The 3 Rules I Follow to Keep School Paper Clutter Under Control

published Aug 21, 2023
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My five kids started school recently, and along with the welcome return to a routine and me already missing the kids, the dreaded paper clutter has begun. 

I don’t get it. Our schools have plenty of paperless communication. I have to check multiple portals, sites, and social media pages to gather all the information I’m supposed to have. Yet every day there are relentless paper piles

It’s not just informational papers. The kids also come home with their schoolwork, artwork, permission slips, party invitations, calendars, reminders, and more. I’ve learned from experience that the paper deluge can get out of control fast. In our house, like many others, the after-school paper flurry happens in the kitchen and if there’s one thing about me, it’s that messy counters make me crazy. 

I had to figure out a system for combating the school paper clutter. We implemented these three rules last year and it worked so well for all of us that we’ve continued it seamlessly this year as well. I know the system is a success because it basically runs on autopilot and I rarely end up having to sort through an unmanageable stack looking for a lost permission slip. 

Here are the three rules we follow daily: 

Empty out folders right after school, every day.

Along with taking off their shoes and emptying their lunch boxes, the kids know they are required to take out their folders and give me their “keep at home” and “return to school” papers every single day. They usually end up spread on the counter, but they’ve done their part to get the papers out of their backpacks and set me up for my part. 

Sort immediately.

The next step is sorting their papers. It’s nice to do this with the kids right there because they can tell me about their drawing or I can give them a little pop quiz on that word they missed on their spelling test. I sort the papers into three categories: papers that get recycled, papers that need action, and papers I’ll keep. 

There’s an extra detail related to informational papers or papers I keep, and it’s key to taming the paper clutter: I don’t hang on to the paper copy unless necessary. Instead, I scan the paper with my Notes app on my iPhone so I can look it up when I need it. I always include the hashtag “delete” so that at the end of the year I can go through and delete notes that are no longer relevant. After scanning and labeling, I put these papers into the recycling as well.

Take action ASAP (and all at once).

I can’t always deal with every single paper that needs some kind of action from me right away, and that’s fine. It doesn’t sabotage the system. Instead, I keep the papers that have been culled from the heap in a neat stack or in this wall file holder that’s hung on the kitchen wall. 

When I have a few minutes, which may or may not be that same day, although I try to do this quite often, I go through the pile and sign what I need to, pay for what I need to, etc. By putting all the decisions that need to be made into this pile, I don’t end up getting overwhelmed and setting aside the entire pile of brought-home papers to be dealt with later. I’ve simply deferred what needs action to a time when I can focus and do it all at once, and this ends up being far more efficient than trying to do it in the moment. 

Sometimes papers that I need to scan end up in this pile if I don’t have time to scan them right away, and this also works. Again, when I’m done with them, they go into recycling immediately. 

The reason this system works so well is that every paper that comes into the house has a category it can fit into. The kids and I each do our part and they’re happy they get the papers they need for school and I’m happy I don’t have to dig for things. It’s been such a stress reliever to have our paper clutter buster system in place and it leaves more time for the fun stuff like snacks and read-aloud time, yay!