When asked what organizational challenges they find most difficult, many people cite home and office paper clutter. Paper is a double-edged sword because on one hand, it’s a vehicle for potentially important information. It provides documentation of legal, medical and business events, captures ideas and thoughts and so much more. Yet on the other hand, its accumulation becomes a problem in itself.
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Add to the equation the fact that many people aren’t sure what kinds of paper they need to keep versus what to let go. When you’re unsure, the default is to do the “safe” thing and keep it all. The ironic part about keeping all your paper is that the clutter prevents you from actually finding the important papers when you do need them. It’s a vicious cycle.
Here are five tips you can use to help you figure out how to declutter and tame your paper usage while still retaining the important information it contains.
1. Learn what’s truly important and worth keeping. Managing paper isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Some paper is irreplaceable, other paper carries information that’s fairly important, and some paper is truly not worth your time or energy. If you aren’t clear which paper fits into each category, you’ll be more likely to keep it all. I encourage my clients to use a general guideline of keeping anything that has tax implications or belongs with your tax return for seven years and keeping all medical and legal records forever. Outside of those parameters, consult with your financial planner, accountant and attorney to create a document retention policy that you’re comfortable with.
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2. Opt out. A great way to declutter and reduce the amount of paper you have to deal with every day is to convert from paper to electronic communications. Financial statements, bills, invoices and other information is increasingly available online or you can receive it via email. Reduce the amount of paper you deal with daily by opting out of paper statements by aggregating your household accounts, subscriptions, coupon programs and loyalty rewards with Manilla. You can easily track your information, stay on top of subscriptions and pay bills all under a single user name and password.
3. Create one “inbox” or collection point for incoming paper. Mail is a huge contributor to household and office paper clutter so it’s helpful to corral it in a single place until you can process it. Ideally, you should process it daily but if that’s unrealistic, keeping it all together until you can sort it ensures nothing slips through the cracks or gets lost in the car or under a sofa cushion.
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4. Process your inbox logically. Each time you sort your mail, do it the same way. Separate action items, kids art, bills, and things that simply require filing. Each stack needs a separate holding spot (basket, bin, clipboard, binder) where it can sit until being acted upon or filed. Also, instead of filing, consider scanning with a NeatDesk or ScanSnap unit, then shredding the paper itself.
5. Build a binder. Everyone values different kinds of paper and we all have information we want to keep at our fingertips. Why not build a binder to store the paper that’s important to have close at hand? Things you may want to keep within reach might be kids school schedules, monthly cafeteria menus, social invitations, restaurant menus, household service provider brochures, neighborhood directories and coupons, to name a few. Fill a 3-ring binder with labeled tabs for each category and fill each section with clear plastic 3-hole punched sleeves. As soon as you get a new item that fits into of your categories, just pop it into a sleeve. Poof! No need for tedious hole-punching!
Monica Ricci is the founder and president of Catalyst Organizing Solutions, an Atlanta-based organizing company that’s committed to helping individuals change their lives by changing their environments, beliefs, and behaviors, both at home and at work. Monica can be seen as a recurring expert organizer on the popular HGTV show, MISSION:Organization.