Tips for Organizing Mail

smiles78February 3, 2006

Which room in the house do you organize your mail? And by what method do you go about doing it?

I feel that I need a mini file cabinet of sorts to store mail like bills and other things that do not necessary need to go into the filing cabinet (which is in the office and I think of for more long term things). Stuff like paper for an upcoming trip, party invitations, papers for the gym or other activites, etc - I feel needs to be in a centralized location in the house like the kitchen. Then catalogs are a problem because I read catalogs everywhere - in the bedroom, bathroom, family room, and living room so it's not like there is one place I read them...

Any ideas that you have other than the standard "mail organizers" I see at stores?

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I sort the mail at the DR table, which is just past the foyer. So most of it gets dealt with very early on its trip into the house.

I put bills to be paid on the bill-paying table nearby.

I put stuff like invitations, the school calendar for the month, etc., which I will need for a short while in the immediate future, on hook by the calendar nearby. (I keep a hole punch by the calendar.) Calendar-related stuff goes there--reminders of appointments, bday-party invites, etc.

I throw catalogs away immediately or I put them in my backpack for subway reading or on the bed for leafing through them there before bed that night. I don't put them anywhere else. I might *carry* them into the LR to look at them, but I don't KEEP them in the LR ever. And once I've leafed through it, I toss it. On the rare occasions I truly decide to order something, I put it in my backpack until I've ordered.

I put paid bills in a 6x9 index-card file drawer in the bedroom. i use this instead of the filing drawer bcs most bills paperwork is small, so I don't want to fill up the full-size folders w/ little pieces of paper. My index-card drawer unit is wearing out; it was special order at Staples, I hope I can get a new one. I like the 6x9 size bcs it'll hold an 8.5x11 piece of paper folded in half.

I put longer-term stuff (even if it's not permanent long-term) like the grade school's handbook, the Sunday School books, the finance info from all the various investment accounts, in the filing cabinet in the bedroom (part of the desk).

I too think of the filing cabinet as longer-term storage, but I do reserve it for folders I will need OFTEN. Stuff like old tax info doesn't go there--because the point of my filing cabinet is to have an EASY TO ACCESS storage solution. Stuff that won't ever need to be accessed doesn't go there.

File drawers are for opening and closing repeatedly, in my mind. So that's the sort of stuff I put there--stuff I might look at again in the next 3 months and will want to keep for longer than 2 weeks.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2006 at 6:47PM
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We sort at the kitchen table. Junk mail immediately to the trash.

My family calendar is three feet away, so invites, etc. go right on the calendar. RSVP written there too. If I must keep the paper for information, there is a pocket at the back of my calendar, so we all know to look there if needed. If it's a field trip or something which will happening in the next week, it goes under a magnet next to the calendar as soon as I make the calendar note.

Catalogs and magazines go right to my basket next to my favorite chair. When it's full everything gets purged. In reality, most catalogs hit the trash quickly, except for Lands End where I do buy lots of my kid's clothing.

Next to my chair, I have a small household filing system for medical things, retirement papers, etc. Bills are almost all paid by credit card, so they just go into a folder for tax purposes since we do an "in the home office" deductions.

I try and handle things only once, so I make sure the calendar, files, or basket is very close.

I use the Flylady system, so if something comes which I need to deal with later, I put it in the front pocket of my control journal.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2006 at 9:13PM
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I deleted accidentally a long post so you are spared the details. Spurred by this thread, I just made a list of everything in my mail today and how I dispensed with it (or didn't). It is like keeping a food diary. Very useful to me -- major useful. I don't think I have any more help for anyone else -- the above posters have it all under control with better habits than I do. It was the writing everything down that was the breakthrough. Perhaps that is the lesson here. I know now just what I have to do.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2006 at 9:34PM
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I sort mine, strangely enough, on my bed. The bedroom is the first place I head when I come in the door - to take off my shoes, change clothes, etc. I sit down on the bed after I've changed clothes & sort the mail.

I have two small bins in the office. One is for invitations & papers that need attention. The other is for bills. Junk mail is thrown away immediately. Credit card offers & the like are shredded immediately. Catalogs usually go in a drawer in the coffee table, unless it's one that I'm definitely not interested in. Those are tossed. I don't keep most bill month-to-month. I only keep them if I have a question or problem. Once I've paid them, I shred the bill.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 9:46AM
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I have a wooden tray on my foyer table, so what I do is a preliminary sort as soon as I take mail out of the box. As TS says, that helps eliminate a lot of clutter; all those flyers and junk mail literally never get further than a foot from the mailbox before they hit the trash. The stuff I want to keep goes in the tray temporarily, which keeps everything neat. Then I sort: bills go into the office in a specific area of a desk organizer. Invitations or time sensitive material generally goes on the front of the refrigerator on a clip-most recent on top, then the further out events or invitations. Things that need to be filed go in a stack on the office desk. Magazines and catalogs I want to read go into the magazine basket, also in the foyer.

It all works pretty well--I see the common theme in people's responses is to have a *system*. It will certainly be individual-we have people doing mail on the dining room table and their bed :)-but as long as YOU have a system that you stick to, that is the key IMO.


who needs to go through that tray, those bills and that stack on the office desk today herself!

    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 10:04AM
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I sort mine at the kitchen counter as soon as it comes in. Most catalogs and junk mail go right in the recycle bin and put the catalogs I want to look at in a basket in the bathroom. Magazines go on the coffee table or up to my bedroom. DH's mail goes in his pile on the counter by the door, the rest goes into my office right off the kitchen.

Bills are opened, I write the due date on the outside envelope, and they are put in due date order in an old silver toast rack I have on my desk.

As bills are paid, 'keepers' (credit card bills, insurance bills, etc.) are filed in my desk drawer, the rest are shredded and tossed. I try to remember to shred and toss the 'keepers' once a year (when the file drawer won't close, that's my cue).

Party invitations, school stuff, etc., are put on the family calendar (above the counter) and either paper-clipped to the calendar or tucked into my daily planner if I have to keep the original.

This may sound a little nuts, but the toast rack approach to bill-paying was the best thing I ever did.

The other thing I did to help contain the mail was to get my name and address on that national 'no junk mail list' (sorry, I can't remember the proper name of the thing, but when you sign up it gets you off all sorts of mailing lists). I also resorted to calling companies that sent me catalogs I didn't want and requesting my name be taken off their mailing lists.

My mom, on the other hand, is apparently on every mailing list in the Northern Hemisphere, and picking up her mail while she was away on vacation was astonishing. Two overflowing grocery bags after just one week!

    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 10:07AM
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I sort at the dining room table (aka DH's desk). DH's mail goes in a pile at his place. Junk mail gets tossed. Junk catalogs go in the recycling. Catalogs that I keep go in a magazine holder in the office, and the older version of the catalog gets tossed. When I want to look at them, I take them out, but usually they just stay there.

My bills and things I need to do something with get put in a basket on a shelf in the dining room. DH uses the rest of this bookshelf for his papers and old mail. I have to go through it periodically and find the outdated stuff to get rid of. Though I have to say, he is MUCH better now about going through it on his own once in a while since I have been decluttering the house! Invitations and things that can be written on the calendar are, and the paper thrown away. If I feel I need the paper, I put it in a pocket in the back of the calendar.

Finally, I have a 3 ring binder where I keep other papers. I have plastic sleeves in there, one for each category. Such as kids sports teams - one sleeve for each team holds schedules and other important info. When the season is over, the paper gets tossed. One sleeve for each field trip, then when the field trip is over, I clean out the sleeve and recycle the papers. I also keep in one sleeve a form for mail orders that I am waiting for. I keep the receipts in back and the list in front and check them off after they come in. This works REALLY well since we seem to order more & more stuff online. Especially during the holidays.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 10:30AM
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I love the toast rack idea. I could add that to my developing "system" (well it isn't quite a system yet but I am trying.)

I come in with the mail and go into the living room and set it on a space I have cleared for the purpose. Then I take off my coat (further in the apt.). Then I put kitchen packages in kitchen and any other packages in the right area. Then I go back to the mail before I do e-mail or voice mail. That's the plan anyway.

On this LR surface I have two sentimental letter openers (one from my grandmother and one DH got as award). A wastebasket sits near by.

Catalogues/junk mail go right out. I take DH's mail out of the envelope and put it near his chair. (New service because he has been such a good sport about the renov.) He files immediately so his pile never accumulates.

Mags go into a basket.

I learned from writing a my mail diary yesterday that there is a category of invitations that are not command performances and do not need RSVPs but that I can't decide in the moment (usually tired and hungry when I sort mail) whether to keep or toss. This category includes events that we might want to attend that require ticket purchase. I tend to leave those notices/invites lying around on random surfaces before dealing with them.

I don't want them on a bulletin board (too final) and don't want them in a folder where I can't see them because they aren't really on my conscious agenda and I tend to forget them. They don't quite consititute a pile each day so I don't want them in a basket, which is hides things like a folder in any case.

A toast rack is just right! Then in 24 hours I could review them and toss. I have seen some beautiful toast racks around (flea markets/thrift stores). I might take pleasure in using it, which like the letter openers, should be self-reinforcing.

At least that's the plan.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 11:51AM
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What is a toast rack??

I sort mail on the kitchen counter.

Junk mail goes straight to the recycling bin. I can tell in less than 10 seconds if a catalog appeals to me... if it does, it goes by my purse to take to work the next day for lunchtime reading. Newsletters also get saved for lunchtime. Bills are either paid right that minute, or set in a napkin holder on the windowsill if I'm pressed for time. There's a clothespin on my calendar for anything I think I need to keep, or if it's a temmporary "reminder" notice, it goes under a magnet on the refrigerator.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 2:44PM
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Julie, toast racks are designed to hold several slices of toast upright, it's a bit hard to explain. You can see some sample of very fancy toast racks via the link below. I always think of English country homes when I see one. LOL. Mine was passed down from someone in the family, and it's not sterling by a long shot, but it holds up the mail quite well.

Here is a link that might be useful: toast racks

    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 3:35PM
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Thanks for posting the toast rack link. It makes me realize I'm happy with the one I actually bought on an impulse today in the spirit of being serious about mail sorting--very small, upside down hearts. (I don't actually know how it can hold toast --maybe melba toast. If it doesn't work for the category of mail I need, it will work for tickets. (And if it doesn't work for anything I can take it back for store credit.)

    Bookmark   February 4, 2006 at 11:26PM
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HOW COOL! Now I need a toast rack! Much fancier than the vertical stackers from the office supply store!!

    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 6:27AM
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Ok, I want a toast rack too!

Here in Greece we'd think this was a napkin holder...


    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 2:19PM
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I sort mail everyday. I don't let it pile up and get away from me. Bills and opened and placed in the bill file. I pay bills every two weeks. Junk mail is shredded or dumped and all others are filed in the file drawer in our desk. I always know where papers are that way. Reciepts have a file too.
Just my .02 worth

    Bookmark   February 5, 2006 at 8:07PM
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LOL! I've started a toast rack trend!

I did see a similar item for holding mail at a local office supply store, but it looked like an oversized black spring on a base, rather utilitarian and hulking. I think the toast rack approach is prettier and much more interesting.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 9:04AM
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Thanks everyone for your suggestions! I think I need to figure out my own system. I started by making a list of papers that are generally laying around:

Bills to Pay
Coupons/Sales Fliers
Misc Stuff - Gym Class Schedule, Hobbies, etc. (not really mail but needs to go somewhere))
Outgoing Mail

So that's 6 items and most likely need something about regular sized paper.

Our office is in a spare bedroom and isn't really centralized so storing anything in there isn't really convient. Our kitchen is probably the most centralized. Nearby I want to have the checkbook, envelopes, stamps, pens, notepad, etc nearby as well. I guess I sort of want a message center and mail center. Perhaps a smaller table in the kitchen corner or a table in our living room (next to kitchen). Still figuring it out :)

    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 1:27PM
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toast rack problem. The cute little toast rack I bought impulsively might have to go back. It is so small that a) it moves around a lot because it isn't heavy enough to remain stationery b) anything bigger than 7 inches by 8 inches falls over. I did imagine it for very small things but the first invitation turned out to tip the whole thing over. That invitation is just the kind of thing that could get lost/forgotten/abandoned if I don't have a visible place for it. It would be great if we could go but it is not high enough on our priority list to be a must attend.

Perhaps a bigger toast rack?

    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 3:48PM
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I like that comment about the pocket in the back of the calendar. I have a hook hanging by my calendar, and I use a hole punch on stuff that arrives, but it looks really messy. A pocket would be much tidier looking.

I wondered if that toast rack would be too short.

There are nice-looking vertical organizers out there--bamboo, leather-covered, etc.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 4:22PM
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I tried using the office supply store version of the toast rack. As Sheri said, it wasn't very attractive. My experience was that it anyone touched it, or if I tried to add another piece of mail to it, the other things shifted or short things fell out, which annoyed me. So I started letting the mail pile up. I'm doing much better with the little bins. They're just the plastic ones right now; I plan to get something better looking. The main thing for me is, they keep everything contained. Also, I can flip through the items much better than I could with the little toast rack-type thing. Just another example of how the system has to work for each person individually.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2006 at 8:15PM
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