Even in our electronic era, paper accumulates quickly in our homes. It’s not difficult when you consider all the mail, school and work papers, financial and medical documents, magazines and reading material, social/membership calendars and information, receipts, legal documents, travel information, and personal keepsakes we receive. In my work with clients in their homes, paper is usually the area that creates the most angst and where we start our work. There are many things you can do to reduce the amount of paper that comes in the front door in the first place and to organize it for easy access and management.
1. Manage solicitations. Remove yourself from credit card offers, unwanted catalog lists, retail mailers and other junk mail lists. See options at right to help you with this.
2. Discard junk mail right away by doing your initial mail sort over the trash/recycle bin.
3. Discard envelopes and boiler plate pages (Insurance and financial statements often include this stuff) and unfold the rest to reduce the volume of paper.
4. Act on mail quickly. Much of our mail requires a decision or action. Many people put off dealing with it for multiple reasons – it’s not an enjoyable thing to do, it may bring bad news, you don’t have a system or place to store it. However, it’s important to deal with it as soon as possible so you don’t suffer negative consequences like late fees or missed events.
5. Set up files for papers that need to be retained. Put related papers together in clearly labeled folders. Take time each year to review what is in these folders and eliminate what you no longer need. This process will help you be more informed about what to keep in the following year. In a previous article, I discuss paper retention guidelines.
6. Manage school papers. School papers accumulate quickly as kids bring home notices, calendars, art, homework, awards and more. Go through these papers each week and again at the end of each school year to select the few precious ones to hold onto for keepsakes. Remember that you’ll have about 15 years of papers for each child so you can’t afford to hang on to them all. See article on Ideas for Organizing School Keepsakes.
7. Set up files for action items requiring further processing, such as bills to pay, things to follow up on, or reading materials for example. These files should be visible to you in desktop hanging files or tiered paper sorters. Set aside time each week to deal with them.
8. Don’t let old magazines, catalogs, newspapers and newsletters pile up for long periods of time. Replace them with the newest issue and put them in a place where you’ll have quick and easy access. Information ages so there is no need to keep them around for longer than 2-3 months unless they’re very special.
9. Limit bits and pieces of information. Some people keep information around that they think may come in useful – copies of internet articles, articles clipped from magazines and newspapers, humor, printed emails, and the like. Keep in mind that there is a wealth of up-to-date information at our fingerprints on the internet and that it quickly becomes outdated. If you must, consider scanning and retaining them electronically.
10. Have a safe and protected place to archive or store vital documents. There are some documents that you need to keep indefinitely such as birth/death certificates, marriage licenses, divorce/separation agreements, adoption papers, passports, and military papers.
Following these steps will help you reign in the paper and manage your household more effectively!