Seemingly without exception, the homes I enter have paper piles. Even in our ever-advancing electronic world, we still seem to be inundated with incoming paper (invitations, junk mail, tax documents, bills, magazines, receipts, school paperwork, coupons, newspapers and the list goes on.) Many times, fear that “I may need it someday” keeps us from letting go of surplus paper. I believe the reason paper accumulates is because we lead fast-paced, lives leaving little time for the tedious task of paper sifting and sorting and purging. Sifting through the trivial and worthless papers to find and appropriately place those that are critically important. Solution: intentionally schedule time to make decisions about each piece of paper.
All incoming paper can be sorted into four categories: Reference, Read, Recycle and Requires Action.
Reference: Reference items are papers that you don’t usually need to frequently access, are important to hang on to, yet should to be easily retrievable when needed. Some examples include: Insurance Policies, Mortgage Deeds, Tax Documentation, Legal paperwork, Titles, Memorabilia, Financial documents, etc.
Read: Items that you intend to read within the next 30 days would fall into this category (magazines, books, catalogs, newsletters, correspondence etc.) Store these items where you would likely read them such as on your nightstand, in the bathroom, or on the coffee table.
Recycle: Completed, graded school paperwork unless it is deemed “keepsake”, junk mail, flyers, advertisements, old catalogs, newspapers etc. Also in this category I include shred items. I burn all my “shred” items in my burn barrel because, it is much easier, time-saving and fun!
Requires Action: Anything that requires you to respond in a timely manner (i.e bills, invoices, invitations, banking correspondence). Store these items together in a safe, easy-to-access area and schedule time to take action on them this week!
Helpful tips for contending with all that paper:
#1) Stop it at the door. Toss as much as possible in the recycle bin BEFORE it comes into your home. If you know you won’t buy what they’re selling in the next 24 hours, let it go. You will receive another offer to buy from that solicitor later anyway. The key to getting reducing unwanted mail is to get your name off of the mailing lists. Helpful sites: directmail.com Direct Marketing Association Contact DMA via mail at: DMAChoice Data & Marketing Association PO Box 643 Carmel, NY 10512
#2) Put all paper in one location such as a large basket and purpose to go through weekly. Then you’ll know where that invoice or receipt or letter etc. is when you need it. Then once per week, sit down and go through each piece of paper then take action on it, file it or toss it. This idea is explained in greater detail by Organize365 here: Lisa Woodruff’s Sunday Basket a great resource!
#3) Begin with your current, active paper piles. If you have long-forgotten-about filing cabinets, just abandon the old system and start over with a temporary plastic bin made for hanging files (you’ll use this same bin later for your “achieved files” in step 5). Go through each piece of paper, item by item and begin sorting it into categories. File items according to how you will look for them.
#4) Implement a system to stay on top of your incoming paper. Set weekly file and shred times (i.e. every Tuesday evening).
#5) Reclaim your old, over-stuffed file cabinets by purging out-dated papers liberally and achieving only the essentials into sturdy plastic filing boxes. Lable and stow in an out-of-the-way place separate from your current, active files.
Have you heard that old saying “How do you eat an elephant?” the answer is, ” One bite at a time.” And I would say that is also the answer to managing paper. Focused, consistent time each week is all you’ll need to get it under control. Or you can hire a professional organizer and get in all done in a weekend! To get on the “fast track” to Paper Control, please reach out! Sometimes, to regain order, we just need a little focused attention and a bit of direction. Here to help when you’re ready. All the best!