paper decluttering + organization
Updated: Feb 12
If there is one organizing category that can bring a grown adult to their knees, it’s paper. Even a mention of spending time decluttering paper can temporarily paralyze the most successful businessperson or homemaker. When I show up for a paper decluttering session and joyfully tell the homeowner that we are going to gather all the paper from the entire house, the look on their face is priceless.
Clutter has an emotional grip on so many weighing down their subconscious. Clutter can cause stress, depression and physical illness. Paper clutter is no exception.There are many reasons paper clutter has a stronghold on people. But, what I see most often is that it's a combination of the volume of paper coming in, combined with the lack of a system and motivation to keep it out. Without a system or motivation, the perfect paper storm is created with piles everywhere, and leaving people overwhelmed.
The good news is, there is hope. I've seen people tackle decades of paper and transform right before my eyes. What's fulfilling to me is seeing how proud they are of their accomplishment when they finish.
TIPS for getting after those piles of paper in your office, home or car.
#1 - Believe you can.
Having the right mindset contributes to your success more than anything else. Going into a paper declutter session with a positive “I can do this!” attitude will most certainly help you reach your goal. Having a positive mindset will not make the task any easier, but it will make it more enjoyable and achievable.
#2 - Carve out time.
It’s essential for you to carve out enough time to make a serious dent or to finish your paper sorting. For that reason, I recommend setting aside two hours or more. Trying to tackle papers for 15 minutes a day will have you decluttering paper for weeks or months and will most likely leave you frustrated. Keep the 15 minutes a day solution for daily maintenance, but it's not as effective for a full scale clean out.
#3 - Prepare.
Preparing the space and your mind before sorting is important. To prepare your space, choose a space where you can spread out and make sure you have paper bags or cardboard boxes on hand clearly labeled “recycle”, “shred” and “trash”. Have a hanging filing system available ... a cabinet, a box, hanging files, labels and label holders so the papers you will keep find a home.
Once your space is prepped, it’s important to prep your mind. While a positive attitude is essential, it's also necessary to have facts handy about how long you need to keep important papers like taxes. There are many websites that share best practice guidelines, but you can click here for the most recent consumer reports article on the topic.
Once you’ve prepared the space and you are mentally ready, it’s time to sort one sheet of paper at a time. Just pick up a sheet and decide which of the four categories below that paper falls into:
Pending - requires action! Place any paper that requires you to take action, like unpaid bills/school forms/etc. into one pile.
Short term - Place papers you need to keep for a short time like coupons with expirations dates or school papers for the kids that you might need to reference for a few weeks, but not much longer than that.
To be filed - this pile is reserved for papers you need to keep for mid to long-term like warranties, taxes or your will. Depending on where you are starting with file organization, you might want to subcategories the papers in this category as you begin to sort.
Discard - in my experience, most paper will go into this category. It will either be recycled, shredded or thrown in the trash.
TIPS for keeping your paper clutter at bay for good.
#1 - Set up a daily paper sorting system
Once you have decluttered and have a clear picture of all of the papers you have, it's important you create a system to sort through your papers daily. Below are two systems that you could consider and pick the one that is best for your personality.
Option 1: Magazine holders - Set up three magazine files in your kitchen, mudroom or office. Pick one place to sort paper everyday that is most convenient for you. Label the magazine files as Pending, Short Term and To be Filed. Then, every day when you sort through mail you can either put it in the trash, the recycling bin or in one of the three magazine files. Once a week you can review pending and short term and take action. If you'd prefer less categories, you could easily put pending and short term in one magazine file.
Option 2: Desktop Mail Sorters - The second option to consider is desktop mail sorters. Just like the magazine holders, you can dedicate a slot to Pending, Short Term and To be Filed. You can also subdivide some of the smaller spaces for things like coupons. The most important thing is getting into a habit of sorting mail daily.
#2 - Go through mail DAILY and pending items WEEKLY
It is so important to get into the habit of sorting through your mail on a daily basis. If you have a sorting system set up and you do this daily, you should be able to sort your mail in less than five minutes a day. Sorting mail everyday doesn't mean you're taking action on the items that need attention, it simply means that you are putting into the trash, recycling bin or you are placing it into one of the sorting areas of Pending, Short Term and To Be Filed. My recommendation is to sit down once a week and take care of all of your Pending weekly and to be filed either weekly or monthly. Focusing on your pending items when you set aside time to do so allows you to focus on the tasks and quickly get them checked off your list.
#3 - Unsubscribe
If you'd like to decrease your overall junk mail, there are many ways you can do this. Here is a great article written by ecocycle to help you decrease the volume coming in.
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