The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

July 15, 2009

Help! I’m buried under paper and I can’t get up!

So here’s the deal. I promised to write a post on about plastic-free organizing tips next week. But I have no business writing any such thing. Just take a look at my desk:

I’ve been trying to organize my office space ever since we moved here in 2005, and it’s just not happening. Paper, paper everywhere. I’ve been working to reduce the amount of paper mail I receive. I get most of my bills online and don’t print them out. And yet, my desk is always full of paper — to do notes, meeting notes, contact information, flyers, business cards — and I just feel overwhelmed. (That photo? I just took it this morning. Last week, my desk was even worse before I went on a rampage and recycled a whole bunch of stuff that had “expired.”)

So I want some ideas. Some systems for clearing the clutter. And if you have a blog and have written about this topic, I’ll totally give you full credit, link to you, and say how great you are!

The trouble is, many of the organizing and simplifying ideas I read in magazines at the check out counter involve buying a bunch of new stuff. Plastic bins. Plastic trays. Plastic business card holders. Check out the home page for the Container Store:

Every item is made from plastic. I’m not interested in buying new plastic. I’m not really interested in buying anything new at all.

How can I simplify, reduce, and organize without accumulating even more stuff?

Here are a few more photos to show you what I’m dealing with here. First, the full space. Can’t put anything on top of the shelf in the window because that’s Arya’s area. She loves to lie there and look out at the world.

That pile of stuff on the floor — always there and usually bigger. Stuff I don’t have a place for.

And here’s what ends up happening to the bazillions of business cards I collect. Useful, right? But I don’t want a plastic business card holder. Would love to figure this one out before the BlogHer conference next week, where I’ll inevitably end up with a whole lot more unless I can figure out a better system. (Write contact info in notebook and hand back the card? Seems like it could take too long in a room full of women all passing out cards.)

Can you guys please help? What do you do to reduce clutter on your homes? How do you manage piles of paper, or have you gone paper-free? Do you have instructions for DIY organizers that don’t require a lot of new stuff? Any and all ideas are welcome!

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10 years ago

For business cards, I just type the information into a Word document. Then it’s easily searchable to find what I need and I can recycle the business cards.

Plastic-Free Ericka Moderator
10 years ago
Reply to  GMD

I do the same thing since I don’t have much space in my tiny San Francisco apartment. Sometimes I’ll just take a photo and then just send it to myself.

13 years ago

Use to automatically file your papers.

13 years ago

I just realised I posted the completely wrong link before… but since you don’t have an iPhone, it is no longer necessary :)

13 years ago

You could always try the Windows Marketplace and search for “Business card reader” and have a browse through the results – you might find it more expensive than the others, but still probably cheaper than a stand alone card scanner (which would likely come with plastic packaging). As for AT&T, I’m in Australia so we don’t have that issue!

13 years ago

In regards to your comment on OCR for business cards. I believe that if you have either an iPhone or an Android phone you can download an app that will convert business card details into contact details automatically.

iPhone link here: – costs money, but not a whole lot

I can’t quickly find one for the Android based phones out there but I’m sure they exist, and they’re probably cheaper than the iPhone version :)

On the whole they won’t be perfect, but it’s a start!

Also – it appears you have a MFC there too… do you know if it came with software to send incoming faxes to email?

14 years ago

If you need new three ring binders, Naked Binder is great:

Also, using thrift store purchases (vases, cups, etc) can make good containers for little things that tend to get lost in desks.

14 years ago

For business cards (and I also collect ALLOT) I have a binder with dividers labeled by the type of contact (advertising, merchandise, industry, other business contact & personal interests). I staple them to used copy paper (that would otherwise be thrown away. Two columns of five cards and file them in the binder so when I need a contact I just check in the binder. I am in such a habit if I ever meet someone that I think could fit in 2 categories of my binder I automatically ask for 2 cards, lol. Also for organizing rather than buying new plastic bins, I re-use boxes that I saved from packages and just paint or decorate them to look a little more appealing then label whatever I plan to put in them and keep all my boxes on book shelves in my office. Keeps everything easy to toss in bins when cleaning up my desk and looks a little eclectic & unique.

Rachael Herron
14 years ago

In terms of bills and important life papers, I finally did a huge purge a few years ago, keeping nothing that was more than a year old except a few things I thought I should (life insurance, medical stuff, tax info, house papers).

Then I started doing this process, which has been AMAZING at keeping me clutter free:

The only thing you need is one of those cardboard accordion file folders with 13 sections. Label each section with a month, and keep the first one label-free.

Every day, I sort the mail into Deal With and Recycle. The Deal With mail gets dumped into a magazine holder on a shelf.

Every two weeks, I pull out the magazine holder. I pay the bills and go through the papers. I shove everything into the appropriate month. I don't look at that file again until the next year, when I need to use that month over again.

So in June of this year, I went through June of last year's papers and shred everything like water and credit card bills. If you haven't needed them in a year, you won't need them again.

Obviously, I keep important things, like taxes and such and file them in the one small paper file box I have, but I rarely have to do that, maybe one page every month or two. (And I don't even file them right away — I just leave them in that empty pocket in the accordion file, clipped with a note that says FILE. I deal with that every six months or so, filing the few pages I need to.)

It seems so easy, but it has seriously revolutionized my paper process.

14 years ago

My sister tought me this when I was 18 and I use it still today. first I must say I 'm very messy but somehow I kept that habit through and it really helped me.
Each year, I buy one new folder file cabinets with sub tabs (accordeon style with compartment) and write: rent, taxes, insurance, doctor, utilities, bank. Every time I receive one or the other, i drop it in there. At the end of the year, I write in big marker Year 200X , and then I drop it in a closing folder (one that closes with a zipper). So I know that even if somewhat loosely organized, I have all the important stuff by year on top of my shelf.
For the rest…well there is nothing more important than this for me, so I end up trashing most of "the rest". I dont care about business cards so much, as if I liked it, it's probably in "my favorites" on Firefox, or if I like the person, he/she is porbably in my phone

14 years ago

i noticed this has been said, but punching the business cards with a hole and stringing them up somehow would be a great way to organize them and easily accesible, too. Do you craft or have friends that are crafty? if you are done with the cards, donate the cards to artists…

what about using baskets to organize your stuff. Or, for papers, punch holes in them and store them in binders….
good luck!

Amanda Marr
7 years ago
Reply to  alanna

You could punch a hole and use a binder ring (you can buy them unattached in different sizes)

14 years ago

Hi there, just discovered your site and it struck a chord. It seems to me you don't have enough surface space to actually get stuff organised. What about pushing your book cases perpendicular to the wall and lay a plank of wood/board/old table top on top and really spread the stuff out. I have a huge dining table which I find it much easier to organise on as it's eye level (as opposed to the floor) and lets me make loads of piles that can each be tackled individually or made into files.

I find the only way I manage to get stuff done is to gird my loins and dedicate a bit of time each week to do it all at once. I don't even open mail until that time. For me, I hate calling big businesses, and find it easier to stomach if I can get it done in one attempt.

Business cards wise, why not just tag the websites as favourites – everyone has their contact details on their site/blog anyway. If some of the cards are pretty/interesting/inspiring in themselves then stick them on the wall or on a pin board as office art?

Copier paper boxes make great magazine files/places to stack folders and their lids make great filing trays. And picking office bits up at yard sales/thrift stores etc means it may be plastic, but as it's not new then it didn't take any more work, encourage the companies to make more, or contribute to landfill so I think that's ok.

Also somebody above said that binders are plastic – not always. Here in the uk you get tough carboard ones – no plastic at all!

Just my two pennorth.


14 years ago

Hi, Beth –

The only problem I can find in your post is that you're "overwhelmed." From looking at the photos, maybe you have too much stuff in too small of a space. But enjoying life doesn't require a perfect-looking desk. It sounds like you're really busy in general and the desk is a low-priority item. If it's keeping you from enjoying other things, then maybe it's a problem. But I find that those ads and organizing blogs just end up making me feel bad because my space isn't perfect.

Getting Things Done Fast, on the other hand, has helped me get more done in the limited time I have available. I think of it as a performance-enhancing tool, not a problem solver.

Enjoy the conference!


14 years ago

For coping with the to do list, being a philosophical sort, I have settled on 7 major life goals (from TreasureKeeping to Adventuring to Setting the World Right).
I use those goals for folders in email/bookmarked favorites/to do list/filing. My mood is improved when I know that I can find the stack of personal letters to answer and do one, rather than have to search for it in a confused stack.

I second the suggestion to get the CD's into cases and shelved or boxed.

Also, I have a small binder of Good Ideas Whose Time has NOT yet Come!

Mostly what works is taking the time to do the task: writing the People in Charge sometime every week, keeping the artist dates with myself. And keep the recycling/garbage/donations moving out of your space regularly.

14 years ago

Just came to see that was mentioned here – much like the commenters here, the commenters there provide scads of great ideas.

– Oksoimnotperfect

14 years ago

I'm a terrible accumulator of paper — my work requires it.
Re business cards — I have an old rolodex — I staple them to the cards or punch the business cards; I see these in thrift shops these days. For certain things (instrument repairs/dealers), I use (alas plastic) business card folders (the extended wallet type with plastic card sleeves inside that again showed up for free or yardsale.
Other than that purge, sort, repeat. Then figure out what you need to do to contain what you've got.
Scanning or photographing stuff is good IF you think about how you are going to index it/sort it. Otherwise, it's a big timeeater.
And think about how you use your space. Are you a visual person? Or is hidden away okay? Me, I like to spread out when I work, I'd need more clear horizontal space than you've got — you might be able to get more if you moved your computer desk to face out rather than into the corner and use some of the other pieces behind the desk. There is a reason office suites of furniture include a credenza behind the desk. And I agree about maybe going vertical. I've collected a lot of baskets and other office bins at yard sales.
But I'm no expert — my decor tends to stakes of document boxes.

14 years ago

Just happened to notice a lot of cool, useful stuff on your desk and in your office (see photos) that would not be possible to have or use without plastics.

Condo Blues
14 years ago

The thing that's so seductive about The Container Store is that all of their storage options look clean and uniform and is clearly labeled. I often shop The container Store for ideas – look for a size or shape or type of container that they sell that will work for me. Then I go home and see what I can find several of that type of container (usually from our grocery store) to use at home. To make them pretty and uniform I either cover the boxes with the same color leftover paint, fabric (can be leftover from projects, traded from other sewers, clothes not donatable), or paper (old pages of catalogs, phonebooks, kid drawings, etc.) The labels are easy – turn over those old buisness cards, write what you're storing in the box, and glue it to the box front. You can make and use wheat paste for this project instead of white pva glue.

Amanda Marr
7 years ago
Reply to  Condo Blues

I looked at those container store ideas and tried to imagine what other materials could be used. Baskets can be wire or wicker and with or with our cloth. Closed items can be in glass jars ranging from baby food jars to canning jars (various sizes of mason or ball jars) to other glasswear)

You can recycle used jar candles by removing the wax (maybe keep or discard).

What about metal tool boxes or tackle boxes? Metal ice-cube trays.

Mesh grocery or laundry bags (small size) instead of plastic pencil cases.

14 years ago

Hello Beth,
With business cards, I usually prioritize which people I really intend to contact in the next year and then I record their info in my Microsoft Outlook Contacts program. So out of that entire stack of cards, there may be only 10 or so people that you might assess that you will definitely contact again.
If there are some that you think you might someday contact (or like their products) you might just input website info and not name/email/phone number to save time. Recycle the rest!
I also go through periodically and delete contacts that are no longer current.
With the paper piles, I find that only a small fraction of the pile needs to be filed. That the rest can be recycled.

14 years ago

Hiya – wow I know what you mean! As we live in a small flat, we *have* to deal with clutter so quick so it doesn't pile up. We used to leave it on the table, but that got so messy with piles. So I resused an old filing A4 size tray and sellotaped it to my slide out kepboard tray. Then ehwnever any paperwork comes in that is NOT urgent and needs 'reviewing' I pop it in there. I then try to look through that pile every 1-2 weeks. I put things like vouchers, bank statements, receipts, non-urgent bills etc in there. Also it helps that my husband has his own pile now, so I don't have to worry about it and he does his own filing… I have to admit to being addicted to boxes, jars, folders, notebooks to put articles in etc… and then I don't much use them!
See my blog for pics of my houseold folder, that has helped me stay more organised and as a result, clutter free, better than I was anyway! x

14 years ago

Beth, looks like a perfect little storage unit on your desk. Clear out a drawer and make a tab with the event title / date and put all the cards behind it. Or, at the event you gather cards and take some time in the evening to transfer name, website to your computer (all other information is no doubt on the website – why recopy it all?). Then the next day, try to touch base with each to hand the card back. This is more demanding time-wise, but I suspect you will have a better chance of remembering or having future interactions with the person.

Note: my own experience is that very few of these card exchanges translate into real relationships or business. They are more a burden than a boon. It should be an annual or biannual task to simply feed them to the worms (or not pick them up in the first place).

Looks like you need to purge your shelves, files or add more. And I have a suggestion for dealing with the piles. Take a reasonable stack (that could be sorted and dealt with in 15 minutes or so) and wrap it in a colorful scarf a la furoshiki. Make a half dozen of these in different colors and tackle one a day. This continuous loop of fabric filing will look great, keep the area organized and get you proficient in this beautiful approach to packaging sans plastic or paper. Besides, it looks like you are gifting yourself.

knutty knitter
14 years ago

I use just one large exercise book for everything. I even use it for tear out notes. It takes everything from phone numbers to recipes and when a page gets too crowded I turn it over. Some pages end up real works of art :)

For the rest it is all filed in the order it will be finished with in an old box lid. If I don't organize it, I will miss stuff!

I did try smaller note books but have found that they tend to get lost too easily and weren't good for serious doodles, recipes and other stuff that requires a bit of room.

I also have a permanent pencil tied onto my desk with cotton thread. That way I never lose it to the kids, husband, cats etc. (BTW hubby's desk looks even worse than yours does!)

viv in nz

14 years ago

one helpful tip i've learned to practice when faced with a dreaded de-clutter organizing job is to plug away at it in small doses. i start in on one area at a time and only work on it for 15 minutes or so. then i stop. the next day i move over to the next space and again allocate just 10-15 minutes. this way i break up the overwhelming nature of the job as a whole. also, the success of one area fuels me to go on to the next the following day. the short intense session leaves me satisfied rather than frustrated cause i know i'm making progress toward the goal. also, as i go along session to session i seem to discover new solutions at more efficient organizing as i'm actually familiar with the stuff in the areas where i worked previously. i discover duplicates, or similar themes. i learn i have a lot of this not so much of that. then i'm able to better visualize the best storage solutions for each.
one step, one shelf at a time! happy disovering!

14 years ago

Rolodex! It's a little old-school, but it works.

Also, what I do to keep my papers organized and contained is I file them in a bankers box. I got a bankers box from an office supplies store, but I'm sure you can get one from work, a friend or freecycle. They're not uncommon. Then you get hanging folders with the tabs on the side, and you can label them however you want and keep everything neat and organized, but ready at hand anytime you need it.

Elizabeth B
14 years ago

Apartment Therapy to the rescue! They just a couple of days ago did a links round-up of desk decluttering jobs. You can get some good ideas for containers from the posts they chose, if nothing else.

14 years ago

Seriously, this is one of my favorite topics of conversation! I wrote this just for you:

You can do eet, Beth!!!

14 years ago

I know you said you didn't want any more "stuff", but I couldn't help myself, and did a little window shopping "for you" on etsy. (-; Maybe if you are crafty at all, it will inspire you to use up some fabric or something you already have around.

Most recent post on my blog:

Pure Mothers
14 years ago

I just recycled a Container Store catalog that came in the mail and was scanning through looking at all the plastic too! I can't help, Beth. My desk is a mess. My answer is to throw stuff away. I do file a lot. I have a good file cabinet and a shredder!

14 years ago

Why do you need the stuff? I have to keep financials for 6 years for Revenue Canada. My biggest brainwave was to put it in binders or boxes and then label with the year/mo of disposal (I really have trouble with figuring out if time's up!). Then I take the whole lot to work and shred it. I have a separate binder for assets & liabilites which may outlive the 6 yr rule.

I may be a heretic I don't think scanning is the best option. 1. if your harddrive fails and you don't have a proper backup you're sunk. 2. You never actually get rid of it until your computer runs out of space. Computers use electricity why spend more when you already have the stuff?

How often do you actually look at the stuff? I have business cards from the dawn of time. Do I every call these people? No. Just a walk down memory lane….

Oh one more tip that helped more than anything. Rather than doing paper work/paying bills I now count my money. Yup, who doesn't like counting their money? This is a weekly Sat am task that happens during coffee. Some things are better before you're too awake to do anything else.

FB @
14 years ago

Just start tossing and shredding.

Scan every piece of paper that doesn't have to be a hard copy onto a secure hard drive.

And toss, toss toss.

14 years ago

I'm so excited that you're embarking on a decluttering spree… I can definitely use the inspiration! My fiance is extremely organized and so I thought I'd share his methods: he relies heavily on the GTD method that Laura previously mentioned, but he couples that methodology with an hPDA — a "hipster" PDA. Over the year's, he's customized his, but here's a basic idea:

My own suggestion for decluttering is to make heavy use of tidy little boxes. If you have an old t-shirt or some scraps of fabric (I like to destroy old sheets from the Salvation Army) you can use your spray starch (shown in a recent post about plastic-free laundry) to make them into sturdy, waste-free bins for organizing your papers and ephemera (just fold the fabric, starching as you go).
And, though someone mentioned it before, Ikea has a full lineup of cardboard products for organizing: tiny little drawer systems, itty bitty bins, etc. Not totally waste-or expense-free, but a viable option.

14 years ago

I have trouble with organization myself so I have to say I am really thankful for this post and all the helpful comments!

14 years ago

On metal filing cabinets:
If you get a filing cabinet with the metal brace in the back. They usually have some sqeeze-this-together-and-move-into-place bit. Then you don't need hanging folders because the "back" of the filing cabinet moves where you need it according to how much in in the file drawer. This saves space, plastic label thingies and paper and you can file more stuff in the filing cabinet!
If you face one of sides toward your desk you have an instant magnet board!

14 years ago

Most people suffer from The Overwhelm of Declutter. If you're pressed for time, try working on one square foot or less of your clutter per declutter session. Every bit you do will eventually add up to a big difference.

As you get started, store what you want to keep but don't know where to put in grocery bags, or Trader Joe's wine boxes that are marked with the subject you're putting tin them, such as de-clutter tips, business cards, receipts, insurance, taxes, to-do, etc.

What causes clutter isn't lack of space to store it but the clutter, itself. Before you buy new storage units, make sure you've gotten rid of all your clutter.

Greenfire's suggestion of hole-punching business cards and hanging them on a ring makes me so happy! I hole-punch all my receipts and library check-out slips, put them thru a big ring in order of date & month and hang them so they dangle. I've made covers for them so that they are little art pieces as well as a record of my life. I can look at a receipt from Berkeley Bowl and I swear I remember the day I bought that bargain bag of cherries and that half- pound of semi-sweet chocolate chunks in the bulk bin oh dear

14 years ago

I am no example of organization perfection… but I found that file cabinets really helped. Legal sized, as there are so many things that don't fit in the standard sized files! Everything just gets dropped in a file as it arrives.

You can probably find an old one on CL or Freecycle. None of ours have cost more than $5. The hanging folders will be harder to find without being wrapped in plastic OR without the plastic label taggy (easy to replace with a little cardstock cut to teh exact size)… you will have to look to make sure the hangers are metal, too. You may be able to freecycle some folders, and then freecycle the labeling tabs if it comes with them.

14 years ago

I use these trays at work. The quickly create useful space for papers that would otherwise be a stack.
I chop all nonconfidential waste paper with a blank side into roughly 2by3 slips of note paper and use that and jumbo paperclips instead of post it notes (which should not be recycled, because they cause regular paper to get sticky).

Outlook task list in an ok place to dump all tasks. That saves lots of slips of paper. My boyfriend likes OmniFocus so far. It can take tasks from your cell too and route them into a tickler/filing system. You can also group them by context. Meaning you could have tasks grouped by where you will be when you need to get them done. Some examples: out and about, computer, phone, email, grocery.

I haven’t found a good solution to disposable plastic pens. I guess getting a fancy refillable one. I haven’t gotten on doing that yet.

Ruthless paper killing. Find ways to not have it have to pass through your hands. Or if it does be near a recycle/trash bin so that you can easily dispose of what you don’t need.

Getting Things Done (a book) has a good take on filing systems. He (basically) says file everything in one metal filing cabinet. Use manilla folders, not hanging files! I write the labels with a sharpie so that I don’t have to fiddle with the label maker (less plastic). Have the filing cabinet be within rolling distance and easily accessible.

I like to think of how things will best be stored (fragile, hanging, filed away, displayed, in a basket?) and how I will need to access them (by date, name, quickly, not often, by general category?).

I go for simple systems that spend minimal time on the actual organization process. Bins, baskets, magnets on metal, glass kerr/ball jars or spaghetti jars. These things help me group stuff with is usually enough to feel more organized.

It looks like you could use some of your wall space to give you more room on your desk? Maybe a cloth wall hanging (on a wire hanger) that has pockets for desk items?

Or I have seen people have a multilevel shelf dedicated to their stacks of papers so that they have their desk free.

Wow, I guess I can really blab about this topic. :D

14 years ago

Milk crates are also fantastic if you already have some or if you find some used. They're the perfect size to store binders, folders and loose paper. I try to file all of my insurance / bank / tax info (only the recent stuff, the older stuff I will scan or get an electronic copy of and keep on my computer) in binders and keep them in my milk crates.

I actually made a desk by screwing a wooden board on top of two milk crates. But you can also easily stack milk crates, making a simple, narrow, shelving unit. Just be careful the cats don't knock 'em over. :)

To-do lists are great to keep in a little notebook as somebody else suggested. I also write reminders to myself in these, grocery lists, addresses of wherever I need to go, etc. Moleskine's tend to come shrink wrapped in plastic and are pretty pricey for paper. I usually get the little pocket sized notebooks at CVS.

14 years ago

I found that one of the things that I kept that took up a lot of filing/desk space are instruction manuals. You can find a lot of manuals online, just download the manual as a .pdf and file them in a folder on your computer. For other things that you have that you can't download, just scan it in and get rid of the actual manual. You can also file your bank statements on your computer the same way, if you get online statements. I agree with the previous paper free poster, there's a lot of things you can keep electronically (as long as you have a great backup in place, that is! So make sure you have a system in place to backup all your electronic files automatically).

14 years ago

My husband bought a new scanner that's super quick and easy to use, and we're going paper free. It generates PDFs automatically. It does contain plastic and it is a purchase, but the long term payoff is worth it.

Also, I brutally purge whatever I can periodically. I have a tendency to hang on to things I don't really need, and getting rid of them is freeing as well as clutter-removing.

14 years ago

Another note: binders and a 3-hole punch are your friend. It seems like everyone has binders lying around. I get old binders from the local college, and I'm sure there are some on freecycle. Use these to organize fliers and other papers that you don't have a place for, but need accessible and organized. They're easy to label, you don't need plastic sleeves for them (although the binders themselves are usually plastic), and it's quick enough to sort through them if you have post-it-notes or some kind of tabs.

14 years ago

I say scan it all. When I have important papers I scan them into my computer and then shred/recycle the original. There are very few items that you need the original for. Digitize it all! For special receipts or documents like Car Titles or Birth Certificates, they shouldn't take up more then one or two folders. I'm sure you can find one of those buried somewhere in those. ;)

14 years ago

Beth, I didn't realize how serious you were when you said you needed help organizing your desk! Wow!

You said you have to-do lists and things everywhere. I got rid of my small paper clutter by using a pocket notebook to keep track of lists, book names, phone numbers, etc. I use a lined moleskine, but you can use any notebook you have on hand. I keep mine in my purse.

In addition to getting rid of to-do lists, I also use the moleskine to write down any confirmation numbers from bills I pay online, so that eliminates printing out all those confirmation pages.

Billie suggested magazine holders — you can make those out of empty cereal boxes. Here's a quick tutorial.

One last thing: I second (third?) going vertical with your shelving. It's not hard to do — two L brackets and a board should do the trick. Those are definitely things you can scavage.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

BPOD, thank you thank you thank you! I just checked the site. I was worried that Evernote was only for Mac, as Unclutter seems to suggest. But it's not. It's also for PC and Windows Mobile, both of which I have now. Holy cow. I can't wait to come home tonight and try it out.

And I'm looking forward to reading other articles on that site. Thanks for linking to it.

Great ideas, everyone else. Any instructions for creating these "easy" DIY systems? Pretend I'm not very smart because in this area, I'm not!

14 years ago

This is such a good question. I'm looking forward to reading more responses, but I'll share a couple of my 'fixes' with you. The biggest one is better use of that space (mostly, the height of it) with more shelving. It does mean you would have to purchase something, but living in the Bay Area you have several secondhand options. I've picked up some great pieces of furniture and cabinetry (and old paint!) at Habitat for Humanity's Re-Use store, and I've found raw wood and built shelves from Urban Ore or the St. Vincent store on San Leandro near 98th.

Repurposing works well also, if you haven't already simplified your life past that point. In my home office I am using a small desk which has some of its own divisions (all open to the room) as a makeshift cabinet; I have IKEA shoe racks serving as below-desk shelving; and I have lots and lots of woven baskets (mostly picked up over time from secondhand stores, so I guess that's another purchase, but it does qualify as a non-plastic option) on my shelves.

When I used to go through lots more office supplies, I would place the boxes the supplies came in into a drawer in jigsaw fashion to create my own drawer tray.

One more plastic-free suggestion (but one which requires purchase) is to use paper file jackets in lieu of plastic binders. Sadly, I have to go pick up some binders today because the jackets don't work as well for documents you have to flip through a lot, but I plan to pick these up at the Center for Creative Reuse.

Looking around I see that cardboard magazine holders are also serving duty to help organize my papers.

I am studiously ignoring the plastic bins I bought to hold large quantities of wires and computer-y stuff for my fiance. I made those purchases a while ago, but I have to admit that if I were setting out to organize those items today, I can't imagine a useful alternative.

14 years ago

I realize this is something new but it is cardboard and inexpensive…

I had tons of magazines that I wanted to keep. I purchased some cardboard magazine holders from IKEA and now they are all sitting upright on a shelf in their holders instead of spilling all over the place.

I presume this would work for any kind of paperwork/file folders that you had that you wanted to corral.

14 years ago

Re. business cards, I third the digital photo route — and here's an app that helps resolve what to do with the photos:

I first saw this idea on the Unclutter blog here:

14 years ago

I can't help on the business card thing other than to suggest a card scanner (inevitably plastic). As far as containers/organizing baskets, etc. You can EASILY repurpose boxes, cardboard of just about any kind into containers that you like. You can go all crafty and decorate them with whatever (I'm thinking fabric, but whatever works) or you can leave them plain. I am sure you can find patterns for them easily

14 years ago

If you did want to keep the cards, and organize the ones you have, you can punch a hole in the card and put them all on a large metal ring. Hang the ring on a nail on the wall near your computer. That will keep them all together and use your wall space instead of floor or desk space.

As for the rest of your space, I think your first step is to really look at everything you have and then get rid of all you can. From there, you can totally repurpose items you have for storage. Shoe boxes, wicker baskets, and wire baskets, are good for all kinds of items.

It looks like you might have room for some additional shelving. Shelves are great for freeing up floor space.

Rethink furniture too. I use an old chest of drawers to keep all my sewing material and notions in. A small trunk makes an attractive storage container.

Good luck!

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Petra (and Jen because you were going to say it too) that's an AWESOME idea! This is why I need you guys. Here I was thinking about writing down the info when I'll totally have my camera with me. I wonder if there's a way to convert the images to PDFs that can be read by OCR software?

We have a business card scanner at work, but I'd love not to have to bring home the cards in the first place.

14 years ago

I was just going to say the same thing – take a picture of the card. Then I would just put the contact info in your fancy new phone :-P

I need to think longer about some of your other issues – but they do make metal versions of all that plastic stuff

14 years ago

i know you mentioned you did not want to purchase anything. if you have a digital camera you could take a picture of the cards and organize them on your computer. much faster are the card scanners you can purchase. might be worth it if you get tons and are interested in keeping them all. just google it and find one you like. otherwise the pictures would be inexpensive but a bit more time consuming. Petra/Germany