Updated: Dec 13, 2020
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.
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. What I see most often is that it's a combination of the volume of paper coming in, and 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's hope. I've seen people tackle decades of paper and transform right before my eyes and I'm so happy to see how proud they are of their accomplishment when they finish.
HOW-TO guide for decluttering paper in your home or office.
#1 - Gather it all up
Seeing paper throughout our homes and offices can be overwhelming and trigger anxiety. By gathering it all up in a box, we then are able to take a deep breath and focus on sorting through it.
#2 - Prepare the space
A little bit of prep can go a long way. Having the space you need and bags ready for the discard allows you to focus on decision making. Here's what you'll need:
- A dedicated space like a kitchen table
- Paper bags or cardboard boxes for Recycling, Shred and Trash
- Sticky notes to make two labels for the papers you will keep: Needs Attention + To File
#3 - Sort, sort, sort!
For the first time through, don't over think it. Just get the papers into one of the categories below:
Shred - shredding is an important step for confidential documents. If you don't have a shredded in your home, you can find facilities in your areas to shred your confidential documents for a fee.
Recycle - most paper can be recycled, but some (waxed, foiled, soiled, plastic-coated, shredded) cannot.
Trash - waxed, foiled, soiled, plastic-coated and shredded paper cannot be recycled, so they likely need to be trashed. Some municipalities have special ways to recycle or compost shredded paper, so look into your local municipalities for proper recycling protocol.
Needs Attention - requires action! Place any paper that requires you to take action, like unpaid bills/school forms, a coupon with an expiration date, etc. into one pile
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.
Depending on how long it takes you to perform the sorting step, you might go right onto the next two steps or you might take a rest and come back to this at a different time when you are ready.
#1 - Create a Daily Papers Intake System
I recommend my clients use the magazine file system above to organize the daily papers coming in. I suggest they simply sort the papers they are going to keep into two broad categories. Then, each week go through your needs attention file and start crossing to-dos off your list. This category might be large the first time you sort papers, but after a few weeks of focus on the needs attention, you will find it become smaller and smaller.
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 it into the trash or recycling bin, or you are sorting it into either "Needs Attention" or "To File".
#2 - Create a Filing System
I'm not going to go into the weeds of detail in this post on creating a file system, but let me share one main philosophy ... your goal is to file as little as possible. Files should be saved for anything you are required to keep like Taxes, Estate Planning, Investments. My systems are focused to help people simplify vs. complicate. Creating elaborate filing systems adds more work to your life rather than simplifying it.
How to Keep Your Home Office / Paper Station Tidy
When you let papers stack up each day and even into weeks, it can be a daunting task to go through it. Below are my top three tips to keep your paper clutter at bay.
#1 - Tend to mail daily
Creating a daily habit of going through your incoming mail is the critical in keeping paper clutter at bay because 90% or more of incoming mail is recycling or trash. It takes the bulk out of the paper quickly.
#2 - Tidy desk at end of day
Taking under 5 minutes a day to tidy your desk, write down your unfinished tasks and throw away recycling and trash helps keep paper clutter away from your precious work space. It also allows your mind to shut down from work and transition into your after work life more easily.
#3 - File weekly
Let's face it, filing isn't a task that many people enjoy, but when you focus your filing to one day a week you can get it done quickly and keep your paper piles from stacking high.
There are many research studies that show that a clean desk will help you stay more focused, decrease stress and help you accomplish more in a day. So, if getting your paper clutter in control in 2019 is a goal of yours, you have studies to support you are headed in the right direction. I can tell you first hand that following these strategies in our home has allowed us the freedom to know where our critical documents and easily find the papers that need our attention from week-to-week. Below is a picture of my clients home office space once we finished decluttering and the system has helped her get rid of the piles and enjoy other pieces of her life that are not paper! Best to you as you begin you paper decluttering journey.