An Uncluttered Home Begins With This Simple System

An Uncluttered Home Begins With This Simple System

Taryn Williford
Sep 11, 2017
(Image credit: Natalie Jeffcott)

It's Monday! We're into week two of our decluttering program and the assignment I have for you today is a doozie—attacking a problem area that I know everyone can relate to. I have good news and even better news: The good news is we're in this together. And the even better news is that you might have already gotten a jump start on this task from Friday's mission to declutter the entryway.

Yep... we're talking about paper clutter. Everyone's got one—a spot where papers pile up at home. Where things like bills, coupons, wedding announcements and other moderately flat I-should-save-this objects stack up to such great heights that a gentle breeze could send them all flying.

So let's jump in already. Today's task is part cure and part prevention. If you dedicate an hour or so to getting this done right, you're setting yourself up for major success pretty much forever.

(Image credit: Brittany Purlee)

Today's Assignment

Identify your paper problem and work to get rid of it.

Find the spot (or spots) where your paper usually collects, and take up all the stacks in hand (or in a bag or box—whatever works). Then go through all the paper and sort it into three distinct stacks: To file, to shred and to recycle. If it helps, you can grab boxes or bags to collect each pile, but don't waste too much time or energy on it—I prefer to just lay out three labeled sticky notes right on the floor, and build my piles below each.

Working piece by piece through your stack, here's how to sort:

  • To File: Anything you need to keep—whether long-term, like a benefits letter from your employer, or short term, like a receipt for the dress you're not sure about yet.
  • To Shred: Paper that you don't need to keep, but that has potentially sensitive information on it, like financial details, that requires shredding. Handle this right away, even if your method is tearing it up by hand.
  • To Recycle: Everything else. Dump it into the recycling bin right now.

(If you uncover any non-paper objects in your paper piles, set those things aside to be dropped into our "wanderers" box from day one.)

Once you've finished your sorting, you should only have one pile left: "To file." Take another pass through each item in the pile, and sort it into one of two final fates depending on how long you anticipate hanging on to each piece: short term and long term, as defined above. Take the long-term stuff and get it into order right now, into the proper file cabinet or storage bin. Then take the short-term stuff and drop it into tray or a decorative basket—something that you scrounge up from somewhere else in your space, but move it to the (former) paper pile's spot.

Give yourself permission to make this tray the permanent—and only—home for any paperwork that enters your space from now on, at the same time making a vow to clean it out as soon as the paper pile outgrows its container. When that happens, you'll just put into play a shorter version of this same exercise: Sort things into piles to be kept, recycled or shredded. Then you can leave short-term paper (minus anything that's expired or outlived its usefulness) in the basket for a while.

Impact Move: Develop a System

I find that the basket/tray system works well for most households, but if you're really looking to get your household running like a well-oiled machine, my friend Erin has her home's mail management down to a science:

"All of our mail gets opened immediately by whoever brings it in. If it's for the other person, it goes on the entry wall. If it's a magazine, it goes in the coffee table and they all get thrown away Sunday, so you have to read it before then. If it needs to be filed it goes on the stairs to be taken to the office, and if it will be needed in the future (BB&B coupons, etc.) it goes in a basket that hangs on the half wall above the shoe bin. Basically, it has to be opened asap, and there has to be a process for what to do with it then. If it needs attention (water bill or card that I need I record the return address or something) that goes in my purse so I can handle it at my desk the next day."

And don't forget...

We've got that month-long mission to tackle the monster zone. Pop in and get rid of one more thing.

How is the September Sweep going for you so far?

Want to catch up with Apartment Therapy's September Sweep decluttering plan? You can see all of the month's assignments right here.

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