bill-pay/)

    Also, Google Calendar can serve as a good way to set up reminders to pay your bills with the option of being reminded via e-mail or text message.

    LivSimpl’s last blog post..How to easily sync files between computers – for free

  10. I’m tackling my mess, too. At lunch today I’m heading out to find a binder or planner that might meet my needs because this is exactly the type of system I have been wanting to move to for a while. I need a portable system that includes both a calendar and places to keep my bills and correspondence handy because I find I’m often taking care of this part of my life all over town (at lunch at work, etc.) so when I am home I can devote time to my baby boy.

    I’m also going to purchase a shredder because I have so much to toss, like you said, but much has account and personal information on it.

  11. smallnotebook says:

    Lauri, I bet this will be perfect for you. I used my planner this way a couple of years ago, and it was so helpful to be able to write notes or pay bills on my lunch break or at the doctor office. It was much more effective than my pile, so I’m glad to be using it again.

  12. I love this idea! I have the perfect old planner I haven’t been using that I can now “recycle” thanks for the inspiration!! :)

    Steph @ Problem Solvin Mom’s last blog post..Make Your Own Pumpkin Spiced Latte

  13. GREAT idea! I can’t tell you how many signed and sealed cards I’ve sent with little notes on the back saying, “This has been in my out-box for 6 months. I don’t remember what I said, but I hope you appreciate it.” I can only do that because I ONLY express good thoughts in snail mail. Lol.

  14. I had the same problem and just recently bought a cheap clipboard which now hangs on the inside of one of my kitchen cupboards and all papers for action go on that. It is working well so far.

  15. smallnotebook says:

    Nice idea Shannan! It’s a great location for it too so you’ll see them regularly.

  16. This is a great idea! Beats my 3 tiered paper sorter that I (over)use.

    Andrea’s last blog post..Can We Judge Others By How Much They Give?

  17. Brilliant idea, Rachel. I love it!

    Toblerone’s last blog post..A Frugal Family is a Greener Family: Easy Everyday Tips

  18. I’ve had what is commonly called a “Home Management Binder” for a few years now. I love it! There’s nothing better than having all of your contacts, bills, stamps, checkbook etc in one place! I have set aside one day a week as my “office day” where I do my bills, make important phone calls, grade school papers for our homeschool, make grocery lists, etc….AKA my lazy sit in my chair and have an excuse to be on the computer all day..lol. It works though.

    Great post Rachel :)

    Amber’s last blog post..Week In Review 9/15 – 9/19

  19. I ran across this in a more recent post and think it’s a great idea! I’m getting to that point in life where I have a lot more going on, more mail, and more commitments to take care of. Thanks so much!

    Shannon´s last post…Making Mornings Easier

  20. THANK YOU for this post!!! we’re on a cash (envelope) budget, so i no longer carry my check book. it’s laying on a shelf in my craft room and is easily lost. not to mention i like to prepare my deposit slips ahead of time and always need them on bill paying day (thursday)! — this! is! perfect! for us!! i can’t wait to go home and make one of my own! thanks again!

  21. Finally, something for papers that makes sense for me.

    Jena (Organizing Mommy)´s last post…Goals not resolutions

  22. We use our credit card infrequently, but I have it set to autopay ($25 once or twice a month, depending on what’s going on on the account) so that at least a little paid every month, and it’s never late. If we have a balance, I just make an extra manual payment besides, but I know that the minimum, by due date, is already taken care of. If we don’t have a balance, we’ve built up a little credit for when we need to put something on it! It gives me so much peace of mind.