Hi, I’m Aby Garvey, and I believe that organizing can be creative and fun—the more you love an organizing solution the more likely you are to use it! You can usually find me on the web at my blog Creative Organizing or hanging out in one of the online workshops I run on my website simplify 101. I hope you enjoy today’s post on how to say goodbye to paper clutter, because if there’s one thing that’s not fun—it’s paper clutter.
It’s true. Paper clutter isn’t any fun at all. Of all the types of clutter, paper clutter is particularly stressful. There’s something very unnerving about stacks and piles of paper. Your paper clutter causes stress like no other kind of clutter because you’re not quite sure what you’ll find hiding at the bottom of that pile. There’s a constant sense of uneasiness as you wonder what you haven’t yet take care of.
Eliminating paper clutter, however, can be fun. It’s a combination of creating new systems and new habits. Here are five ways you can get started saying goodbye to your paper clutter.
Establish a spot for incoming paper. Paper clutter often begins when new paper comes into the home. If you don’t have a specified place for all your to-be-processed paper, the result is that it stacks up haphazardly on any flat surface or on top of yesterday’s (or last week’s) stack. The first line of defense for paper clutter is to stop it where it begins: right when it comes into your home. Do this by establishing a single collection spot for all of your incoming paper. You can use a traditional in-box, a plastic tray designed for serving food, a magazine box or even a wicker basket. Select a container that works well in the space where your paper typically lands today. If you handle your paper in a different location from this landing spot, choose a portable container for collection.
Process paper regularly. The next common cause of paper clutter is lack of habits and routines surrounding your paper. Paper requires action, so to keep paper clutter away you must act on your paper regularly. Begin by processing your paper every single day, or in other words, strive to completely empty your collection bin once every 24 hours. Do this by recycling junk mail, filing papers you need to keep, and placing bills and other actionable paper into a action filing system that enables you to act on your paper at the appropriate time.
Establish times and reminders to take action. Paper clutter is often a combination of delayed actions and delayed decisions. So, if there’s a piece of paper that needs your attention and you can attend to it now—do it! A terrific way to keep paper clutter at bay is to handle your actionable items as soon as possible. When you handle things right away you will spend less time shuffling your paper around and trying to remember to make that phone call or fill out that permission slip. For actionable papers that can’t be handled right away, set up routine times to take action or handle your paperwork. For example, decide to pay bills on the 15th and the 30th of the month or every Friday afternoon. Simply choose a schedule that works for you, and then create reminders to “pay bills” by recording the task on your calendar or to-do list.
Simplify your filing system. If you have a “to file” stack or folder, consider why this is the case. Why are you choosing not to file your papers right away and instead letting them pile up? (By the way, the answer isn’t “I’m lazy.”) Instead, the answer is probably tied to the complexity of your filing system. Most likely your filing system is just a notch too complicated for you to use it consistently.
Perhaps you have too many file categories which make the act of filing too cumbersome. Or, maybe you handle your paperwork in the kitchen, but store your files in your home office on the other end of the house, which makes it inconvenient to file your papers on a regular basis. Or maybe you’re over-keeping—holding onto papers you don’t really need. Try to diagnose the underlying cause of your filing back log and then look for ways to free up the log jam by making your filing system a notch simpler.
Consider simplify your filing system by creating monthly file folders for paid bills.
Set up systems you love. The more you love an organizing solution the more likely you are to use it. This especially holds true for paperwork solutions. The good new is that it’s easier than ever to set up paper storage solutions that are attractive to your eye and suit your sense of style. Peruse the isles of Target, Office Max or other large retailers to look for paper storage solutions you love that will look great in the room where you handle your paperwork. Or, consider exercising your creative organizing muscles by sprucing up your paperwork systems using simple craft supplies like scrapbook paper and glue stick.
The effort you make by establishing new systems and habits for your paperwork will have a huge pay off—your home will be clutter free and you’ll be stress-free. How great is that?