Paper Pile Makeover Results!

A few weeks ago I set out to reform my towering pile of papers.  It was an overwhelming catastrophe.

When I gathered all of the papers together, they buried my dining table. The problems were clear:  I saved too many cards and letters, and I had not dealt with incoming papers that should have been tossed sooner.

The grand theme for this makeover was:

Why do I still have this?

When I was younger and single I could save everything, because it really wasn’t too much. I thought it was nice to keep records just in case, and I took pride in how organized it all was.

Many times that I sorted through my papers, I was organizing them, when I should have been purging them.

Gradually as life became busier, I didn’t have time to maintain them all, and eventually I gave up. I didn’t want to look through them, because there were just too many, and it was overwhelming.

It was time to toss them, in a drastic way.  I decided to pretend I was moving overseas and could only take a few things with me. That was the motivation I needed.

A Sample:

Kept: A letter from my great-grandma telling me how different Germany is now that they have airplanes and ice.
Tossed: A stack of graduation and wedding cards.

Kept: Pages from my 10th grade journal documenting the first entertaining/tragic months of high school.
Tossed: Certificates rating me “Excellent +” for my high school activities, including a special one that certified I was “worthy of joining the Learning & Liberty Wall of Fame.” Awesome.

Kept: A card from my granny with two dimes taped to the inside.
Tossed: An information manual (literally, a book) with instructions to operate my couch. In French and Spanish.

I tossed over 40 pounds of papers, and I don’t think I can fully express what a relief it is to be free of it. The amount had been a burden, and I am so glad it is gone.

Now all of the papers fit in a few boxes, a couple of folders, and one file box.  An improvement, yes?

Make Over Your Paper Pile:

About Rachel

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


  1. Woohoo! I have a tip to add to this, so thought i’d take the opportunity to comment for the first time too. Awesome blog, i’m loving your topics and i love before/after photos, they’re fantastically motivating. :D
    When i was looking through my box full of manuals that i keep for all my electronic products and expensive purchases, i realised 80% of it was other languages! If you just go through the manuals and rip out and recycle all the other-language pages, you’ll be amazed how much space you create. Also, you get to do lots of stapling (anyone else enjoy making staple noises? No? Just me then…).
    And i’m sure you picked up on Uncluttered’s advice a while back on photographing (or scanning) keepsakes that you want record of but don’t feel the need to hold on to physically. I have a ‘memories’ folder in my computer of resized (to be small and space-saving) images of all the important stuff i decided to throw away. Now when i get cards i value and can’t bear to part with, i photograph them and into the recycling they go. Yay!
    Congrats on your decluttering above, you made a fantastic impact on that messy pile. :D

    • that is an awesome idea…. I had never thought of that. I could save a tremendous amount of space by photographing stuff. I have an attic FULL of stuff i need to go through and have been hesitating on for a long time now but need to do it because we are finishing it off. I am so glad i see this post because I have my sons school work that i was getting ready to part with trying to justify that I can not keep it and this is the solution….

      • I can’t remember the website I saw this on, but I thought it was an awesome idea. All of those scanned things never truly get to appreciated on a computer….. So turn them into a scrapbook from snappish or kodak or whatever…. Or if you don’t have space, how about a movie slideshow?

  2. Fantastic job – I’m so proud of you!!!

    I love Camilla’s comment – and do exactly that too. I also go through my manuals regularly – every 6 months – so I can throw out the ones of the appliances that have now gone

  3. Congratulations, Rachel! What a makeover! I fully understand how freeing it is to be rid of all that “weight”.

    Like Camilla, we have a strategy for product manuals…we find an online pdf version and burn all of the manual copies onto a cd.

    Can’t wait to see what your next accomplishment is!

  4. Fantastic! I was inspired by your blog and tossed 3/4 of a massive bin of papers – old utility bills and such….

    Looking forward to reading more soon :)

    angelvalerie’s last blog post..Choices

  5. Oh. My. Goodness. You are amazing! And I am inspired…
    (Thanks for idea for scanning memorabilia, commentors! I have such a weakness for keeping all that stuff.)

    chinamama4’s last blog post..A Chinese Kitchen

  6. Marcia – i love your comment saying you love my comment. :P

    Aggie – I never thought of that! I bet there are PDF versions of a lot of my manuals. I’ll go through and see which i’m happy to store on my laptop instead of in paper form. thanks!

  7. Very inspiring. Unfortunately, I’m a paper keeper, but at least I’m a very organized paper keeper. But I think I still have too many files..

    renee @ FIMBY’s last blog post..Beautiful!! I love the poem

  8. Great job! Way to go! Hooray! It looks fantastic!

    Amber’s last blog post..I really want to win one of these super cool neclaces… You can enter to win one too…but hurry….

  9. oh my lord, just looking at the two pictures helped me exhale, and it wasn’t even my papers!

    i’m in the midst of culling down my hobby stuffs (mostly knitting, scrapbooking and books), and it literally feels like a weight being lifted every time i give something away, recycle something i no longer need to hold so close, or toss items that are CLEARLY trash. who knew i was such a pack rat!

    congrats on culling your paper down so much – now the trick will be to keep it so small!

  10. I didn’t even think about it, but I cleaned out some of our files last week, getting rid of old electric bill stubs and the like. I participated without even knowing, ha. You’re job was much more impressive than mine though, and I’m gonna need the inspiration as we try to cull down all our belongings before moving.

    Jessica’s last blog post..I Heart Fall

  11. Great job weeding out what you really wanted!
    I think there may be a huge stack of stuff I could get rid of hiding in my attic… The only trick may be convincing my husband he really doesn’t need those old tractor magazines he loved as a kid. ;-) My kid’s many paper creations are a tougher pile to tackle – they always seem to find them when I try to put them in the trash!

  12. smallnotebook says:

    Great tips, Camilla! I’ll look through the manuals that I kept and see what I can whittle down.

    Aggie, I bet I can find at least a couple of those manuals online.

    Francis, my husband has asked me if his comic book collection can be next!

    Way to go on cleaning out your stuff, AngelValerie, Robyn, and Jessica! I can think of a few others who have been working on their papers too — how is it going?

  13. Just a note for any of y’all who are scanning your memorabilia to a computer… be sure to back up the hard drive! Better yet, be sure to back up the hard drive to something stored off-site. It would be awful to have carefully stashed all these precious things on your computer, only to have the computer crash or get stolen or destroyed in a natural disaster or something…

  14. I laughed a little when I started reading this post because the very desk I am sitting at is beginning to resemble your paper pile. I cannot stand paper piles or messy piles of any sort so tackling them is a must for me, but I so badly dread it. Thanks for giving me the nudge. Once you get started it isn’t so bad :)

    Nicki S’s last blog post..The Day After …

  15. The after looks great! You did a lot of hard work to get there, I’m sure.

    We just removed a lot of stuff from our basement. I planned to post before and after photos but I forgot to take the photos! So there’s just a boring (or maybe exciting, depending on your perspective) list of what went out out out.

    We still have to make a run to the garbage dump – can’t wait – and I’ll definitely be taking pictures of that pile o’ stuff.

    As for paper clutter, I work everyday to try and tame the piles. For me it starts with sorting the mail before I even put it down. Tossing the recycling always feels so good!

    Ann’s last blog post..You’ll Just Have to Take My Word for It!

  16. great job – know that has to feel so much better to you! I’m often guilty of letting paper pile up way too much, but have been doing much better now that I’m using my scanner regularly and trashing misc junk!

    jodi @ bpr’s last blog post..Christmas Planning – Eight Weeks & Counting

  17. Well done! That’s impressive!

    Emma’s last blog post..Shared with a friend.

  18. WOW You want to come over and work on mine?

    Coco’s last blog post..Sanding my life away….

  19. I just did this! It’s so nice to have all our important papers organized and to have all our mementos in one place. The papers I threw away freed up a bunch of space, too. Now I just have to keep it up….

  20. Wow! Good job. That is inspirational!

    Richelle F’s last blog post..It’s Giveaway Time!

  21. That’s really great, Rachel! You’ve inspired me to tackle my mess! ;D

    Suzy’s last blog post…Fall Book GiveAway & “A Ride Along The Lincoln Highway” — Airs Tonight!

  22. Thanks for the inspiration- I love the pictures! I have decided to keep only one year’s worth of bills and most papers since I rarely need to refer back to them. This has saved me so much time and energy. I keep a twelve month accordian file and I just plunk everything in there. Every month I shred that month’s papers and then have that folder for the new. I do keep about 12 files for things that need to be saved, mortgage and home expenses, manuals, medical records. This seems to work well and helps me save the stuff I really need, but not hang onto the stuff I don’t.

  23. You inspired me to dig out all the paper that needed to be recycled (but had personal info on it) and rip it up for the bin. Now to tackle the computer table junk drawer…

    Mother Necessity’s last blog post..Shredded!

  24. Amazing. You have inspired me=) I might need to toss out some 50+ lbs.!

    Karisa’s last blog post..Perspective: from a Daughter and Wife – Part 2

  25. Congrats on the major clean! I just have one question (and please, please, please tell me yes). Did you happen to recycle all that paper?

    Way to go on the Excellent + award, by the way. :)

    Katie at’s last blog post..Those Apples Are Getting Saucy

  26. Wow, great clean up! You’ve inspired me to clean out my own paper pile. I was wondering, how many years’ worth of:

    bank statements
    retirement fund statements
    and stock investment statements

    should I keep on hand?

    Thanks again for the great decluttering inspirations!

  27. smallnotebook says:

    Katie, some of it got recycled in my compost bin (but some didn’t). Some went to Doug’s office for the industrial shredder.

    Cherry, I think how long you keep financial statements has mostly to do with personal comfort level and taxes. If your statements have documentation needed for filing your taxes, then keep them for at least 3 years (some advise 7 years). My personal choice is to save the end-of-year summary statements in scanned pdf form so I can keep them without taking up space.

  28. wow. how liberating!

    did you ever know that you’re my hero?
    you’re everything I would like to be…

  29. smallnotebook says:

    Jill, you’re much more talented than me. Your writing is proof. :)

  30. Wow, I’m impressed. I need to find time to do that.

    MaryAnne’s last blog post..Winter Toddler Dress

  31. I love that you kept your granny’s notes!

    Mary’s last blog post..One of the best ways to eat well on a budget

  32. Okay, that is amazing. I’m a keeper of that sort of stuff, too. Trying to get better.

    gidget’s last blog post..Coming in November…

  33. Wow :)
    Need I say anymore?!

    Great job!

    Meegan’s last blog post..A quick plug

  34. Oh great idea to use moving overseas as motivation! We are moving in the spring and I would love to get rid of a lot of paperwork as well as a lot of ‘stuff’ before then.

    I have a lot of paperwork and thought I was doing a good job organizing it but now that I think about it, I bet I could get rid of a lot.

  35. i love this kind of before/after project! good job!

  36. You don’t know how much paper I have! I need to go through it all! Thanks for sharing

    Tami’s last blog post..Fall Impressions

  37. Here are two useful file names —

    Warm Fuzzies (for things you want to keep)

    A Safe Place (for special things you want to find)

    Surprisingly nice — go through some nice letters and cards on a down day and be able to find those reservations or tickets on a busy day!

  38. tried to subscribe via email, but couldn’t read the word and couldn’t figure out how to get a new one. why do you all make it so difficult?

  39. Imani, I’m sending you an email to fix it up.

  40. That map in the front of your crate in the first photo . . . NYC, right? I just threw that same map away this weekend! Yea for purging! Thanks for this post. kelly

    Kelly´s last post…wedding Wednesday – my dress

  41. When I saw the pictures of the paper pile my heart skipped a little beat because I recognized that pile and wondered WHY someone had a picture of my desk on their site. ;-) But then I quickly clicked on it, because I really need to address my piles. I should take before pictures.

    Thanks so much for sharing your before/after photos. It gives me hope.


    Dixie Redmond´s last post…Works in Progress

  42. Hi! I came across your blog when I was searching for a way to lower food bills. The post above inspired me. I’m trapped inside this weekend (blizzard in Washington, DC) and decided to attack the desk. I have tossed 2/3 of the papers. So liberating! The shredder is broken (I was over-zealous) so the table is piled high. I have stopped for the evening but look forward to returning anew tomorrow. Thanks for the post!

  43. Thank you for sharing these great tips. I’m late on commenting as I just found your wonderful, inspiring blog :)

    We send all our old cards to St. Jude’s Ranch where the children there reuse them and sell them for fundraising.
    Reuse Holiday Cards
    Cut off the front and send them to Jude’s Ranch for Children, P.O. Box 60100, Boulder City, NV 89006-0100

    Sarah @ Mum In Bloom´s last post…Recipe: Company Pot Roast

  44. Merewyn says:

    WOW – that BEFORE picture is my desk!! I need to do something about it when I take some leave in a couple of weeks, I thought i was the only one….

  45. The other day I needed something in my 2 drawer lateral file-you know the kind that is equivalent to 4 file drawers-and realized that probably 90% of the stuff in the top drawer is unnecesarry! I created those files less than 2 years ago because I had no drawers at my desk and I thought I was good about not keeping the unessentianls. I hardly ever go in there, so I’m thinking it’s time to dump it all! The lower drawer is full of stuff that I didn’t know what to do with-shouldn’t that be a clue I don’t need it?

    Kelly Cook´s last post…The Little Things

  46. Wow! Excellent job! I love your tip to pretend you’re moving overseas. That really helps rid your mind of the “what if I need this someday?” mentality.
    Jennifer M.´s last post…How to cook rice

  47. Wow! I just found your blog (over 2 years after you wrote this post) via Ohdeedoh, and it is like the heavens have opened and a choir of angels is singing. I am poring through your “begin here” posts and loving it all. Your ideas are not 100% new to me, as I have been focusing on simplifying and decluttering already, but you put it all so well!

    As to this particular post, I have a horrible pile (much like your “before” shot) sitting in the corner of my bedroom. I think I am going to go home tonight and make myself a big (fake) sign that says “I AM MOVING OVERSEAS” and tape it to the wall while I work on tackling that pile. Thank you so much for the inspiration!

  48. I admire your resolve.
    I tried scanning all of my old photos into the computer but when I took a chance to look at all of my hard work the scanned images were hopeless. I ended up giving up. As for the huge piles of paperwork I have, they are all nicely hidden in a cupboard… I do attack them regularly but I seem to spend all of my time recategorizing them rather than throwing them out. On the plus side after each visit the cupboard does look a lot more tidy :o)

    Wow, I have just checked out how long ago your original post was written. Did you manage to keep it up?