Decluttering Cure

If You Struggle with Paper Clutter, You Might be Missing One of These 5 Things

published Sep 11, 2020
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Credit: Sylvie Li

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Have you ever let a coupon sit in a pile of mail on your dining table for so long that it expired before you even saw it? I have. I’ve worked and eaten around paper piles on my dining room table for weeks, lying to myself thinking they’d be filled with important correspondence that required tons of attention, when really I was just sliding around a pile of 28 flavors of junk mail and one (1) random insurance statement. And maybe a card from a friend that it’s embarrassingly late to reply to now.

My point is this: Paper clutter is one of those things that seems so much harder to declutter in your head than it is in real life. And finally sorting those paper piles will give you a sense of control and I-have-my-life-together-ness that is truly unparalleled in this current era of life.

Here’s how to do it…

Day 4: Try this five-part system for handling paper clutter.

If you already have a good thing going with the way you handle mail and other papers, stick with it! But if your current system isn’t working like it should be, you may be missing a plan for one of these five important categories of paper clutter.

Decluttering Tip: Each one of these five paper clutter categories should have a “home” inside your home: trash, action items, short-term, long-term, and leisure reading.

→ Create Your Own Decluttering Workbook

  1. Trash and recycling: Toss your envelopes, inserts and bulk mail right away. For anything sensitive, if you have room for a shredder, great. If not, just tear it up with scissors or your hands.
  2. Action items: This category is for anything that needs doing, like bills that need to be paid. A good place for this type of mail is in or near your workspace.
  3. Short-term: This includes coupons you might want to use, or anything else you might want to reference in the near future. Give these a home where you’ll see and remember them. You can stick them to the fridge, or stash them in a basket or tray somewhere. I have mine in a paper sorter on the kitchen counter.
  4. Long-term: Anything you need to keep for your records should have a permanent (and ideally, fire-safe) place, so you can file paperwork the day it arrives.
  5. Leisure reading: These are your catalogs, magazines and newsletters. You should drop them wherever you hang out at home—like right next to the sofa or on the coffee table.

Decluttering Tip: When you’re filing long-term paperwork, remember the law of diminishing returns: File them away hastily today, and dedicate more time to the search when you (rarely) need to reference something.

→ Create Your Own Decluttering Workbook

Like I said, this system doesn’t need to be perfect. Once you have a spot in mind for each of the categories of paper, you should put it into practice on the paper piles you have at home right now. Here’s what to do: Gather all your paper piles up from around the house into one monster paper pile, then use these five categories to sort and send all the paper clutter to its proper home.

If you have way too much paper clutter to handle right now, just focus on going through just one small zone—like your dining table, entryway, desk, or kitchen counter.

More Ways to Participate in the Decluttering Cure:

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