Banish Paper Clutter for Good With This Simple System

published Jan 9, 2018
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(Image credit: Diana Liang)

Part of the reason that the Cure works so well for so many people is its adaptability. By month’s end, you’ll start taking your own track with the assignments we send every day, and your home will be looking and working better than it ever has before. For today’s task, though, we’re targeting what seems like everyone’s worst home enemy: paper clutter.

You can still join!

What we’re doing today is part remedy and part prevention. By the end of the day, you’ll have a home that’s not only slimmer on mail, coupons and bills, but you’ll also have a system for keeping the paper monster at bay, too. 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: Diana Liang)

Today’s Assignment

Identify the places at home where paper tends to collect, and work to get rid of it.

You already know your paper problem areas — maybe it’s the kitchen counter, dining room table, entryway console, or the front of the fridge — because these are the places that always seem like magnets for bringing in the mail. (And there are probably piles there right now.) Walk around and take up all the stacks of paper from your home and collect the paper into a box or bag — whatever works.

Sit down in a spot where you have some room to work and go through all the paper in your box, piece by piece, sorting everything into three distinct stacks: to file, to shred and to recycle. If it helps, you can grab trays or boxes to collect each of these piles, 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 sweater you’re not sure about yet. Try to slim down each piece as much as you can before putting it into the file pile — remove papers from their envelopes and put needless enclosures and inserts aside to be recycled.
  • To shred: Paper that you don’t need to keep, but that has potentially sensitive information on it, like financial details, that requires shredding.
  • To recycle: Everything else. (Including those envelopes and inserts from above.)

Everything in your recycle pile? Dump it into the recycling bin right now.

Everything that you set aside to shred — handle it right away, even if your method is tearing it up by hand. (And for the future, if you can’t justify the cost or space needed for a shedding machine, I use $10 shredding scissors to remove sensitive info from my documents before tossing them.)

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. 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 (on the kitchen counter or dining room table or wherever).

We’re done! Give yourself a pat on the back. Slaying the paper monster can be a beast of a task, but it’s one of those things that’s so important and satisfying to finish.

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.

How did it go for you? And for those of you who have managed to get a hold of paper clutter over the years, please share your methods in the comments!

You can still join!

More Info:

  • The January Cure 2018 Main Page
  • Download the printable PDF calendar: January Cure 2018
  • Share your progress on Instagram: #thejanuarycure