by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: You can't solve problems until you take a moment to identify the issues you're facing.
When people mention the things cluttering their home, it’s the piles of paper that are a major point of stress and overwhelm. Mail, bills, flyers, receipts, cards, magazines and newspapers, school papers (kids’ and adults’), craft projects, recipes, pages from your printer, materials from work, paper from events, memorabilia, documents needed for reference, and so much more; no wonder paper piles up so quickly.
Why Are You Overwhelmed by Paper Clutter?
Chances are that the reason for your paper clutter is different than that of your neighbor, coworker, or friend. Having a too-organized system creates its own sort of clutter and can be just as challenging as having no organizing system.
Take a moment to define your issues and challenges with the paper that comes into your house. Do you have no space or no scheduled time to deal with the papers that have entered your home during the week? Are you intimidated by the idea of setting up a filing system? Do you find it easier to make new folders than to find and clear out the existing folders?
Walk around your home and note (or, take a photo) of the places where paper (bills, invitations, catalogs, magazines, etc.) pile up.
Scenario One: You had a filing system that you maintained for years with minimal effort. You knew how you handled things like holiday cards, store receipts, and magazines. But you lost control of your papers when you experienced a life transition – health issues (yours or a family member’s), a new child, a death, divorce or separation, a new job, retirement, a move, or any other life event that became your focus.
Scenario Two: You’ve never really learned how to handle all the paper that comes into your home and life. Every so often you’ll read a book or a magazine article that gives you enough information to declutter and create order, but it never lasts for more than a few (weeks or) months.
Scenario Three: You’ve never taken the time to create a way to deal with all the paper in your home, life, or small business. You’ve got a system that works for some of the paper you deal with, but you’ve been ignoring a lot of it and it’s affecting your stress levels.
Scenario Four: You saved every scrap of paper because you thought someone would want it at some point in the future. You now realize that isn't the case, but you have no clue where to start.
Write down three specific issues you have with the paper in your home. Resolving them is your goal.
Identify the Benefits of Organizing Your Papers
Decluttering, organizing, and maintaining the papers in your home isn’t just about eliminating visual clutter; it’s about eliminating stress. How often do you put a piece of paper on the nearest available surface because you don’t really know what to do with it?
Creating a filing system isn’t about keeping everything or about being a neat-freak. A filing system should allow you to find the things you want to find when you want to find them. Trying to be too organized can be as challenging as not organizing at all.
What’s your ‘why’ for decluttering and organizing the paper in your home? This vision can keep you motivated when you start contemplating throwing boxes of old store receipts into the attic.
Dealing with Sentimental Items and Memorabilia
Sentimental paper items can include holiday cards, old invitations, postcards, letters, files from a former job, school papers (yours or your children’s) – really any paper that doesn’t have a current function but that you’ve held onto.
If you know these items have no sentimental value for you, you can toss them when you encounter them. Otherwise, set these papers aside for the end of the organizing process. When you see what you are keeping, you can better decide how to store these items.
What You Need to Get Your Paper Clutter under Control
Don’t go out and purchase file cabinets or any other storage items before you declutter unnecessary papers. Chances are that you’ll be able to reuse the file folders you have.
A paper shredder is useful. If you have years of old bills, statements, and documents that you don’t need, then you’ll probably want to hire a shredding service.
How long will this process take? Is it possible to declutter all your papers during this month? A major challenge with paper is that there is more than you think – that stack of papers a mere inch thick could contain 150 sheets of paper! And a banker’s box (those 10” x 12” x 24” popup cardboard file boxes) can hold more than 3000 sheets of paper - that's 3000 decisions to make!
This isn’t meant to discourage you. You'll soon discover that most papers don't deserve more than a glance to identify their purpose. Once you decide how to handle a group of papers, you've made that decision, which will speed the process of sorting through similar types of paper.
The reward of tackling your paper clutter is the relief you'll feel for creating more space in your home.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, loves learning and sharing information about organizing, productivity, and habits. She also likes reading young adult novels, crocheting, and spending time with her cat and husband in their riverside home in Massachusetts.