by Susan McCarthy
One of the most overwhelming qualities of paper clutter is that you’ll likely find it in every room of your house. In some cases, we put something down ‘temporarily,’ but the paper stays in that spot (while inviting more paper) because we don’t know what to do with it.
Spend some time cleaning up the visible piles of paper in your home and you’ll feel a huge shift in your sense of control over all this stuff.
Move around your home, going into each room and gathering all visible papers. By ‘visible,’ I mean anything that isn’t tucked into a box, bin, drawer, cabinet, closet, etc. If it’s out in the open, on a flat surface, collect it.
And, by ‘paper,’ I mean – newspapers, magazines, catalogs, mail, notes, flyers, receipts, handouts, bills, cards, invitations, statements, and things you’ve printed from the computer or torn from magazines. You won’t deal with books, office supplies, photos, or paper crafts, so you don’t need to move this stuff around for this decluttering task.
You may want to gather the papers from one room and sort them before collecting more paper from another room.
Do a Preliminary Sort
You’ll want a few boxes or trays for sorting. Label one of the trays, “Respond to.” You’ll also want a recycling bin nearby. If you have a paper shredder, move it where you’re working.
As you sort through the papers you’ve collected, put anything in the Respond to tray which you need to respond to – the invitation, the bill that needs to be paid, etc. If a person or company is waiting for something from you, put that paper in the box or respond to it immediately – pay the bill, accept the invitation.
You’ll pick up each piece of paper or paper item and either put it in your “Respond to” box, toss it in your recycling bin, shred it, or put it in a pile with similar items that you want to review or think what you want to do with (like, cards, handouts from school or work, or recipes you’ve printed from online).
You may have heard of the OHIO ‘rule’ – “Only Handle It Once.” Don’t worry about adhering to this ‘rule,’ as you’ve already moved this stuff around at least a few times. Some things that don’t require an immediate action need a decision about what you want to do with the items.
You don’t need to file anything at this stage.
Contain the Papers You're Sorting
I’ll address bills, statement, warranties, and other papers that you might need to keep for reference in another article. As you sort your papers, you can put these things in piles – utility bills, checking statements, warranties, and so on.
Sort the papers you’ll deal with later into shallow boxes or trays, so they stay together, and look contained and organized during this process. Don’t treat these boxes like file folders, the categories don’t have to be super-specific. If you have more than a half dozen sorting boxes, try to eliminate some.
The boxes are meant as a temporary hold. If you know you can toss a paper, do that instead of holding onto it.
If you feel that things are becoming more disorganized, know that’s normal. Carry out the recycling bin and take a small break.
Decide What You'll Do with Different Types of Paper
Newspapers – Recycle after reading. A key feature of the news is that it is new. Will you really read a four-day old newspaper? If you can’t make the time to read the paper, cancel your subscription. You can always renew.
Magazines – Keep the current issue and toss the older issues. If you aren’t making the time to read a magazine before you get a new issue, consider if you should cancel your subscription.
Catalogs – If you order from the company, keep the most current catalog only if you find it easier to find items in a catalog than online. If you don’t order from the company, toss the catalog. (I’ll address getting your name off mailing lists below).
Charity requests – Even if you donate to the charity, you don’t need to keep the requests (or even the free notepads and address labels). You can always donate online.
Store receipts – Tuck current receipts into a file folder and clear it out once a month. If you know you aren’t going to return something, toss the receipt after you confirm that it’s been posted correctly to your debit or credit card.
Postcards for local services you may use – Toss because you can find this information in the phone book or online. However, you might want to keep these (particularly if there is a coupon) if you know you’ll be looking for a specific service provider in the upcoming weeks. Create a file and clean it out once a month. No, it isn’t necessary to create a separate folder for different services.
Phone Books – I kept tossing the phone books we were receiving until my husband went looking for the local phone book. Now that’s the only one I hold onto because it seems quicker to look up local phone businesses this way than to go online. If you never touch a physical phone book, don’t keep them.
Notes from Classes and Workshops – Do you really need this information? (If you’ve gone looking for it, then your answer is yes; if you haven’t given it a second thought since the class, the answer is probably no.)
Greeting Cards – Why do you want to hold onto a greeting card? I’ll address these potentially sentimental items in a future article sometime this month.
Eliminate Junk Mail
To limit the amount of junk mail arriving in your mailbox, make your request through the Direct Mail Association. Last year, I subscribed to an app, PaperKarma, to eliminate all the mail that was arriving addressed to my deceased mother-in-law. Putting her name on the Direct Mail list and even listing her as deceased with the post office wasn’t eliminating the daily charity requests.
I have no affiliation with https://www.paperkarma.com/, it’s simply the app that I’ve been using. It’s simple to use but it can be time consuming in the beginning because you must enter a name as it appears on a piece of mail. That means ‘McCarthy’ is a different name than something entered into a database as ‘Mc Carthy’ or ‘M Carthy.’
I’ve used this for my husband as well as myself and there are days now when we receive a single letter sent from an organization we support. After seven months of using the app, our mail is downright boring.
Sort Visible Paper Clutter First
You may have guessed this – when you finish cleaning up the visible paper clutter, start looking for paper you’ve stored in drawers, etc. If it fits the categories I addressed above, then recycle, shred, or sort into a temporary hold box.
You don’t need to sort the bills, statements, warranties, and other important papers you have stored in a file cabinet or file boxes – at least not yet. In the next article, I’ll cover which papers the experts recommend you hold onto … and for how long.
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Hi, I’m Susan
I’m the chief (and only) Organized Squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life. In these articles, I meld my nearly 30 years as a teacher with my new career as a professional organizer to show you how to clear your cluttered home and schedule to create the life you want.