Are you overwhelmed by the amount of cluttered paperwork at your desk? You’re not alone. In fact, 54 percent of America is also overwhelmed by paper clutter.

Paper clutter results from multiple factors, including mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, improper time management and organizational skills, or having too many items to manage.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how to have an organized paper filing system to help you sort and manage your papers.

What is a paper filing system?

A paper filing system is a cabinet, box, or set of drawers that stores and organizes paper to help you become more efficient and productive. 

The filing system typically comes with labels, shelves, drawers, or other sorting compartments where important documents won’t easily tear, get lost, or get dirty.

The most common type of paper filing system is a filing cabinet, but a portable file organizer box or a mesh hanging file organizer can also work as an office or home filing system.

A dark gray paper filing box, from Amazon
A paper filing box, Amazon

A paper filing system doesn’t only file paper. 

Below is a list of other forms of paper it can file:

  • Letters
  • Forms
  • Faxes
  • Project files
  • Reports
  • Notes
  • Recipes and bank statements
  • Medical records
  • Tax returns

What are the pros and cons of paper filing systems?


a. Saves time

You can spend anywhere from 18 minutes up to 2.5 hours per day looking for a specific document. 

With an effective paper filing system, you can quickly locate a file, saving time for other important tasks. 

Managing a physical filing system with folders, labels, and stickers will save you time searching for your documents.

b. Better security

Even though technology has made our lives much easier, computer systems can crash, restart unexpectedly, or be infected with viruses. 

With more than 6,000 new computer viruses released every month, there is a risk of your important files and documents being stolen or deleted.

Since a paper filing system is not digital, there is no risk of your documents being deleted.

Some physical filing systems are even made to be fireproof and waterproof and include a locking mechanism so that valuable paperwork can not be stolen or damaged.

Fireproof and waterproof protection for a filing box Amazon.

Inside, it is filled with two passports, office documents, certificates, and colorful dividers
Fireproof and waterproof protection for a filing box, Amazon

c. Stores paper that holds legal value

Any physical or digital documents can be recognized by law and used in court

If the document is created digitally, professionals, such as lawyers, must have technical proficiency in software to create electronic PDFs ethically.

Despite the move to a dual paper-and-digital format, certain documents, such as affidavits and essential records, must be presented physically to be legally valid.

Paper filing systems are great for organizing legal documents and keeping them safe from being lost or stolen.


a. Filing errors

The main downside of using a paper filing system is due to human error. This error can be caused by poor labeling or placing items in the wrong folders.

Additionally, once an office space has accumulated hundreds of documents, it can be difficult to maintain the files manually. 

Mistakes will likely occur, resulting in more time spent reorganizing and looking for misallocated documents.

b. Recurring cost

Maintaining physical filing storage can cost around $8,500. Additionally, the office space must accommodate the space for the storage system.

With a high cost and space footprint, it’s easy to understand why many small and mid-size businesses are looking for ways to go paperless.

c. Lack of space

Physical filing systems requires extra space for folders, binders, and files. Paper filing systems can easily take up 9 square feet in the office or home when it’s not properly organized or maintained, resulting in feeling claustrophobic, which can reduce productivity.

Tips for maintaining a paper filing system

1. Decide on an organization system

Think about how you want to search for each item. 

Will it be easier to search by alphabetical order or will it be easier to use a time-date system?

2. Separate with broad categories

Once you’ve decided on your filing system, separate your documents into different categories, such as finances, legal forms, and notes. 

You can create sub-categories for further breakdown.

4. Color-code your categories or file types

Using colors will help the eyes separate files from each other and makes it quicker and easier to file papers away. 

While manila folders are the most common folder types, try using colored folders instead to help create an efficient organization system.

Colorful hanging dividers for your filing system, Amazon
Colorful hanging files for your filing system, Amazon

5. Create a policy to file papers within 24 hours

This policy will help keep paper files where they need to be and prevent them from being misplaced.

6. Regularly throw out old documents

By regularly decluttering old files and documents, you will create an effective incoming and outgoing system. 

This system reduces the likelihood of piles of paper clutter forming and creates more room for incoming documents.

When you discard your old documents, recycle or shred them as needed.

7. Allow team members access

Maintaining a physical filing system on your own can be challenging. Giving other people access allows the system to be managed easier.

What is a good alternative to paper filing systems?

A digital filing system is a perfect alternative to a paper filing system as it gives you more storage, takes up no physical space, and comes at a relatively minimal cost.

Digital filing systems also have specific software designed to help you organize digitally. For documents, you can try Google Drive or OneDrive.

To manage and track finances, such as receipts and invoices, try Their mobile app allows you to quickly scan receipts while in the office or on the go. 

Shoeboxed also has a Magic Envelope feature where you can send all of your receipts in a pre-paid envelope to outsource the receipt-scanning process. 

Once your receipts are scanned by the Shoeboxed team, your receipt information will be in your account to view.

Outsource the receipt scanning process with Shoeboxed’s Magic Envelope

For notes, consider Evernote, which gives users the ability to tag and file by categories.

Final thoughts

While paper filing systems might seem outdated, they are still essential office tools. 

A paper filing system is a great option for businesses to store and organize their paper, especially when the original document is needed.

About Shoeboxed!

Shoeboxed is a receipt scanning service with receipt management software that supports multiple methods for receipt capture: send, scan, upload, forward, and more!

You can stuff your receipts into one of our Magic Envelopes (prepaid postage within the US). Use our receipt tracker + receipt scanner app (iPhone, iPad, and Android) to snap a picture while on the go. Auto-import receipts from Gmail. Or forward a receipt to your designated Shoeboxed email address.

Turn your receipts into data and deductibles with our expense reports that include IRS-accepted receipt images.

Join over 1 million businesses scanning & organizing receipts, creating expense reports, and more—with Shoeboxed.

Try Shoeboxed today!