You Can Get Rid of Paper Clutter in 5 Steps, According to This Expert

published Sep 23, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Sylvie Li

Apartment Therapy’s Decluttering Cure is a free two-week decluttering program that’ll help you achieve a tidier home. Joining us today is guest cure-ator Michele Vig, who founded Neat Little Nest to follow her passion for decluttering and organizing to help unlock people from their clutter.

Some habits are hard to break. Take holding onto paper clutter, for example. It starts with one piece of paper that you think you’ll need for the future (“just in case, right?”) and before you know it, you’re holding on to everything: coupons, bank statements, receipts, sticky notes — the list goes on. 

When that paper pile starts to become clutter everywhere, you know it’s time to part ways with this unwanted habit. Today, let’s make moves to get rid of your paper clutter and set up a system to keep it down. 

Day 6: Organize and get rid of paper clutter.

To help you sort through your paper clutter, we have Michele Vig of Neat Little Nest as our guest cure-ator. Paper clutter is one of Vig’s favorite categories to declutter because you can see the impact almost immediately, but she also acknowledges how difficult it can be to address it. 

Before getting started, Vig recommends that you shift your mindset and have faith that you can do this. Once you’re ready, here’s what you can do to “make peace with your paper clutter,” as Vig says, in five steps.

  • Do a seek-and-find for the “easy gets.” These are the ads, junk mail, and coupons you won’t use that can be easily recycled or shredded. This “seek and find” process can be expanded into multiple sessions, depending on how much paper clutter you have. If you have a lot, you may have to create subcategories of like items and go through each one.
  • Implement a daily system. Vig relies on a very simple sorting system. She has two standup magazine files: one for “to-do items” and one for “to-file” items. The to-do items are things you can take action on before discarding, while the to-file items are things that need to be kept for a long time. As you go through your pile you’ll decide which goes in each category. You can leave a Post-It note on each item of what you need to take care of before shredding or recycling it. 
  • Have a filing system for longer-term items. You could go for a classic filing cabinet, like our Organization Award winner, or something smaller (like this DIY project I did last year that repurposed a storage cube.)
  • Schedule time to go through your to-do items. With a daily system in place, you’ll want to set aside time to take action, whether that’s weekly or as soon as the magazine file is full. A to-do could look like paying off a bill, signing up for paperless billing, and then shredding the bill.
  • Save the sentimental for last. As you go through your paper clutter, you might have a few sentimental items in the mix. Vig stresses that you save the sentimental items for last (in fact, we have a whole separate task for sentimental clutter coming up tomorrow!), as it can shift your focus. 

VIG’S PRO TIP: To make the recycling and shredding process easier, Vig recommends having a place to take care of this as part of your daily system. Consider having a bin and shredder in the entryway or home office and taking your mail there to sort through it. 

How high was your paper pile? Tell us in the comments below. 

More ways to participate in the Decluttering Cure:

The Cure Program is a tradition here at Apartment Therapy — it happens every January, April, and September. Click here to learn more about the year-round program and when to sign up.