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