How to Manage Your Mail in 5 Steps

Get control of paper clutter by managing your mail

Several pieces of mail stuck in a front door mail slot, close-up
Epoxydude / Getty Images

Learning how to manage your mail is a surprisingly daunting organizing task because you can't just visually organize mail, you've got to read and touch every document in order to file or discard. The best route to solid management is to cut down on the amount of paper coming into your home. Read on for how to manage mail in four steps.

  • 01 of 05

    Dump the Junk

    Junk mail
    TEK IMAGE / Getty Images

    Reduce the amount of mail you receive by stopping the influx junk mail.

    I swear if I am ever lost, the J Crew catalog will find me first. Cutting down on the amount of junk mail you receive will cut the amount of time you spend managing your mail. Less mail = less time.

    Bonus: It's good for the environment. 

  • 02 of 05

    Schedule It

    Wallet and keys near inbox
    Fancy/Veer/Corbis / Getty Images

    Most people sort through mail while walking in the door after work and often stop in the middle to put away their coat or turn their attention to what's for dinner. Resist the urge to manage mail until you have the time and attention to give to this task.


    1. If you sort on your way in the door, chances are you are not prepared to manage your mail at that time. You need the right tools (below) and the attention to decide how to use or discard each piece.
    2. Never touch a piece of paper more than once if you don't have too. This is what makes paper management so exhausting: you have to read it each time! Wait until you're ready to manage and discard.

    Schedule time either each day or once a week to organize your mail.

  • 03 of 05


    Fellowes P-12C Cross-Cut Shredder with SafeSense
    Fellowes P-12C Cross-Cut Shredder with SafeSense. Photo / Fellowes

    Have the right tools to discard of, recycle, or respond to your mail.

    Nothing fancy, but have the following at hand:

    1. Shredder -Anything with identifying information beyond your name and address should be shred immediately.
    2. Recycling Bin - Most mail can be recycled immediately (think: coupons, fliers, announcements).
    3. Filing System & Calendar - For the mail you need to take action on either immediately or in the future.

    By "at hand," I really mean at hand. Don't have your shredder and recycling bin in separate rooms. I manage my mail standing over both the recycling bin and shredder, and then I bring the mail I need to take action on over to my desk where I have my calendar and a desktop filing system set up. I recommend a separate desk top file box, as well as a archival filing cabinet for mail organization.

  • 04 of 05

    Estabish a System

    Letters Tied Up On Writing Desk
    IPGGutenbergUKLtd / Getty Images

    There are 3 'end games' for every piece of mail:

    1. Action - Mail you need to take action on right away or eventually. This kind of mail will be broken down into further categories like archive/reference, response, action, etc.
    2. Recycle - Junk mail that has no value to you and no identifying information on it beyond your name.
    3. Shred - Any piece of mail that has any identifying information on it beyond your name and address. This would include social security numbers, dates of birth, credit card offers, etc. Not sure if you should recycle or shred? See What to Shred and read more on identity theft: How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft.
    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Keep At It

    An attractive file box from The Container Store
    The Container Store

    A few ways I make sure to keep this up:

    • Every Black Friday (that's the day after Thanksgiving) while everyone else is off shopping, I gather all of the catalogs I no longer want to receive and call them to cancel.
    • Follow the Weekly Organizing Routine, where we manage the mail on a weekly basis.
    • You can read more about how I manage mail on a  daily basis.