Christian Homeschool Resources & Homeschooling Advice

Taming the Paper Monster

  • Marcia Washburn Home School Enrichment
  • 2009 1 Dec
Taming the Paper Monster

A few of you are old enough to remember when personal computers were introduced and the manufacturers grandly announced that we were soon going to be a paperless society. Whoever made that prediction had obviously never run a homeschooling household.

As homeschoolers, we accumulate more kinds of paper than Grandma knew existed. And if your house is like mine, the piles threaten to overwhelm us. School assignments, art projects, household papers, mail, clippings to file for use sometime in the future—they all pile up at an astonishing rate. Here are some strategies to tame the Paper Monster that huffs and puffs his way into your house.

School Papers 

First, decide what to do with all of those wonderful math and handwriting papers your children produce every day. Most states do not require you to keep every paper and project your child does for school (what a relief!). A file folder or tote box for each child will corral those papers you do decide to keep. Sort through the box quarterly to see what is really important and trash the rest. Explain to your children that those are just practice papers and that you'll only be keeping copies of their very best work. We use the same principle in other areas: we don't record the child's daily piano practice, but we may videotape a recital.

Art Projects 

What about art projects? A rotating refrigerator exhibit works for many families. When it's time to remove a picture or painting, the child decides whether to discard it, give it away, or keep it in his own Memory Box. This is a file box kept in the child's room; he keeps papers, souvenirs, etc. in it. When it is full, he must either stop adding to it or sort out the items no longer important to him. Whenever possible, design your art lessons around something that can eventually be given to a loving friend, neighbor, or relative.

Organizing Research Files 

Homeschool moms are always on the lookout for great teaching ideas. Over the years I collected hundreds of magazine articles, pictures, and other teaching materials to supplement my children's regular curriculum. My files were chaotic until I started filing according to school subjects.

At first, I labeled file folders for each subject area: science, history, music, and so forth. Eventually, I needed to develop subcategories in each area, for example, Science—Meteorology, Science—Zoology, and Science—Human Body. History files are in chronological order, for example, History—Greeks and Romans or History—U.S. Colonial. Other file headings include Holidays—Fall; Language Arts—Spelling; Music—Composers; Homeschooling—Catalogs; and Homeschooling—Legal Issues. When first starting, you may not need such detailed file names, but it is helpful to have a plan for expanding when you need to. Start with just a subject heading, such as Math; then detail it as needed. An older child may get valuable experience as he helps you set up a filing system.

Let the best quality filing cabinets you can afford. Drawers are heavy when full; suspension rollers save you lots of aggravation and are easier for students to handle. Legal-size drawers are nice. You have a few extra inches along the sides for extra-long items, notebooks, or flashcards. If hanging files are not built into the drawers, purchase a metal frame set. Hanging files hold more than traditional manila file folders, they don't slide down in the drawer, and they glide easily along on the side rails, making filing a pleasure—almost! If you are schooling in the family room, a nice filing cabinet could hold all of your textbooks and teaching materials when you finish for the day.

Make a rule for yourself to only save papers you will actually take time to process or file—no "To Be Filed" piles allowed! (I still struggle with this one). It doesn't take any longer to file an item immediately than to file it later. Actually, you'll save time by not having to guess how many inches down in the "To Be Filed" box you might find a missing resource. Self-discipline pays for teachers as well as students. Trust me on this.

Periodically, leaf through your files. Not only will you find items to dispose of, but you'll also find resources you forgot you had. These newly found treasures will spark creative ideas for future lessons.

Use a small recipe box of index cards for short ideas, quotations, games, field trip ideas, etc. One card may list items loaned to others. Another may list locations of seldom-used materials. This card saves much searching. Use it for household items as well as school stuff. Or set up a similar system on your computer. Keep reminding yourself that you don't always need to save the clipping or article; if you only need a Web site address or a few sentences from the page, type the necessary information into a computer file and discard the hard copy.

Household Papers 

What about household (non-school) papers? Avoid using little scraps of paper and sticky notes for important messages. Place a stenographer's notebook or clipboard next to the phone (with pen attached!); teach your family to check the message notebook each time they come home. You may want to invest in a notebook specifically designed for taking messages at an office; it has carbonless paper, which automatically gives you a permanent copy of the message but allows the recipient to tear off the message without taking the whole notebook with him.

Just as important as a message notebook is using a personal planner. Not only will it reduce paper clutter, but it will ease mind clutter as well. Don't you hate it when you have that niggling feeling that you're forgetting something important? A planner makes those thoughts go "bye-bye." This may be a traditional notebook planner or an electronic planner such as a PDA. My children call my planner "Mom's Brain." Don't leave home without it.

Some quick ideas for dealing with mail (junk and otherwise): Process mail once daily. Sit next to a trashcan. Open all letters and bills, discarding all unneeded inserts and outer envelopes as you go. Place the mail in a folder or large envelope until you are ready to answer the letters and pay the bills (are we ever ready for that?).

Place magazines and catalogs in a reading basket. As you look through them, tear out pages to keep. I keep a file folder of just the catalog pages that interest me (with expiration dates) so I can compare them when I'm ready to order. Trash the parts of the catalogs and magazines you have no use for. If you are keeping the entire magazine, consider purchasing vertical magazine holders from an office supply store.

Final Thoughts 

If your paperwork is truly out of control, choose one small area to tackle at a time. Perhaps you will start by establishing a mail-handling routine or using Memory Boxes for your children. Maybe you will implement a central message center or personal planner first. Whatever you choose will diminish the Paper Monster's power to control your life. Chase that interloper out of your home, and you'll have the freedom to go about your daily tasks without dodging piles of papers. Charge! 

*This article published December 1, 2009.

Copyright 2009 by Marcia K. Washburn. Visit for more articles and to receive her free newsletter. Also check out her blog at

Originally published in Home School Enrichment Magazine. Now, get a FREE subscription to HSE Digital by visiting Every issue is packed with homeschool encouragement, help, and information. Get immediate access to the current issue when you start your FREE subscription today!