You Can Shrink All Your Paper Clutter Piles With 3 Easy Steps

published Jan 7, 2021
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Credit: Lula Poggi

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I’ve been writing about home organizing for more than a decade, which is something that would shock most people who knew me as a teenager. You see, I was a very messy kid.

I still am a messy kid, in a lot of ways. But I’ve learned strategies and tools to help me keep my natural tendencies in check (like my stair hook), and exercised my mental muscles enough that I can resist the urge to go right to bed without clearing off the kitchen counters first. And I now know there’s no way to keep control over your paper piles other than sorting through them every once in a while.

Yep, the best way to cleaning up paper piles is to just clean them up. Sorry if that’s bad news! But luckily sorting through paper piles is easier than it seems at the start. And it gets simpler and quicker the more you do it.

So let’s get started…

Day 4: Get rid of paper clutter.

Gather up all the piles of paper clutter around your space and sort through them.

The gathering part is easy: Travel throughout your home and collect all the disparate piles of paper, like mail, old magazines, bills, product manuals and warranty information—whatever! Use a shopping bag if you need to.

Then take your mega-paper-pile and sit down someplace where you can spread out (I usually handle this on the floor). Go through all the paper in your pile, piece by piece, sorting everything into stacks. If it helps, you can grab trays or boxes to collect each of your smaller stacks, but don’t waste too much time or energy on it—I prefer to just lay out labeled sticky notes right on the floor, and build my piles below each.

Here are the piles you’ll need:

  1. The recycling pile is for things you can cast off right now, into the trash or recycling (maybe with a trip through the shredder first).
  2. The filing pile are for things you need to save—and you should have a home for everything in this pile, whether that’s a filing cabinet or storage box. Put these things away in their homes.
  3. The action items pile is for things you can deal with right now: If it’s a bill that needs to be paid, take care of it, or drop it on your desk to be dealt with in the morning. If it’s a magazine you’d like to read, put it in (not near, in) your usual sitting spot so you can pick it up next time you have a moment to browse. If it’s an envelope you were saving to record a friend’s return address, take one minute to do it right now.

Ideally everything in your mega-pile should sort into one of these three categories, but if you still have papers left over, that’s ok! If you ask me, nondescript paper piles are a natural part of any good home organization system—like a junk drawer.

Taryn's Tips

Every home needs a “junk drawer” for paper clutter. Keep a basket or file sorter just for random papers. Make sure it’s small so you can sort through it often and keep the controlled mess manageable.

Getting rid of your whole stack today would be good, but shrinking it down is good enough. I’ll see you tomorrow for our first Friday assignment!

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