6.1 min Read Time

Do you have paper clutter bringing you down?  Let me show you what paper needs to be kept and how to store it!  But not only that, I’ll also teach you how to kick the paper habit. If you dislike paper,  you’re in luck. I have strategies for processing the paper that comes into your home or office and ways to reduce the amount of paper clutter that comes into your life.  You can kick the paper habit.

Drowing in paper

The 4 Stages of Paper Clutter

  1. New
  2. Active
  3. Archive/Reference
  4. Dead

New Paper

This is what comes in the mail or from other sources, such as events you attend, work, meetings, friends and school.  What are you supposed to do with all this paper??  Keep it moving!  Here’s how:

  • Sort mail daily while standing over the recycling bin. Purge all junk mail, envelopes and inserts. Shred sensitive documents
  • Employ RAFT method: Read, Act, File, Toss
  • Any mail that can be handled in 2 minutes or less, do immediately; then toss or file the paper
  • Don’t forget receipts!  Many of our clients have mountains of receipts. Ask yourself why you are hanging onto them.  If you can’t think of a good reason, you may not need them.  In addition, many stores can access the receipt by using your credit card. I recommend only keeping receipts for items that qualify for inclusion in your tax records, items you might return or that are for big ticket purchases that have a warranty. Your receipt is your proof of purchase date for warranty purposes.  Personally, I’ve stopped taking receipts for most of my day to day purchases due to the accessibility of real-time, online banking.

Active Paper

New papers that make it through the initial sort-and-purge become active paper.  This is often where the piles start forming.  So what’s next?

  • Set up a desktop hanging file system or wall hanging sorter to sort the remaining mail.  Use categories like “bills,” “future events,” “read,” “to do” and “file.”  Remember that no papers are intended to LIVE in these containers forever!  The papers are temporary guests
  • Keep your chosen system near where you prefer to process paper: home office, kitchen, family room, etc.  The more convenient it is to process, the more likely you are to do it!
  • If you don’t have much mail to sort out, simply create an in-box for him and her
Paper Sort Expanding File
Paper Sorting Wall
Desktop Hanging File Holder
Desktop File Box
Magazine Basket

Now that the active paper is sorted, we have to keep it moving!

  • Pick a day of the week to take care of the “to do” items.  Write a reminder on your calendar until it becomes a habit
  • Store magazines and catalogs where you would actually like to read them. Use the container as a LIMIT
  • Cancel all magazine and catalog subscriptions you don’t read by calling the number on the back of the catalog
Paper filled kitchen desk
Organized kitchen desk

Active Paper – Filing Basics

  • Store ACTIVE papers in an accessible area
  • Store ARCHIVE papers in a less accessible area
  • Store VITAL records in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box (birth certificates, marriage & divorce records, adoption, titles, will, social security records)

When creating files, keep these ideas in mind:

  • Keep in mind that at least 80% of what we file we never look at again
  • Consider color-coding the broad categories
  • Label files “general to specific” – Bank: Chase
    1. Taxes- Current Year
    2. Credit cards
    3. Loans
    4. Insurance
    5. Home Improvement Receipts
    6. Manuals/Warranties
    7. Hobbies
    8. If these kinds of categories don’t speak to you, use what makes sense to you!
  • Place all hanging file tabs in same position
  • Alphabetize, or group then alphabetize
  • There are many ways to do this, so be open to what seems right to your brain
  • Keep up on your filing so it doesn’t become a huge burden
  • Purge active files regularly: try every time you open the file or yearly
  • Paper that isn’t active or dead needs to be archived
Green File Folders

Tabs in a row are visually pleasing. When you add a new file, there is no issue with alignment either! Courtesy of Smead

Archive Paper

Papers that do not need to be accessed, but do need to be kept, are archive papers.  I find the best time to archive is January.  Examples of archive paper are past tax records, property closing documents, appraisals, or vital records.

Store archive paper in a box labeled by year or a transfer the file system you had it in when it was active to another location.  Keep archive papers in non-prime real estate such at the back of a closet or in the basement.  For business, archives maybe kept off-site at a document storage facility.

Dead Paper

Paper is dead if:

Always shred personally identifiable information. If you have a bulk of paper to shred, hire a shredding company to pick it up, take it to an office supply store for shredding or find a free, local shredding event.

How Do You Reduce the Influx of Paper Clutter?

When it comes to reducing paper clutter, technology is your friend!Landfillphoto

  • Scan records– This can be a serious undertaking. I generally don’t recommend this but suggest going electronic from this date forward rather than spending time scanning paper that you will never look at again.
  • Rely on websites for access to documents:
    1. Bank statements
    2. Credit card statements
    3. Manuals
    4. Hobby information
    5. Utility bills
  • Get and pay your bills electronically
  • Get all statements electronically– health insurance explanation of benefits, bank, investment
  • Remove your name from direct marketers’ mailing lists. Visit www.dmachoice.org to opt out of junk mail.
  • Restrict the use of your information (Respond to privacy statements from credit cards and other companies you do business with)
  • Recipe websites
  • Use smartphone apps to replace things you are tracking on paper. There is likely an app for it already on the market and apps are infinitely more searchable than piles of paper!
    1. Grocery lists – Out of Milk
    2. General notes: Evernote- ideas, business cards, links, expenses. The ways to use this are only limited by your imagination. I keep a note of interesting things my kid says because I know I won’t be able to remember them all and sometimes they are hilarious or insightful
    3. Mileage tracker – Drivers Note
    4. Movie lists – Flixster
    5. Wine lists – Vivino
    6. Task managers – Outlook, Gmail, Remember the Milk

What’s your favorite app for reducing paper clutter in your life?  Which of my strategies will you implement today? Comment to let me know! I would love to hear from you.