Contain Your Action Papers

Are you concerned you will lose papers or lose sight of papers?  Keep your action papers in an open file box on your work surface.  Or, keep papers in project sleeves (my personal favorite and can’t live without product), or if you have too many papers to fit in a project sleeve, try a document case.

Do paperwork and other objects distract you while you are working?  Keep your action papers in a closed file box.

Do you prefer to pile paper? Try labeled stackable letter trays for your action papers (follow-up, call/email, projects, tasks, review, etc.).

Archive Your Reference Papers

Do you fear you will lose papers or lose sight of papers if they are locked away in a file cabinet? Keep your reference papers in an open file cart under the work surface. Or, if you are paper piler, try labeled literature sorter for your reference papers. Designate a row or column for different categories to help you locate information faster.

Do you want your reference papers at your fingertips?  Keep in a nearby file cabinet, file boxes, or scan and keep digitally.

Corral Your Office Supplies

Store your backup office supplies (writing instruments and note pads, electronic cables, batteries, printer paper, printer ink, file folders, etc.) in a four-cube shelving unit.   (Cube #1 – writing instruments and note pads, Cube #2 – printer paper and ink, Cube #3 – filing supplies, and Cube #4 electronics).  Hide the clutter with drawers for small items and door fronts for larger items to hide the clutter.

Store your everyday office supplies (paper clips, staples, stapler, staple remover, scissors, post-its, tablets, writing instruments, etc.) in your desk drawers if you have those or in stackable drawers next to your work surface.  Add drawer trays to up the organization.

The kitchen is the family hub spot, and if you have multiple people getting things out and putting things back, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Can you find what you are looking for in your kitchen? Is meal preparation a breeze?  If not, it might be time to create efficiency in your kitchen with our 10 tips to declutter and organize your kitchen and 10 product solutions to help you contain and organize everything in your kitchen.

3 Common Kitchen Organization Problems

  1. Mail and other incoming paper lands on the kitchen counter or table.
  2. Cabinets and pantry are stuffed; new items land on the kitchen counter.
  3. Items are placed where there is an open spot in cabinets and drawers without thought to the activity it pertains to.

10 Tips to Declutter and Organize Your Kitchen

  1. Follow my 5 Steps to Organizing® to organize your kitchen and pantry
  2. To help sort your pantry, look at expiration dates and purge all expired food, including spices. Toss anything that hasn’t been used in a very long time.
  3. As pantry items are used, get in the habit of checking expiration dates. If something is getting close to expiring, add it to a grocery list.
  4. Group all baking supplies and materials together and create a baking zone in the kitchen.
  5. Be realistic about how many coffee mugs, travel cups/mugs, plastic drinking bottles, and plastic containers are needed.
    • Rule of thumb – 2 mugs, drinking bottles per person; only enough plastic containers for one week of leftovers
    • Ditch any containers that don’t have a corresponding lid or bottom
  6. Relocate infrequently used small appliances, kitchen equipment, and entertaining items to a storage room, pantry, closet, or garage to free up prime real estate in the kitchen for what is used regularly.
  7. Let go of any cookbook, gadget, small appliance, or dishware, that has not been used in the past year.
  8. Toss the recipes that haven’t been used in a year and put favorites in sheet protectors in a binder.
  9. Use apps and websites for accessing recipes digitally.
  10. Create zones in your based on the activities you do in your kitchen.

4 Primary Kitchen Zones Based On Kitchen Activities

  1. Food storage – perishable (refrigerator/freezer) and nonperishable (pantry/cabinet)
  2. Food preparation – usually near the sink or stovetop
  3. Consuming food – kitchen table or island
  4. Cleaning up – sink/dishwasher

10 Product Solutions to Help Contain and Organize Your Kitchen Items

  1. Install pull-out drawers in bottom cabinets (Rev a Shelf) – Making it easier to reach items in a deep pantry or in the back of a lower cabinet (small appliances; pots/pans; cleaning supplies under the sink).
  2. Install drawer dividers (The Container Store) – Compartmentalizes small kitchen tools and utensils.
  3. Spice Drawer Insert (The Container Store) – When cabinet space is not available for spices, consider a drawer and place a spice drawer insert for containing spices.
  4. Garbage/Recycle Bin Pull-out Shelf (Rev a Shelf) – Maximizes the space under a sink and provides easy access for two bins instead of one.
  5. Turntable (Target) – Makes it easier to reach items on high shelves and in the refrigerator.
  6. Stair-step Shelves (The Container Store) – Maximizes the cabinet space and easier to view and access items.
  7. Baskets of Various Sizes (Multi-Purpose Bins from The Container Store)- Instead of removing the food product from its original packaging and placing it in containers, just simply store it in a basket.  Designate one for pasta, one for grains, one for snacks, etc.
  8. Clear Uniform Bins (The Container Store) – Contain and separate pantry items, clear to easily find what you are looking for
  9. Wire Sorters (The Container Store- to store your bakeware and casserole dishes vertically
  10. Over the Door Rack (The Container Store) – Maximize your pantry space! A utility door & wall rack system makes the most of the often wasted vertical space on a door or wall and is totally customizable!

Example of a zoned pantry with suggested products

  • Bottles/Condiments – contained on turntables making it easier to access the items at the back of a high shelf.
  • Beverages (left) Spreads (right)
  • Canned foods – contained on stair-step shelves to maximize the space and easier access.
  • Seasoning Packets (left) Snacks/Juices for kids (right) – contained in size appropriate  baskets/bins
  • Root vegetables – contained in natural fiber baskets
Photo Organized Pantry
photo by Anne Blumer

Keep Your Kitchen and Pantry Organized

  • Daily – keep the zones intact
  • Daily – clear countertops of items that don’t belong in the kitchen
  • Daily – clean and put away dishes, etc.
  • Weekly – clean out refrigerator and pantry of expired foods
  • Semi-annually – re-evaluate the zones and adjust accordingly

I have organized hundreds of home offices over the past 18 years, working as a Professional Organizer.  Read on to learn what I have discovered to be the typical problems, tips for tidying and organizing the office, how to create zones to keep your office uncluttered, some product solutions to help contain it all, and a handy maintenance plan to keep your office and paperwork organized.

Typical Problems-Old Habits

  • No useable filing system—paper goes in but doesn’t come out.
  • Too many papers because what is important to keep is unknown.
  • Afraid to file anything because of fear it can’t be found later.
  • Incurring late fees because bills are lost or forgotten.
  • Taxes are filed late or not at all.
  • There are duplicates of office supplies because it is difficult to find what you need when you need it, so you buy more.
  • Pile of books and magazines—many unread because a place has not been designated where to store them or read them.


  • Be ruthless with supplies. Keep only what is needed and will be used.
  • Determine which reference materials (books, periodicals) you will refer to, and discard the rest.
  • Discard empty computer software boxes.
  • Start with current paper information and build a file system for it, then integrate old paper information into the system if still relevant.
  • Recycle or shred any paper information that is outdated or of no use. File the rest into a reference file system or scan and store digitally.
  • 80% of what is filed will never be looked at again! Be selective.
  • Can the information be located somewhere else; library, internet?
  • Go through warranties and manuals. Discard manuals and use an online manual website. Also, discard any that no longer apply. If kept, store in magazine holders and organize by room (i.e., kitchen, family room) or by genre (i.e., appliance, entertainment).


Begin by creating zones within the home office.  The typical zones for a home office are:

  • A work surface zone where you can perform computer and writing tasks.
  • A Paper Processing Center where you can do a daily quick sort of the mail into a “recycler” or shredder, “action papers” (such as bills, RSVP’s) to be processed, “reference papers to be filed” and a “to read” basket.
  • An active file system.
  • A reference file system.
  • An area for reference materials (books, periodicals) such as a bookcase.
  • An area for office supplies.
  • An area for reading if that is an activity you would want to do in the home office.

Place the items that belong to each zone (activity).  For example, store the:

  • Computer on the work surface.
  • Action papers on the work surface.
  • Reference papers in a file cabinet or drawer. Alternatively, reference papers can be scanned and kept digitally.
  • Books and periodicals in a bookcase or on shelving.
  • Office supplies in desk drawers and closet or storage cabinet.
  • Reading chair and lamp in the reading zone.

Product Solutions

Active Paper Storage Closed file boxes for people who want a cleared work area (The Container Store)


Photo File Box
Active Paper Storage Open file box for people who are visual (The Container Store)
Photo File Cart
Reference Paper Storage Open file cart for people who are visual (The Container Store)
Reference Paper Storage Closed file cabinet for people who want a cleared work area (The Container Store)

Active and Reference Paper Filing Kit

  • Prepackages such as Freedom Filer.
  • Create your own system and labels.
  • A system should be easy to retrieve, remove, and rotate paper information.

Maintenance Plan New Habits


  • Open mail and sort.
    • Note any action items in a calendar or on a To-Do list.
    • Note any events in a calendar.
    • Shred or recycle any unnecessary mail.
    • File/scan any documents that don’t require action in a reference file system.
    • File any action papers in an action paper system.
  • Review calendar and update.
  • At the end of the day
    • Clear the work surface – of papers, files, and supplies
    • Jot down notes with actions on projects, so you can pick up easily where you left off
    • Return project and action folders that may have piled up during the day to a vertical system on your work surface if they are still “active.” Once “inactive,” they should find a place in a reference file system in a file drawer.
    • Put away any materials you took out. Returning them to their designated place now will save time when they are needed again.
  • Capture “To-Dos” – Make a plan now for tomorrow while unfinished tasks, new priorities, and lingering details are still fresh in your mind. Review your calendar, e-mail messages, and voice mail messages for meetings and appointments that may require prep time. Noting your To-Do’s on either paper or in an electronic format will keep them handy and easy to find for review and update the next day. Prioritize your To-Do’s and schedule them into your calendar when you will complete them.
  • Confirm appointments – Avoid any possible miscommunications by confirming the next day’s appointments by email, voicemail, or both as necessary.
  • Charge and synchronize devices with a computer calendar to avoid overlooking an appointment or double booking.


  • Pay bills


  • Reconcile bank accounts


  • Purge files
  • Prepare and file income tax forms
Timers have numerous beneficial uses such as to reduce hyper-focusing (something I do). Or, to set a limit on how long to do something i.e. time spent on the internet.
I use the Time Timer app every morning to focus on my critical task for the day.  It is available as a desktop timer in various sizes and its disappearing red disk is helpful to:
  • Teach children the concept of elapsed time 
  • Manage the stress of transitions by showing “how much longer”
  • Make homework and practice time more productive 
  • Reduce conflict in family and household routines
  • Increase productivity by breaking projects into manageable segments 
  • Keep meetings, appointments, and events on time and moving forward

Do you use a timer? If you do, what do you primarily use it for?