Fact: Paper creates clutter. There is just no way around it. Paper takes up physical space. It usually ends up being handled multiple times throughout its useful life. And, it typically overstays its welcome.
Where Does All of the Paper Clutter Come From?
- Junk Mail – The US Postal Service delivered 142.6 BILLION pieces of mail in FY 2019. Only half (71.4 billion) of that was First-Class mail. So, a LOT of mail is coming into your house and half of it is probably advertisements, unsolicited mail, circulars, etc.
- Purchases – Every time you buy something, it generates a receipt. Larger purchases come with a manual, a warranty card, advertisements for other products, etc.
- Healthcare – A single medical procedure can generate bills from multiple medical providers, plus explanation of benefits statements from your insurance company.
- Bills – Most of us receive monthly bills from a wide variety of places. Mortgage or rent, utilities, car payments, student loans, credit cards, etc. really add up.
- Life – Sometimes, it seems like you can’t go anywhere or do anything without acquiring more paper. The kids come home with announcements and permission slips from school. You go grocery shopping and come out to find a flyer under your windshield. Between their sophomore and senior years of high school, both of my children received what seemed like a metric ton of mail from colleges.
Do You Need All of that Paper?
Personally, I am anti-paper. I have a single file drawer in my desk with paper in it, and it’s not even half-full. I sign up for electronic billing, online statements, and e-mail or text notifications whenever possible. My scanner and shredder are some of the most frequently used appliances in my house.
Of course, not everyone is on board with the paperless way of life; some people are just more comfortable with hard copies. Even if you aren’t sure how paper-free you are ready to be, let’s take a few steps to help you dramatically reduce your paper clutter.
Ruthlessly Evaluate Every Piece of Paper
- Have you ever needed this information? If you’ve been holding onto this paper for a long time, but have never looked at it, reconsider whether or not you need to keep holding onto it.
- Under what circumstances would you ever need it? For example, if it’s a critical record that you haven’t needed in a long time, but would if you sold your house, it needs to be filed. However, if you can’t think of a single circumstance where you would need that paper, let it go.
- Is the information readily available elsewhere? If you’re a true technophobe or Luddite, you can take a pass on this one. Otherwise, odds are that you could find the information in that pile of paper clutter faster by looking it up online.
- Has it outlived its usefulness? Is that really a manual for a blender you gave away six years ago?? Never mind, just please throw it out.
Sort the Paper That You’ve Decided to Keep
Make one stack of papers that you need to deal with. For example, put the bills you need to pay, invitations you need to respond to, dates you need to add to your calendar, etc. in this pile.
Make a second stack of papers that you need to file. For example, financial statements, medical records, tax documents, etc. go in this pile.
Deal with the first stack ASAP
Pay it, sign it, respond to it, commit to it. Whatever you have to do to make that paper obsolete and disposable, do it now. If you can’t do it now, schedule a time (and make sure to write it on your calendar!) within the next week. Once you’ve dealt with that paper clutter, move it on. Recycle or shred it if you’re done with it for good. File it if it’s something you’ll need long-term (for example, a paid bill that is tax-deductible). Or, put it in a temporary holding place if you’ll need it again short-term (for example, tickets to an upcoming event).
Move that Paper Clutter Along
File everything you need to keep. Consider whether you want to maintain hard copies, or scan and create electronic copies. Either way, make sure that you file everything in a way that makes sense to you, and that will make it easy for you to find what you need, when you need it.
Shred anything sensitive. If you definitely don’t want to keep something, and it has any personally identifiable information on it, shred it before recycling it. I err on the side of over-shredding – identity theft is all too common, and it is absolutely miserable to deal with, so better to be safe than sorry.
Create a System for Ongoing Maintenance
- Try to deal with paper as soon as it comes into the house, whenever possible. Sign permission slips; fill out forms; respond to invitations; add dates to your calendar the first time you see them. When you open your mail, drop the anonymous junk into the recycling bin; shred what needs shredding; and file the rest, or put it in a designated place to scan.
- If you just can’t seem to manage that, set an appointment on your calendar at regular intervals to go thru this process again. It can be weekly or monthly depending upon how much paper comes into your house.
- Limit the amount of incoming paper wherever you can. Get off of mailing lists that don’t interest you; unsubscribe from magazines you never read; and sign up for electronic bills and notifications. The FTC has a number of suggestions for reducing unsolicited mail, email, and phone calls.
You will be amazed at how much more organized your house will look after you take control of your paper clutter. And if it’s more than you can handle on your own, we are always available to help!