A Simple Method For Organizing School Papers & Junk Drawers

Inside: With the new school year comes an influx of papers. Here is my easy method for organizing school papers, creating a simple command center and clearing out that junk drawer! 

Should a Minimalist Have a Junk Drawer?

The other day I was chatting it up with my sister when suddenly, out of nowhere she shouts, “I don’t know how you don’t have a junk drawer! How in the world do you live without a junk drawer??” I could tell by her tone that she was at her wits end and a little bit irritated with how perfect she envisioned my “junk drawer free” life.

organizing school papers

I’m not exactly sure how she came to this conclusion, or what possessed the sudden shift in conversation. But let me make it abundantly clear.

I have, and always will have, a junk drawer.

Gasp! While Marie Kondo may not approve, keeping a small “junk drawer” works for us.

As I go about my day, living my real and frequently messy life, “junk” accumulates. I’m not talking about actual trash, impulse purchases or random objects I just can’t seem to let go of.

No, I’m talking about miscellaneous game pieces, loose change, extra tape, finger nail clippers, Neosporin, camera chargers, ear buds, pen caps, colored pencils, batteries, stickers… (inhale, exhale), you get the point. It’s a kind of temporary holding spot for small items that need to be put away.

See exhibit A:

organizing school papers
This looks a little like a Where’s Waldo? Who can find the finger nail clippers first? Can you spot the acorn?

Now, if you’ve been living your real life without a junk drawer, I’m not suggesting you create one. I’m simply saying it’s possible to maintain a junk drawer without letting it turn into a scene out of the Alfred Hitchcock 1958 movie, The Blob. If you aren’t careful and intentional with the way you manage your junk drawer and paper clutter, it just may morph into an all consuming, angry, gelatinous substance from outer space with a mind of it’s own.

How do we keep it from taking over the entire home?

1. Consistency

It’s imperative that you never let that drawer fill up. It has happened on one or more occasions, but for the most part, if our drawer reaches the half way point we go through it. We trash the literal “junk,” test the pens, sharpen the pencils, return the random game pieces to their homes, wind up the chargers and eliminate the inessential. Regularly pruning your junk drawer will allow it to remain just a drawer.

I have chosen not to purchase any dividers for this drawer because I know myself and it won’t make a bit of difference. Dividers will look perfect for about a day and then they will just add to the clutter.

2. Boundaries

This is important: Junk will fill whatever space you give it.

If you designate the corner of your kitchen counter as your drop zone, it will eventually migrate over the entire counter. You must give it the smallest possible boundaries. Whether it’s a drawer, cabinet, or bin, designate a small space and stick within your boundaries.

organizing school papers
It took me about 20 minutes to sort this drawer and put all the game pieces back where they go.

But What About All of The Papers?

Loose pencils and extra batteries are just the tip of the iceberg. What do we do with all this flipping school paper? We are just a week into school and it’s already bordering on a fire hazard around here. Organizing school papers can get out of control fast!

It was all fun and games when my kids were preschoolers. I just had to decide how many smiley face pictures and hand print crafts I was willing to keep. But with two kids well into elementary school we needed a flexible, simple and sustainable system to manage all things paper related.

Picture Perfect Command Centers

If you spend just a few minutes searching Pinterest for “command center ideas” you may find yourself searching for a new home on Zillow or drawing up plans for an addition instead. Same thing with mud rooms. There are some pretty impressive command centers and mudrooms on Pinterest.

In case you aren’t sure exactly what a “command center” is, let me clarify. It’s an area in your home where you keep papers and organize your Family’s commitments. It’s the space where you might keep anything from mail and calendars, to kids’ school papers and bills.

The term command center sounds complicated and high end but it doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to work for you. Remember, simple is the new black.

organizing school papers

Perfect systems don’t make you organized. Consistency and firm boundaries do.

My Simple Command Center

Here is a look at exactly how we organize papers and school work in our home.

I had no interest in finding a spot to hang clip boards, slotted shelves or bins. It would only be a matter of moments before those came crashing to the ground in our home.

Instead, these heavy duty magnetic metal clips for my garage door have served us well. I bought them on Amazon and they can hold a lot. Now, full disclosure, they do scratch our door if you slide them around, but the magnet and clip are not permanently attached so we can just pull the clip down and then pop it back on the magnet to hang again. The magnetic dry erase calendar is by U Brands and I purchased it at Target.

organizing school papers

How It’s Organized

I love this system because it’s flexible. No need to label hooks, folders or in this case clips. Typically, the bottom two clips are designated for each of my kids’ weekly homework sheets and spelling words. We hang memory verses and bigger school projects in the middle, while reminders, school calendars, outgoing mail and the lunch menu will go on the top. But again, it can be whatever it needs to be and in a bind, I can even add an extra magnetic clip or two.

Sure, it gets cluttered and messy from time to time, but takes just a few minutes to straighten.

organizing school papers

How We Manage Incoming Papers

1. Mail

While we are on the subject of papers I thought I’d quickly share how we manage our mail:

  • Immediately put all junk mail in trash or recycling. Yes, Immediately. We stopped saving coupons because they either pile up and create clutter or cause me to shop for things we never really needed. I’ll save only the ones I know I will be using in the next 30 days.

For example, I’m in the market for new winter boots this year. After five years of use, my old pair is falling apart. If I receive a DSW coupon mailer in the next couple of months I will hold on to it because I know I need to buy boots. But, if I get one in the middle of winter, I’ll toss it. 20% off a pair of shoes you don’t need is not a good deal.

organizing school papers

  • Immediately open, read and throw away any and all thank you letters or personalized cards. I love getting them, but I don’t keep them.
  • Open, handle and/or file all important mail (which for the record are few and far between) immediately.

2. Organizing School Papers

I immediately throw away all completed and graded school work with the exception of reports, written stories or artwork that they have put significant effort into. I mean, I’m not a monster. 

If it’s something like a poster project, we will hang it on the wall for a few days and then let it go. Any items we intend to keep for a while will be transferred to a specific bin. (I’ll address that in a moment).

3. Kids Artwork

Brace yourself. I’m about to get a little ruthless…hmmm, maybe I am a monster.

We do not save any artwork where my kids have taken pre-cut pieces of construction paper and glued them together per detailed instructions. I’m really only interested in saving projects that bring out their own personalities.

Talk with your kids about the kind of artwork you intend to keep. When my daughter comes home from church having stuck foam stickers to a precut cross, it’s not sticking around here very long. However, when I wake up early in the morning to find my son painting a picture of Van Gough’s, Sunflowers and drawing The Yellow Christ, I just may keep them forever.

organizing school papers

Continually Prune Your Kids’ Artwork & Memorabilia

Okay, as for that curated bin of art and school work…Here is mine:

organizing school papers

This is all we have saved so far for my children, nine, seven, and four as of now. If it’s something I anticipate wanting to keep it goes in here once I’m done displaying it.

I go through this collection at the beginning and end of every school year letting go of items that have lost significance. I find that time gives us a new perspective. At the end of every school year you’ll have an arial view of what you’ve decided to keep which will give you permission to let go of even more. Since you were intentional with what you kept along the way, this bin should not be overwhelming.

Note: I would not suggest keeping it all to go through at the end of the year. That would just be way too overwhelming for me.

As my kids grow, I plan to separate their keepsake papers, keeping one bin per child. For now, this works though. Again, boundaries are important. Don’t keep adding bins just to accommodate more stuff!

How to Justify Throwing Away Their Artwork

I think to myself, I am a 38 year old woman. I couldn’t care less about my fourth grade report on prairie dogs or the random artwork I made when I was little. My parents saved a few things and most of it, thankfully, was water damaged in storage. I’m not even a little bit sad about it.

Go ahead and assume your children will care as little about their childhood projects as you do about yours. When we keep it all, the most important pieces lose their value and get lost in the piles. 

Find What Works For You

It’s easy to get stuck on trying to find the perfect, permanent, long term solution when the simple one is staring us in the face. Look past perfect and find your own flexible, simple and sustainable solution for today.

For more inspiration

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook

Declutter Your Life

3 years ago I was overwhelmed with my life, while growing more underwhelmed with it’s direction by the second. It felt as though all of my time and energy was going toward the accumulation and management of STUFF. What little time I had left over went toward overbooking and overcommitting my family to all.the.thing! 

When introduced to the concept of minimalism and everything changed!

Living with less will gift you the time, space and much needed perspective to put the things that truly matter most first. If you’d like some help getting started download my FREE Beginner’s Guidebook to: Declutter Like a Minimalist. It takes a deep dive into the 7 important steps to getting started as highlighted in my popular post, Declutter Like a Minimalist.

It’s time to stop managing our families and start leading them!

Declutter Like a Minimalist Guidebook

8 thoughts on “A Simple Method For Organizing School Papers & Junk Drawers

  1. I long ago reframed my junk drawer as a utility drawer where useful items can be stored near the point of use. I have full tool and medical kits elsewhere but I often need a screwdriver or a bandage and Neosporin so I keep those few items in my utility drawer.

  2. This post came at a great time! I can not get my papers in order. I have a file box for my important stuff like insurance, stocks, bank, etc. BUT, I have a pile that I just can’t find a home for! Coupons, receipts, random stuff that I feel I’ll need to look back at. A mess!
    I do have a junk drawer but mine holds string, tape, scissors, Twister ties, pens… stuff I use! And some random odd stuff!
    I watch all these home shows like million dollar listings and I wonder where do these people hide their paper clutter? Lol
    Thanks for an enjoyable post.

  3. Yay for ‘simple trumps perfect’! Need to make that my mantra. Sounds like we have pretty much the same way of handling these items. I notice I am becoming more ruthless every school year. It’s just not fun to handle miscellaneous paper and junk when they start flooding their borders!

  4. Same! We have measuring tape, screwdrivers, a lighter, pens, tape, chargers, etc, and we use most of those on a near-daily basis! It’s a true utility drawer. 🙂

  5. Hi Rachel
    Thank you for this post, initially when I saw the title I thought this won’t apply to me! I am born again minimalist!
    Well after finally reading it I was finally able to get rid of my sons year 6 school books, he is about to go into year 9! Also some art works of his! He has some learning needs (ASD, Dyslexia and Dysprxia) and sometime I will hang onto things for “evidence”! Like you say we never think about the art work we created in school 30 years ago! Thank you for all your writings I am looking forward to finding more school and papers to recycle and only keeping a very select few!

  6. You’re my people with the simple command center! 🙂

    We have a basket and everyone gets their folder. I couldn’t bring myself to create anything more complicated than that, no matter how pretty Pinterest made it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.