I gave a seminar over the weekend on Decluttering and Managing Paper, and promised I'd write a blog post on managing paper for those who weren't able to attend. The decluttering part of the seminar can be found in my Three Steps to Decluttering book (see below). Since there is quite a bit of material, I'll break it up into two blog posts.
Paper multiplies faster than rabbits, doesn't it? If we're not intentional about how we manage paper, it can quickly inundate our homes. So let's look at some ways to control our paper clutter:
Mail is just so much clutter! While you are walking back from the mailbox, sort your mail:
- Separate out the junk mail and immediately toss it into a recycling box. I keep a paper recycling container in my garage so the junk mail doesn't even need to enter my house.
- Shred what needs to be shredded.
- Place your bills in the place where you keep unpaid bills.
- Place other mail that needs attention in your area for action items.
- And file or place in a "To Be Filed" container those pieces that must be filed.
Deal with mail the day you receive it so it doesn't develop into a large stack. It takes a few minutes, but it's so less daunting than a big pile of mail. Have you heard the expression "touch it only once?" If you touch each paper that comes into your house or office only once, you are eliminating deferred decisions, lost bills, and clutter.
An ideal situation would be to have your shredder and recycling containers near where you put your bills and action items, and your file cabinet. I've only had this ideal situation once in recent years, so do the best you can with what you have. The key: don't let your mail pile up!
Reduce the Paper Coming and/or Staying in your Home or Office
If we can prevent paper from coming into our homes and offices, we don't have to deal with it! Here are a few suggestions for eliminating the avalanche:
Whenever possible, do your bill-paying and banking online, reducing time and paper clutter. Once you have paid your bills, it is not necessary to keep those bills if they are not needed for taxes. Make sure you have a list of your account numbers in case you have issues. For example, if your electricity goes out, you'll need to know your account number when you call to report the outage.
When you receive a new catalog or magazine, recycle or give away the old one. If you haven't read the old one by now, you probably won't.
Unsubscribe to magazines or newspapers you don’t have time to read.
If there is an article you want to keep, tear it out and slip it into a page protector in a binder rather than keep an entire magazine.
Ask to be removed from mailing lists, and don't sign up for contests to win a new car or something similar. When you sign up for a contest, you are placing yourself on a mailing list that will be sold.
If you are inundated with junk mail, the following websites can help reduce your unwanted mail:
Catalog Choice allows you to choose the catalogs you want and don't want to receive.
Yellow Pages Goes Green allows you to opt out of receiving phone books at your door.
Opt Out Prescreen allows you to opt out of receiving credit card and insurance offers.
Lifelock not only prevents you from receiving unwanted offers and mail, but notifies you if someone is trying to steal your identify. There is a fee for this service.
What Documents to Keep
Once you have reconciled your ATM, debit and credit card receipts, you don't need to keep them. Shred them.
Car or real estate receipts - keep records of improvements and repairs for seven years after it's sold.
Monthly credit card, banking statements, paid bills - save anything that is tax-deductible for seven years.
IRS Documents - retain annual returns forever. Discard supporting papers after seven years.
Pay stubs - shred when you have reconciled them with your W-2 (once a year).
I hope you are feeling leaner already! It's a big job to deal with paper as it comes into our homes and offices. But it's even bigger job if we let it pile up!
More on the decluttering part of my seminar:
Three Steps to Decluttering (print and ebook) - the print book is half-price during January
Three Steps to Decluttering (Kindle)
Declutter Any Room in Three Weeks