Stop Paper Clutter – Organizing and Filing Papers


Ah, paper. They keeping telling us that tablet computers, high-tech wristwatches, and all other things digital will soon replace the need for Post-its and flyers — and yet, every available surface in your home is littered with mail, catalogs, forms, and more. Here’s how to keep the paper monster at bay.

1. Admit that the paper isn’t the problem. It’s you.

“Paper comes into our homes two ways — either we print it or we carry it in,” says Maeve Richmond, founder and organizing coach at Maeve’s Method. “There’s no paper fairy that dumps clutter onto our desks at night. To begin reducing the volume, be more conscious about the paper you bring inside.”

2. To do this, adopt a paper-banishing alter ego.

“Conjure your inner super villain, and be heartless about keeping paper out of your space,” says professional organizer Seana Turner. “Visualize paper as a culprit that steals your real estate, and then only keep to what you desperately need.” Ask yourself if you really need another pamphlet from your doctor’s office or another school flyer — especially when all of the information is probably available online.

3. Create opportunities to toss paper, not keep it around.

“Use the time walking from your mailbox to sort out junk mail, and toss it before you even get inside,” says professional organizer Rachel Rosenthal. Place a recycling bin (or better yet, a shredder) in your mudroom or garage, or at least not very far from your front door. Then you’ll be left with stuff you actually want to read (magazines, catalogs), and items that require action (bills, invitations), instead of piles of paper that still need sorting.

4. Devote one spot (just one!) to paper clutter.

Chances are you can’t eliminate all paper from your home, but you can limit its reach. “Create a dedicated drop zone, like a bowl or a tray.” says Richmond. Give yourself permission to drop papers there (and only there!), and sort them after you’ve had a chance to settle in at the end of a long day.

5. Realize that mail stops being mail when you bring it inside.

“Clients often ask me, ‘Where’s the best place to keep mail?'” writes professional organizer Matt Baier. “That’s like asking ‘Where’s the best place to keep groceries?'” Just like you’d immediately store milk in the fridge and canned tomatoes in the pantry, recognize that the different kinds of mail shouldn’t all just languish on your dining table. They deserve a home that makes sense (new magazines might go on your nightstand, and bills filed in a “to do” folder), and tidiness will follow.

6. Replace lots of pieces of paper with one big one.

“Hang a large monthly calendar,” says professional organizer Lauren Silverman. “Every appointment, party, school event, or sports practice gets recorded on the calendar as soon as the paper comes through the door, and the invitation or flyer gets tossed. By keeping track of stuff in one visible, accessible sport, you’re less likely to misplace something important, which is a reason people tend to hang onto paper in the first place.”

7. Park pretty objects where you would ordinarily pile paper.

Make it difficult for paper to clutter places it doesn’t belong. “Empty surfaces act like paper magnets, so fill them with framed photos, houseplants, or other decorative pieces when you can,” says Richmond. “Choose something that anchors the spot and makes you smile.”

8. Stop paying for guilt.

“Many people are over-subscribed to magazines and newspapers, resulting in a pileup,” says Turner. “We look at the pile and feel guilty that we haven’t read them, which keeps us from recycling them. Limit yourself to two or three subscriptions, and if a new issue arrives before you’ve read the old one, let it go.”

9. Fight fear with technology.

“People are really afraid of losing something or not being able to retrieve it later,” says professional organizer Marcia Bennett. “The truth is that 80% of the papers we file, we never use again.”

If that stat doesn’t help you part with old bank statements or greeting cards, embrace the digital revolution (instead of the filing cabinet) to hold onto things. “Take documents and other papers worth saving to Staples or a copy center and have them digitally scanned,” says Richmond. “With rare exceptions, printing out a scanned copy of paperwork is just as good as the original.”

Drowning under a deluge of kids’ artwork you just can’t bare to toss? “Photograph or scan the little masterpieces and turn them into photo books,” says Silverman. “This way, an extra copy can even be shared with Grandma and Grandpa.”

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