...because home doesn't happen overnight.


Since downsizing I’ve been asked more than once to share how we handle all the mail, bills, school communication and other paperwork that comes into our home. In all honesty, it takes daily effort and diligence to avoid paper miscellaneous from piling up. But! We have an efficient system in place that makes the task feel less daunting, and it only requires a few minutes of our attention each day. I think the easiest way to share what we do is to document the paper trail to and through our home. Spoiler alert: IKEA is one of my favorite sources for small organizational items. Let’s get started!


It all starts with filtering what makes it into our mailbox. When we first moved to the city we live in now, we were bombarded with junk mail: catalogs, flyers, coupon mailers, pre-approved credit offers, phone books, etc. Since then, I’ve become adept at noting unwanted mail that shows up in our mailbox then quickly going online and opting out of receiving it again. In the beginning, I was opting out of stuff quite often, but now that it’s under control I maybe opt out of mailings just a few times a year.

A few sites I’ve used to opt out of the majority of junk mail are:

www.optoutprescreen.com To stop receiving pre-approved financial offers. You can opt out for five years or permanently. FYI – If there is more than one adult living under your roof, each adult will need to opt out individually.

dmachoice.thedma.org To stop receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national brands for a five year period. I’m all for coupons, but I only want coupons for items I would buy regardless of coupon savings. I find that most of the brands and chain restaurants represented in commercial mail aren’t places we normally frequent. Instead of receiving gobs of useless coupons by mail, we usually opt for frequent visitor cards, online coupons and savings apps for stores we normally visit.

www.valpak.com/coupons/show/mailinglistsuppression and www.redplum.com To stop receiving bulk coupon mailers from smaller brokers not registered with the DMA. Mailings from smaller brokers tend to vary depending on your location. These are two of the more popular ones in my area. If you continue to receive coupon offers long after you’ve opted out via the DMA, go straight to the source by googling the broker’s name on your mailings to opt out.

www.yellowpagesoptout.com To opt out of telephone directories in your area. (I can’t believe these still exist!)

Opting out of just these five mass mailers reduces our junk mail by probably 60%-70%. Beyond these, I’ve contacted specific companies directly to opt out of unwanted catalogs. Many catalogs can be viewed online nowadays. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a visual person and I enjoy the tactile process of flipping through a great catalog in hand and gathering tear sheets, but I reserve that guilty pleasure only for my top two or three favorite catalogs. I browse all others online which saves me quite a bit of time and money. No more reading through catalogs like it’s my homework and being tempted to buy stuff I don’t really need or have the space for.

We pay most of our regular monthly bills online automatically via our checking account which deems many physical bills unnecessary. I treat my donation to NPR as a monthly “bill” and have them automatically bill my credit card. As a result, I only receive an annual renewal reminder from them as opposed to several donation requests throughout the year. I’ve called local businesses and churches and kindly asked them to remove my address from their mailing lists. We don’t subscribe to any newspapers, opting to get our news from the radio and online sources instead. Steve and I only subscribe to a few favorite magazines each. I have a hard time reading more than two or three a month before the next issues are out.


I recently added the KVISSLE magazine rack on a sliver of wall in the mudroom to corral unread magazines, catalogs and stray library books. Before, they kind of traveled all over the house and got lost in the mix. Now, if I have a few minutes to spare or if we’re headed out the door for a long car ride (and Steve is driving, of course) or to an appointment where we might have a wait time, I can quickly grab a glossy and go. No more rummaging around the house trying to find a magazine (I know it’s here somewhere!). No more magazines cluttering horizontal surfaces. Placing the wall rack just below our key hooks makes for a seamless grab-and-go!


On top of filtering what makes it into our mailbox, I’m also adamant about immediately purging unwanted mail between our mailbox and the back door. On the walk back from the mailbox each day, I make a quick stop at the recycling bin and toss in superfluous junk after noting where it came from so I can opt out of it in the future.

Essentially, by the time any mail reaches our door, it has already been “screened” twice (via opting out and physical sorting) and there’s no need to sort it once inside. I know it reads like an ordeal, but once you get the bulk junk mailings out of the way and take a few seconds to flip through mail just retrieved from the mailbox while still outside, it really runs like clockwork requiring very little time at all.


Once inside, I have a strict “no mail on the dining table” rule. One cabinet of the fauxdenza in our mudroom is designated to incoming mail.


A letter tray on the top shelf holds mail in limbo until it is dealt with at a later time. This usually includes utility and medical bills or cards for the kids. I already mentioned that catalogs and magazines end up in the wall rack. I recently added and labeled several KUGGIS boxes to house coupons and tech accessories and keep them separate from mail. The coupons are simply waiting to be taken out to a folder in the car where I’m more likely to remember to use them. The KUGGIS series is functional and eco-friendly featuring variously sized boxes made from recycled plastic bottles that can be stacked on top of each other to organize paperwork, games, out of season clothing, art supplies, small media, memorabilia, etc.

Before I brought in the KUGGIS boxes, this cabinet was one big tangled mess of mail and wires. I love that the boxes have lids to keep wiry things like chargers, earbuds and headphones under wraps. I find that the kids have an easier time finding and putting things away when bins and labels are involved.


Bills and correspondence that require further attention eventually make their way to the kitchen desk where they’re dealt with appropriately. A recycling pull-out is located at the opposite end of the kitchen near the fridge, and that’s where we discard most paper items.



A KVISSLE letter tray holds paperwork that we may need to access within the next month or so: forms to be filled out, receipts, recently paid bills, school calendars, school lunch menus, school pictures to be handed out, kids’ progress reports, fundraising information, etc. They’re mostly things we don’t need to see every day, but they do need to be easily and quickly retrieved when required. Each family member has his/her own tray. (Mabrey’s currently holds two letters to Santa. Ha!) I go through the trays maybe every other month and discard papers that are no longer needed. Again with the labels. I have a passionate but healthy love for my label maker.

A pair of KVISSLE magazine files holds essential oils and favorite recipes. A KVISSLE desk organizer keeps scissors, tape, my planner (#oldschool) and pens within easy reach. If you can’t tell, I fell hard for the KVISSLE series. I’ve had these pieces for more than two years. The steel + cork designs have held up superbly. They’re like brand new. I like displaying tiny photo magnets on the magazine files.



Fortunately, we have plenty of overhead cabinetry that allows us to store important documents for longer periods of time. These are things that we need to keep on hand for a year or more: my pharmacist C.E.s, tax-related paperwork, receipts for tax deductions, vaccination records, etc. The most important legal documents (i.e., Social Security cards, passports, birth certificates, wills, marriage license, insurance policies, etc.) are kept in a fireproof safe elsewhere.

I bought the gray KVARNVIK boxes years ago and still love them. Steve is a bit of a paper hoarder when it comes to saving receipts and paid bills, so I always make sure to have a few boxes on hand for him. He sorts through them eventually. As our family grows, I’m finding that we need less decorative, more functional items in the glass-fronted cabinets. I recently purged a few candleholders I hadn’t used in years to make room for several FJÄLLA boxes. (They’re super easy to assemble, not like the IKEA photo boxes from several years back that were crazy labor intensive.) They’re mostly empty except for a few greeting cards, stamps, markers and vitamins. I like having room to grow. The BEKVÄM step stool gets a lot of action at our house. See how I customized it with paint and stain here.


The kids’ school communication is handled much like mail. I opt to receive school newsletters and announcements via email. Layne’s school sends home correspondence once a week on Tuesdays which I LOVE. One shot and I’m done for the week! Everett’s teacher utilizes a classroom text messaging app just for parent-teacher communication regarding class parties, field trips, fundraisers, special events, volunteering, etc. What does end up coming home is sorted and dealt with as soon as possible. I have no tray or bin in place for daily school communication or homework. It’s either in a backpack or being tackled. The boys have the routine down. They hang up their backpacks and immediately get out any homework and their school communication folders. They tend to their homework and eat a snack while I sort and deal with school notices.


We have one catchall basket in the laundry nook for stashing random items that don’t really have a place elsewhere or were left in pockets of dirty clothes. Right now its contents include origami stars, paper airplanes, paper poppers, several pairs of sunglasses, a baggie of loose coins and a tennis ball I caught from an Andy Murray service fault earlier this summer. (!) Yep, Andy Murray’s DNA is in that basket. I originally stuck a smaller bowl in this spot, but it didn’t take much for it to overflow. I grabbed the larger, taller FLÅDIS basket on my last trip to IKEA so now I can catch all the tennis balls! Haha.

I hope that gives you a little more insight into how we tackle the paper trail in our home. A few key takeaways:

*Opt out of superfluous mail.

*If possible, sort delivered mail before bringing it inside.

*Create a drop zone that isn’t the dining table (or kitchen countertop) to avoid misplacing important mail.

*Use open filing systems for documents needed on a short-term basis. Try a wall rack for unread magazines and catalogs.

*Use lidded boxes or bins for documents needed for longer periods of time. Store important legal documents in a fireproof safe.

*Label trays, bins and boxes to make organization foolproof for the whole family. (I have a Brother P-Touch label maker and love it!)

*Treat school communication like mail. Check with your child’s school to see if they offer an online newsletter or other non-paper communication.

*Tweak the system as your family’s needs change. Keep empty bins on hand and devote one basket to random stuff.


Do you have any tips to share for tackling and organizing the inevitable paper trail?

I am a brand ambassadör for IKEA. This post sponsored in part by IKEA. I received product and payment for this collaboration. IKEA is a registered trademark of Inter IKEA Systems B.V. and is used with permission. The views, ideas and opinions expressed here are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

Last month Steve and I snuck away to Nashville for a kid-free weekend. Steve wasn’t able to leave work early on Friday, so we drove to Louisville after he got home that evening and stayed overnight. We hit up HammerHeads for dinner. The mac & cheese balls didn’t sound particularly appetizing, but they came highly recommended so we had to try them. They were AMAZING. So smoky and savory! The brisket tacos were pretty yummy as well.

The next morning we had a little time to kill before our drive on to Nashville. We came across an interesting trinket shop/bakery called Kizito. I was initially drawn to the window display chock full of African wood sculptures, but once inside we were hypnotized by the most amazing aroma of yeast, sugar and cinnamon. Turns out, the shop is owned and operated by a woman from Uganda who visits her homeland regularly and brings back African folk art to sell alongside her homemade baked goods. It makes for quite a unique inventory! Steve bought cookies (a gingersnap and coconut macaroon) and I bought an ebony figurine that now lives on the media cabinet in our living room. I can’t look at it without seeing Kizito’s warm face and smelling the faintest hint of cinnamon.

We checked in to our Nashville Airbnb later that afternoon, and immediately my dream of living tiny as empty nesters was solidified. Our cozy home for the weekend was a vintage Shasta camper in our host’s dreamy backyard. Walking through the gate from the driveway was like being transported to a secret oasis – leafy canopy, dappled sunlight, chirping birds, twinkle lights and all. #icriedalittle (I’m not much of a camper, but I love being outdoors as long I have running water and a real bed nearby.)


The camper featured a teeny kitchen complete with sink, running water, hot plate, mini fridge and essentials. One end of the camper was outfitted with a built-in platform bed (plus AC unit!), while the other end housed a small table and vintage leather and cane chairs.

Clever storage included baskets under the bed, DIY peshtemal towel “curtains” to hide kitchen clutter and a slew of wall hooks and shelves. The wheel wells were covered in planks and provided extra shelving and seating. I thought the simple DIY window coverings were ingenious. Essentially, they were raw cut linen panels (white facing the window, gray facing the interior) with frayed edges and grommets looped over small hooks. During the day, they could be tied back with leather lace. At night, they could be closed by moving one grommeted corner to a hook on the other side of the window. Such an easy solution for oddly sized windows!

The vibe was super cozy, rustic and casual. I loved that the decor felt homier than a traditional camper. (Obviously, this camper isn’t meant to be moved around from place to place like a traditional camper.)

We spent a lot of time at the table reading, playing cards, drinking wine and just looking out over the backyard. (Temps were in the 90s during our stay, so we were grateful for the AC.) It was so quiet and peaceful that we had a hard time believing we were actually within city limits.

The separate bathhouse was so charming! Even with windows galore, it felt private. The lower awning windows featured the same tieback curtains as inside the camper for privacy, while the upper clerestory windows kept the small space feeling light and bright.


Inside was the cutest corner sink, a toilet and clawfoot tub. Just outside, in a secluded corner between the bathhouse and camper, was an outdoor shower. Panels of galvanized metal backed cedar slats surrounding the showerhead. Showering under the stars one night remains a favorite memory. An outdoor shower is now on my dream house wish list. Bonus: no cleaning required!

A hammock was on the other side of the bathhouse under a minimal pergola. I’ll never forget the first time Steve tried to mount it when he didn’t think I was watching. He approached it like an American Ninja Warrior obstacle by getting a running start then jumping on to it back first which caused the hammock to quickly flip upside down. Consequently, he landed underneath the hammock facing the ground with his knees bent, resembling a human spider. Luckily, the only thing hurt was his pride. I had just stepped out of the camper when it all went down (literally). “I saw all that,” I said. Then we laugh-cried for approximately fifteen minutes. I fall into hysterics just thinking about it now. I told him I hope it’s the last image that flashes through my mind on my death bed. I would die laughing.

I made friends with Margot, the friendly backyard mascot. She was so sweet.

Nighttime was nothing short of magical in this little corner of the world.

With some pre-planning I was able to make a dinner reservation for two at the highly touted Rolf and Daughters. The interior felt very “industrial loft” but it was still cozy. Our waitress was really patient with us and answered all our questions about the menu which was a little difficult for us decipher on our own. We ended up having an incredible, drawn-out meal that felt all the more luxurious because there weren’t any kids to tend to. I forgot how nice it is to linger after a meal. (I’m usually in cleanup mode as soon as all forks are down at home.)

Not all of our meals were so extravagant, but here are some other food joints we thoroughly enjoyed near our Airbnb:

Calypso Cafe: an affordable lunch option within walking distance of the Airbnb. We loved the salads and martinique callaloo.

Five Points Pizza: within walking distance and well worth any wait. The garlic knots and Zeus pie were my favorites.

I Dream of Weenie: within walking distance but bring a bottle of water. Gourmet, charcoal-grilled hot dogs featuring unique toppings are served from a vintage VW bus. There’s a rotating menu and daily specials. No boring hot dogs here! FYI – I love a good hot dog. LOVE.

For breakfast, we hit up juice joints like Franklin Juice and The Urban Juicer. The morning dirt at Franklin Juice was our favorite.

We browsed a bunch of local stores and antique shops. I could have moved right in to Imogene + Willie. It’s located in an old service station and has a cool industrial vibe that’s warmed up with wood and leather accents, planked walls and a glowing red chandelier. Did you notice the paper patterns hanging from the ceiling? From afar, they looked like a giant tissue paper garland.

I had a daybed + rug moment at Rich Hippies. Have I mentioned I love getting interior inspiration from commercial spaces?

We picked up gifts for family from Moto Moda, Cadeau and Craft South. (Coincidentally, it was tax-free weekend in Tennessee.) Cadeau is where I first discovered my new favorite candle, Ash by Boy Smells. Don’t let the name fool you. It smells nothing like boy smells. Steve couldn’t care less about scented candles, but he loves this one. We also hit up Third Man Records downtown. Steve was really hoping to run in to Jack White, but we just missed him. He had been there two days earlier. We spent one evening walking around downtown, ducking in to different venues, sipping drinks and listening to live music, but we were happy to retreat to the quiet lil’ camper afterwards.

Not surprisingly, I had a hard time leaving. I knew returning to real life would be a slap in the face, but the little time we spent away from the kids was enough for a much needed reset. One thing I picked up from our short stay and started incorporating into life at home is setting the dial on our kitchen radio to a classical music station in the afternoons. When we arrived at the Shasta, the host had tuned a Tivoli radio to a classical music station. The volume was perfect. Not too loud, not too faint. We ended up leaving it on for most of our stay. It was so calming, and it has the same effect at home when the boys return from school. They’ve even been asking me to turn on “that music” from time to time when they need some downtime. I love bringing home little experiential golden nuggets like this as souvenirs from our travels.

Have you spent time away from your kids recently? Is it something you’re at ease doing or do you need a nudge (or shove) to get you out the door? When my kids were younger, I rarely traveled or spent time away from them. But now that they’re older, it’s a little easier and the more I do it the easier it gets.

P.S. – More thoughts on vacationing without kids.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking