How to Manage Mail When Space is Limited

Whether you have a small or large home, many people find it difficult to manage incoming paper.  One of the keys to success is creating a "Life Management Center."  This is a designated work area that is functional and has all necessary supplies.  This article focuses on solutions when limited space is available.

Why Should I Create a Mail Center?

Having a mail center streamlines the process for dealing with incoming paper.  It is useful whether you live alone, with a roommate, or live with family members.  Having a designated space for dealing with the mail ensures that paper piles don't crop up throughout your home and that important papers don't get lost.  If you find yourself fretting over unpaid bills, not being able to locate an important document, or forgetting to give a housemate a message, a mail center will ease your mind.

Where Should my Mail Center be Located?

Establish a designated, central location in your house that will be used exclusively for paper management and will always be available for use.  Where do you currently open your mail?  This may be a good place to start.  If space is limited, you may want to use a small section of your kitchen or a table by the front door.  

What Should my Mail Center Have?

Although space is limited, you will still want a well-stocked mail center in order to effectively process incoming paper.  Common supplies to have handy include a trash can, recycling can, writing utensils, to do list/notepad, calendar, envelopes, stamps, stapler, sticky notes, scissors, address book.  With these supplies on hand, you should be able to handle most quick tasks related to your mail - the most important of which is immediately throwing out what you don't need.  

If you're using a small corner of your kitchen, designate a drawer or cabinet for supplies.  If you're processing mail at the front door, consider a console table with a drawer or an attractive basket to hold supplies.  A mail center does not require much space and won't be an eyesore if you use attractive storage containers and don't let papers pile up.  

Desktop Organizer

One of the best ways to maximize a small space is to use a desktop organizer.  There's a wide variety of products available at office stores, so you can find one that suites your needs.  I use the one pictured below because I have a small office space.  In a compact area, I have three trays, two envelope slats, seven folder slats, a dry erase board, a pencil holder, and a paper clip holder.  It allows me to clearly label what each tray and folder is for so that each piece of paper has a "home."

My desktop organizer

My desktop organizer

Action Folders

Whether you choose to use trays, folders, desktop organizers, etc., I highly recommend creating action folders to keep your small mail center organized.  These folders are designed to be temporary, not permanent resting places for the papers you don't know what to do with.  After action is taken, paper should either be filed away for reference or thrown out.  Action folders should be labeled to keep you and your housemates organized, and the label should be action-oriented.  Examples of common action folders include:

  • To Do - papers involving quick tasks, like adding a contact to your address book or an event to your calendar
  • To File - papers to be added to your filing cabinet
  • To Sort - temporary location for papers to be looked at
  • To Pay - bills to be paid in the near future
  • Out Box - paper to be mailed or given to someone else
  • RSVP
  • To Call - messages to return, may want a To Call folder for each housemate
  • To Read - articles, recipes, magazines

If you'd like help creating a mail center in your home, please contact us at or (804) 263-3186.