The Secret to Keeping Mail Off the Counters

The Secret to Keeping Mail Off the Counters via Clean Mama

Last week’s organizing focus was on keeping your counters clear.  Seeing how popular this post was and how many emails and responses I received I am guessing that counters are a common trouble spot for a lot of you.  I’m not going to pretend that there is never a stack of mail on our counters, but I am going to let you in on my secret to keeping the mail off the counters.  Ready?  The mail is sorted immediately.  Revolutionary, right?  No, not really.  But it works!

Here’s my super simple process – I bring the mail in and sort it on the first little counter in our kitchen:

Sort Mail Right Away via Clean Mama

  • JUNK MAIL- recycle or shred
  • BILLS – toss/recycle/shred envelopes and other unnecessary inserts.  Place bills in bill paying basket.
  • MAGAZINES and CATALOGS – recycle those that I don’t want – if I want to keep them I place in my magazine basket.  Another clutter key is that if my magazine basket is full I make myself purge magazines and catalogs so there aren’t piles and piles of magazines.  I only keep what’s in the basket – everything else has to go.
  • INVITATIONS (anything that needs a response) – toss envelopes (unless I need the return address) and put in organizer on the little counter.
  • COUPONS – put in organizer on the little counter.
  • You might think that the obvious secret is to go paperless or paper light, but there is still mail on a daily basis.  I like to pay some bills with a check or at least have the paper bill and then pay online, so yes, I will always have mail.   The REAL secret is to deal with mail right away and to have a place for everything.

This process takes less than 5 minutes a day and you can start it TODAY.  So this week add keeping mail off the counters to your routine with this ‘secret’ and you’ll be well on your way to clean counters for good.




  1. Love that wood organizer, would you mind sharing where you got it?

    • I went to a crafts store and bought two beautiful wallpaper print boxes, one for the kitchen and one for my office. I got them in colors and prints that coordinate with the rooms. Mail i need to keep goes into them. Lid goes on. Everything is tidy and pretty.

    • If you have a Home Goods near you, they sell lots of things like this.

      • I went into a Home Goods for the first time,SO many pretty and useful things! I managed to leave without bankrupting myself. LOL

  2. Don’t forget to always open mail with a garbage bin or recycling bin nearby! Thanks for all of your organizing/cleaning tips.

  3. my problem-I don’t have a “place for everything” that works well. My paper build up includes what you mentioned plus tons of things that need to be filed: mortgage papers, school reports, etc. So I sort mail into four stacking trays: to do (phone call/respond), to file, to reference, coupons. Then I ignore the trays until the stacks are too full! Btw, where to you place your bill paying basket? And your counter organizer wouldn’t hold much of any of the items that seem to come into my house.

    • I had this problem too. I finally discovered a solution to the “to be filed” pile. I never got around to actually filing it in our filing cabinet. So I got a few filing folders for my most used files… mortgage, insurance, utilities, etc. and put them upright with the tabs sticking out in the cupboard right above my mail sorting area. As soon as any action is done with the paper instead of placing it in the “I’ll get around to it never” pile, I just open the cupboard and slip it in the right folder. I actually put the papers away now! Hope this helps!

    • Check out the mead organizher line. If you have a place to put it on a magnetic fridge or something it would look awesome. I just bought a few things.

  4. Thanks so much for the inspiration. The trick for me was finding a container for files that was easy to carry up and down stairs. Unfortunate since we couldn’t set up office/bill pay in the kitchen. But the container and a shredder near the trash can and the outside door make so much difference. Thanks for breaking down the steps for us!

    • An accordion file with a handle (Walmart) makes a great portable file that is easy to take upstairs or wherever you need to go. I’ve used one for years and works great. Has tabs so you can label bills and file accordingly. So at the end of the year paperwork needed for taxes are organized and available. Hope this helps.

  5. Where did you get your cute counter/desktop organizer?

  6. Hey! I have that calendar! 🙂

  7. Thank you for sharing! It sounds easy but I’m sitting here with piles of papers to go through. In fact, I haven’t sorted through months of ‘stuff’, except the bills. What would you recommend for that? Just chuck it or file away anyway… ( I really don’t want to LOL).. Thanks!

  8. Whitney S. says:

    How about kids school papers? that is what is always on my counter! I don’t have a good system and hate the clutter!

    • They get sorted right away when the kids get home from school – tossed/sorted/saved. Each kid has a bin for stuff that is still needed with a clipboard for that week’s homework. Stuff that we keep goes in a filing cabinet to save for posterity 🙂 xo, Becky

  9. Bless you for this post!! I’ve needed help with this!

  10. I have a very similar system that doesn’t get used correctly often enough….and I HATE counter clutter! Thanks for the reminder, I needed this today 🙂

  11. I find that I don’t actually receive that much “real” mail. Most of what arrives in the box is flyers and junk. It clutters up the kitchen counter and is wasteful. I know there are sometime good coupons but really anything that comes in the mail can be found on line these days. I choose to notify our postal agency and declined flyers. As far as bills and bank statements, etc., I have notified all relative companies and everything is by email.

  12. Thanks for sharing! I really dislike having piles of mail too. I need to get an organizer like yours. That means a trip to HomeGoods 🙂

    • Instead of filing by category or month I file by quarter. At year end I purge the Files for tax time. Bind the documents and repeat.

  13. These are great tips! I found that by using a verticle magazine rack That is free standing I don’t have a clutter breeds clutter problem on my counters. Each child has a folder, we have a family folder, and a place to stick school papers I want to transfer to their keepsake binders for each school year. What really helped me was to have a section in the folder for ‘needs attention, but not right away’ so nice to have those papers off the counter, sorted by child, and they don’t get lost in the file away section of the folder.

  14. Thank you so much for your tips and sharing your knowledge! I love reading all the advice you give, it’s really helped this disorganized mama that didn’t learn how to clean or organize from her mama! 😉 Where did you get your calendar? It looks nice and big!

    • Lois Wild says:

      I don’t think our moms had that much paper to deal with. It was pretty much monthly bills. I am talking about the 1950’s. Yes, I am 75 now, but we really didn’t have all the stuff we get in the mail now days. We have recycling. The mail is in the garage. Before I enter the house, I purge the recycle stuff.

  15. One thing that has helped me is to file by month rather than by item. That way I can have my monthly folders set up and put everything in that folder. Then when the month is over, I add it to the drawer and pull out the next month’s folder. Easy!!

  16. One thing that has helped me is to file by month rather than by item. That way I can have my monthly folders set up and put everything in that folder. Then when the month is over, I add it to the drawer and pull out the next month’s folder. Easy!!

  17. I love how your calendar flips back to save space. Where did you purchase it? I would love one like that. 🙂

  18. Thanks for tips Clean Mama!

  19. Great tips! A large amount of my paper clutter is brought home by my daughters. One is in first grade and the other is in day care. They bring home everything from daily reports, completed schoolwork and homework, to every piece of paper my baby puts a pen to. How do you handle the endless papers without hurting their feelings by appearing to recycle all of it?

    • I know this is late. One thing that might work is to have a place to display work, and let the children know that when one paper comes home, it replaces the other one on display, or let them choose a paper to display. Many people take pictures of the work before it goes out. The thing I wish I would have understood early on, is to teach the children that their papers do not define their value. I found that each time I praised them and their work, the more they began to define their value by their papers over the years and they did not want to part from them. Praise their learning rather than their papers.

  20. Catharine O'Neil says:

    I love this idea as this is an annoying problem in our house! We also have issues with school work or paperwork that comes home from school! There is just so much of it especially when the kids were younger! So trying to find (and sort) those precious school paintings or drawings!

  21. Where do you keep your bill paying basket?

  22. I have 4 children in elementary school and having a system where papers they bring home and need signed or I have to read is an issue. I also have an issue with “out of sight, out of mind” so things that need acting upon need some visual clue. Suggestions?

    • I have a school folder in a counter organizer for those things and I sign and send back any slips the next day so I won’t forget 🙂

  23. One thing I’ve started this last month is calling companies whosend junk mail/magazines and asking to be removed from their mailing list. It takes about 3-6 min and has cut down on my junk mail by 60+%. Amazing! Now it takes me less time to go thru the mail each day and I throw away less and less each day! Win! Win!

  24. Thanks for the great info.

  25. If I deal with the mail this way my husband thinks I’m hiding it from him. So I have to wait till he’s seen it – or spread it around the house – or ignored it till it gets piled on by the next day’s contribution…. Not sure why he thinks he needs to see everything when he never deals with any of it.

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