Updated: Dec 13, 2020
There is one organizing category that most often instills dread and that is paper chaos. Even the mention of spending time decluttering piles, bins or stacks of paper can make many of our Neat Little Nest clients shudder.
Clutter can have a subconscious emotional grip on one's psyche which can cause stress, anxiety and even depression. Paper clutter is no exception. There are many reasons paper clutter happens and subsequently becomes overwhelming. Often it is a combination of the sheer volume of paper coming in, a lack of a system to corral it and the motivation to keep it at bay. This trifecta creates the perfect storm.
The good news is that there is hope. I've seen many clients transform, both physically and mentally, when the weight of sorting, recycling, shredding and organizing paper clutter is done. Half of the battle with paper clutter is believing in yourself to get through it.
To help you, this post provides you tips to guide you through decluttering your paper along with a free printable to help you organize them Neat Little Nest style.
carve out enough time to go through everything
It’s essential for you to carve out enough time to make a serious dent or wrap tackling all of your paper sorting, ideally in one or two days. I recommend setting aside several hours, 4-6 minimum, but it depends on how much paper you have to sort + organize.
I recommend going through everything all in one go as I know first hand that trying to tackle months or years of paper piles in 15 minute a day increments will have you decluttering paper for weeks or months and that might lead you to simply give up. A Focused15 approach works very well for daily maintenance, but it's not as effective when a full scale paper decluttering and organizing is necessary.
prepare your space and supplies before you begin
To prepare your space for a major paper decluttering, choose a space where you can spread out, like on a large table. Once you have dedicated space selected, make sure you have paper bags or cardboard boxes on hand clearly labeled “recycle”, “shred” and “trash” because this allows you to move quickly once you begin the sorting process.
Once you start, you will simply sort one sheet of paper at a time putting it into three categories below:
Pending / Needs Attention - any piece of paper that requires action or attention goes into this pile. This includes short term items like unpaid bills, school forms, coupons with expirations dates.
To be filed - any item that requires you to keep a document for medium-to-long term like taxes, insurance policies, certificates, home warranties, taxes or your stocks/estate/will/family affairs. Depending on the starting point of your papers, you might want to create subcategories for the papers in this category (eg. taxes, life insurance policies, valuables, home, etc).
Discard - in my experience, a majority of paper will fall into this category. It will either be recycled, shredded or thrown in the trash.
Neat Little Tip - one reason I've seen people get anxious about paper decluttering is they are unsure of what they need to save and for how long, especially as it relates to taxes. To get the most recent information from the IRS, click here.
set up a daily sorting system
Once you have taken the time to declutter all of your papers, it's important to create a sustainable system that allows you to sort daily and file or manage those items that need attention weekly. One solution I recommend is to organize the two categories of daily papers is magazine files. Using vertical storage like a magazine file helps you avoid forming stacks of papers on flat surfaces, which is difficult to flip through.
If you don't have space for magazine holders, another option to consider is desktop mail sorters. Just like the magazine holders, you can dedicate a slot to Pending/Needs Attention and To Be Filed. You can also subdivide the desktop sorter into smaller spaces for things like coupons.
adhere to weekly routines for ongoing management
Once you have a sorting system set up, you should be able to sort your mail in a few minutes a day. The most important thing is getting into a habit of sorting mail daily. Sorting mail everyday doesn't mean you're taking action on the items that need attention, it simply means that you are putting the papers into the trash, recycling bin or you are placing it into one of the two categories of Pending/Needs Attention or To Be Filed.
I recommend you set aside time to review Pending/Needs attention weekly and either manage whatever steps are needed so that the paper can be eliminated or put a to-do in your planner so it has a date on the calendar to keep you accountable.
slow down or stop the incoming mail
Another part of your sorting system is to minimize the amount of paper that you receive.
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 eco-cycle to help you lessen the volume coming in.
Even though we are moving towards a more paperless society, the reality is that piles of papers will most likely always need to be dealt with. Once you sort through your paper clutter and begin using a system that really works, you will find the results are worth all of your initial efforts.
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