Mike and Ashley Gula built a house for their young family in Belle Haven, in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County, Va. They hired Rachel Rosenthal to create functional and stylish systems. Their son’s Bennett’s room includes some of his artwork. (Mike Morgan/For The Washington Post)

Rachel Rosenthal says organizing paper is her clients’ No. 1 organizing challenge. In a recent Home Front online chat, the owner of Rachel and Co., an organizing firm in Bethesda, gave her best advice on controlling the flow of bills, school work sheets and mail into your home.

Go paperless: It’s common to feel overwhelmed as paper piles up. There are tons of scanning apps that digitize important records, allowing you to access documents from your computer or phone and throw away the hard copies. “We love to use a free app called Genius Scan on our phone,” Rosenthal wrote, “and we use it to scan in business receipts, invoices and client notes that we may need to refer to later.” She also recommended Canon CanoScan LiDE220 scanner.

Sort mail with a simple system: Eighty percent of the mail that we receive is junk mail, according to Rosenthal, and can be recycled. In terms of sorting what you want or need to keep, she prefers simple systems with few categories, which are easier to maintain. Rosenthal’s favorite categories are: “to pay,” immediate things like bills, parking tickets, etc.; “to do,” less immediate things, like responding to an RSVP, signing up your child for summer camp or buying tickets for a coming event; “to read,” magazines, newsletters, etc.; and “to file,” bills, tax documents or papers for long-term use.

For small spaces, Rosenthal suggest using a traveling file folder system. She likes the Container Store’s Latte Parker Desktop File because it “organizes your paper while still looking good.”

Rosenthal stands in the well-ordered pantry of the Belle Haven home of the Gulas. Clear bins help the family keep things neat and know what supplies they have at hand. (Mike Morgan/For The Washington Post)

Not every piece of your kid’s art is a keeper: Think about cork boards and fridge space as a rotating art gallery. After pieces are replaced, make sure you have somewhere to store must-keep items. “I know as a mother that those type of decisions are tough to make, but I know that not every piece of art is necessary to keep,” wrote Rosenthal, who encourages involving kids in this decision-making. She found the more often you go through the process with them, the more comfortable they will get deciding on what stays and what goes. Her 8-year-old twin daughters have a document storage case for the papers that they want to keep, and once it is full they weed out anything they no longer want. It is a helpful habit to get them into so that they can make decisions in other organizing areas (clothes, toys, etc.).

Filing cabinets don’t have to be ugly: “Filing cabinets have come a long way (not all are just bland and metal, thankfully!)” wrote Rosenthal, “and there are tons of better looking filing cabinets, like this two-drawer from Poppin.” Overstock.com has options that look more like furniture and less like a traditional filing system.

It’s important to consider about what papers you need to hang onto long term and what can be shredded. According to Rosenthal, the IRS has great online resources that can help you determine how long you should keep records.

Rosenthal recently helped a young family organize their home in Alexandria. Read about it in The Washington Post Magazine here.

More from Home and Garden:

Parents, don’t let last year’s pile of school papers ruin the new school year

A designer’s go-to lights: Reliable, classic fixtures that work in just about any home

Why clear plastic shoe boxes are a professional organizer’s secret weapon