In this series Clutter Busters – How to Declutter Paper, I am going to share some of the things I have learned over the years about my probably least favorite chore: declutter paper
Studies show the average person wastes 4.3 hours per week searching for papers. According to the National Association of Professional Organizations, paper clutter is the No. 1 problem for most businesses
Let’s face it, paper goes from our mailbox into our homes every single day! We get credit card offers (my least favorite piece of mail), bills, advertisements, bank and other financial statements, and an occasional greeting card, or invitation.
For me it is absolutely maddening. When my family and I travel somewhere, we inevitably have a pile of mail to go through when we return.
How To Declutter Paper? – The Mail
I am sort of old school and was taught that when it comes to finances, you should save EVERYTHING. With most financial institutions, utility companies, and other businesses now going paperless, we don’t need to save everything anymore.
If a business you patron, has an option to go paperless, do it.
In the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, it is suggested that the number one rule when it comes to paper is that you should “discard everything” (page 97). Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. Not everything goes to the shredder.
What Paper to Keep Short Term or Needs an Action:
These are papers that once you have completed the task associated with that paper item, they can be shredded.
- Papers that need to be signed and returned
- Current projects
- Bills that need to be paid this month
- Invitation for upcoming events
What Paper to Keep for a Limited Time:
These are papers that can be kept up to a year unless needed for tax preparation or when they expire like a warranty. Shred the old insurance policy when you receive the replacement.
- Bank Statements
- Credit card receipts
- ATM receipts
- Sales receipts
- Insurance Policies
What Paper to Keep Forever!
These are papers that you will want to keep indefinitely – never to be thrown away. In fact, I put these papers in a safe place where the possibility of damage is almost impossible.
- Birth Certificates
- Marriage License
- Social Security Cards
If it doesn’t fit in any of the above categories, the paper can be discarded. But Wait! What about that cute handmade card your 6-year-old made for you for Mother’s Day? Hang tight we will get there.
Clutter Busters – My Routine to Declutter paper and the mail:
Step 1. Sort
My husband brings in the mail when he gets home from work every day. I separate the mail in 3 sections, Shred, Recycle, and Keep. Advertisements, circulars, and other junk mail goes directly to the recycle bin. The credit card applications go directly to the shredder. Everything else that I need to keep temporarily goes to an “Inbox” I have next to my refrigerator.
I like to take care of the recycling and shredding as soon as it comes into the house. I do not enjoy seeing a stack of paper that needs to be shredded piling up. I have known several people who save paper that needs shredding and then take it to a bank, or other business that have free shredding days. If this is the case with you, put all of the paper that needs shredding in one place.
So what goes in the “inbox”? keep reading
Step 2. Declutter Paper That Needs an Action?
Papers that need an action on our part include, bills that are coming due, or a party that needs an RSVP, or perhaps a permission slip needs to be signed for the 3rd graders class field trip next week.
I store these papers in a small vertical wood (inbox) right next to my refrigerator.
I bought this box over 25 years ago and painted it a light blue. I was taking a tole painting class at the time, and my intention was to paint a pretty design on the front. I never took the time to paint anything, but the plain blue works just fine and I have used it virtually the same way all of these years.
This inbox has several folders. They are “To Do”, “To Read”, “To File”, “Receipts” and “Coupons”
The papers that need an action, for example, a bill that needs to be paid this month, and papers that need to be signed go in the file folder “To Do”. I go through this folder about once a week.
The “To Read” file is a list of books that I want to read at a future time. I like to read, so I keep a master list in this file.
The “To File” folder holds important papers like tax forms, insurance policies, and bank statements. These will be filed in our filing cabinet. I will write more about that below.
The “Receipts” file folder holds receipts of items that I may want to return in the near future. If I decide to keep the item, then I shred the receipt. This folder comes in handy during the holiday season when I am buying a lot of gifts online that will need to be returned.
If I have a receipt that I need for tax purposes however, I will put that in the “To File” folder to be moved to a more permanent place. Taxes is a whole different ball game and all tax forms and documents need to be in one place.
The “Coupons” file folder is for coupons I get in the mail or I find along the way. I have heard that many people use binders to store their coupons. I don’t use coupons often, but when I do, they are super handy in this folder.
As a side note, I also store our Family Binder in this box. Our family binder has our routines, schedules, a list of chores for every room, emergency contacts, addresses of family and friends so that I can send greeting cards, favorite holiday recipes, stickers, and more.
Step 3: How to Declutter Paper That Can Be Kept for a Limited Time?
I mentioned above that I have a “To File” folder in my inbox. This holds papers like Insurance Policies, Taxes, Warranties etc.
I go through the “To File” folder in my inbox a couple of times a month or when the folder gets annoyingly full.
These papers then go in our home office filing cabinet. The filing cabinet is organized in categories, such as “Medical”, “Taxes”, “Auto” etc.
Step 4. How to Declutter Paper That Needs to Be Kept FOREVER?
These papers are precious, so precious that losing them could be the end of the world...or may seem to be at the time.
These are items like Passports, Titles, Wills, Birth Certificates, Social Security Cards and other super important papers.
I put these items in a fireproof safe.
Step 5. How to Declutter Paper Using an Electronic Filing Cabinet
It may not be possible to go completely paperless, especially when you need to keep originals of some things like titles, social security cards, and birth certificates, marriage certificates etc. But with bills, bank statements, some receipts, and other paper, you can get rid of most of the paper clutter with using an electronic filing cabinet.
I use 2 different programs for electronic filing. One is Dropbox and the other is Evernote. I use Dropbox for organizing pictures. I have files set up for certain years as well as big events in life.
Our family took a vacation to several countries in Europe a few years ago. I have those pictures stored in a file called “Pictures 2018” for the year we went, as well as a folder called “European Vacation”. I have them in both places, because I may not always remember what year we traveled to those countries.
I use Evernote as a digital filing cabinet. You can set up “notebooks” inside Evernote and place a digital copy of a physical document inside of the notebooks.
How does it work? With the Adobe Scan App on my phone, I can take a picture of the document, save it as a PDF and then share it to Evernote. It will land in the “inbox” of Evernote where you can then assign the document a notebook to drop into.
Step 6. Eliminate Paper- Owner’s Manuals
Whenever you buy an appliance or an electronic device your purchase will include a Owner’s manual. At one time, I had an entire drawer dedicated to owner’s manuals alone.
I purchased a front load washer and it came with an owner’s manual. I put it in that drawer and forgot about it. A year or so later, the washer stopped draining and had an error message flash on the display screen. I was so proud of myself for saving the manual.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the owner’s manual among the hundreds of other manuals I had accumulated over the years.
Fortunately I was able to find the exact owner’s manual on the internet and was able to fix the problem with my washer. Owner’s manuals can now be found on the internet, so I was able to free up a drawer. Hooray for me!
Step 7. Declutter Kids Art and Paper
No one ever wants to throw away the masterpieces their kids make at home and school. I still love looking at my kids spelling, handwriting and stories they wrote when they were little. Who can forget those cute pictures made from their tiny hand prints?
I have put my kids’ best artwork and papers into Binders. All four of my kids have binders with their masterpieces. This includes that super cute Mother’s Day card that we mentioned above. These binders work great for every art project I have seen. And I have seen a lot of them! After your kids create a masterpiece, just add it to the back of their binder.
Step 8. Declutter Paper – Magazines
With the exception of 1 magazine I get from my church every month The Ensign I no longer buy magazine subscriptions. There is just too much information on the internet.
If you have a magazine subscription that it is MUST, as soon as you get it in the mail, look through it and then put it in the recycle bin. If there is a pretty design, picture, recipe or article you must save, take a picture of it on your phone and save it to Evernote or Dropbox.
Step 9. Declutter Greeting Cards
I used to only buy greeting cards as I needed them. Then I started going to scrapbook parties or card making parties and created quite a collection. Then there was the obsession with card making that continues to today.
I have a small box for greeting cards. Most of the greeting cards I give are digital now, so I just print them out as I need them.
Step 10. Wrapping Paper Storage
I like to keep all of my wrapping paper, ribbon, and small gift tags in one place. Some organizers have a special section in their home to display pretty wrapping paper and ribbon.
I have a wide variety of wrapping paper in a variety of sizes, and different types of ribbon, so displaying them would look very cluttered.
I believe in the saying: “Out of sight, out of mind” so I hid my wrapping paper, ribbon, tape, and tiny gift tags in one spot. I use a wrapping paper and ribbon storage container like the one below
Final Thoughts on How to Declutter Paper.
It takes time to get rid of all the paper that collects every day. But don’t fret, no one has an empty inbox. Comment below to share how you can eliminate paper in your home or office. I would love to hear about how you get organized.
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