You’re 6 Sticky Notes Away from Eliminating Your Paper Clutter Problem

published Jan 21, 2019
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(Image credit: Brittany Purlee)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

The January Cure is all about refreshing and organizing your home for 2019. We tackle one assignment each weekday throughout the entire month. It’s not too late to sign up, and you can visit the Cure page to catch up with the assignments so far.

You already know your paper problem areas. Maybe it’s the kitchen counter, dining room table, entryway console, or the front of the fridge—or maybe it’s all of the above. They’re the places that seem to transform into magnets when you bring in the mail.

And there are probably piles there right now. No judgement.

Luckily, we have a six-pile system for slashing through your paper problem. A system that should set you up for success every day from now on.

The paper pile is a big job, mentally. There are so many different types of clutter, and ways to deal with it, that it might seem like this Cure assignment will take all night, based on word count alone. That’s just my attempt to give you as much free advice as I can. I bet the actual act of sorting all your paper piles tonight won’t take you long at all. In fact, this is a great task for you to set a timer before you start. Once you know how quickly you can clear paper clutter from your home, you’ll feel empowered to never let it take over your space again.

Let’s get going…

(Image credit: Natalie Jeffcott)

Today’s Assignment: Get rid of paper clutter.

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

First, walk around with a bag or box and take up all the piles of paper from your home. Then, 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 stacks. If it helps, you can grab trays or boxes to collect each of your piles, 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 might need:

  • Trash
  • Recycle
  • Shred
  • File
  • Action Items
  • “Other”

Once you have your workstation set up, take your big box of paper and go through it piece by piece, dropping everything into one of your labeled piles.

Try to limit how much you put into the “file,” “action,” and “other” piles. For instance, separate papers from their mailers and recycle the empty envelope. Recycle any product manuals that can be easily found online (which is practically all of them). Consider if you can leave yourself digital notes or reminders instead of hanging on to physical papers.

The “file” pile is for important documents you need to keep for your records. The “action” pile is things that need some sort of effort from you—like notes that need replies, bills that need to be paid, or magazines you’d like to read. The “other” pile is a catchall for anything you want to keep that doesn’t seem to need filing or doing.

What to Do With Your Six Piles

Once your whole big pile is sorted, it’s time to deal with the small ones. Toss the garbage, drop the recycling into the bin, and take a second to shred anything with sensitive information (or set it up so it’s easy to grab when you head to work or an office center). Take your “file” pile and file it away tonight.

Here’s how to deal with your action items: Do the thing. If it’s a bill that needs to be paid (or something similarly administrative), take care of it tonight, or drop it into your work bag so you can handle it at your desk in the morning. If it’s a magazine or catalog 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 you have action items you can’t handle right away, give them their own tray or paper sorter, and schedule some time each week to go through them. Just 15 minutes, once or twice a week will do. Go ahead and set a reminder for next Monday, and try to keep up the habit going forward. And you can put your future action items in this tray next time you bring in the mail.

Here’s how to deal with your “other” pile: The papers that make it to this pile have crossed the threshold from “communication” to “things,” and they’ll need a special home.

These leftover papers are probably pretty unique to you, so just take a second to think about where and how to store these things so you’ll have them when you need them. If they’re references for a future project or event, you could put them together in a box or folder that you can store somewhere neatly. If they’re receipts for something you might return, maybe keep a small envelope in your purse or a close-by drawer. If they’re coupons you might want to use, try something like a small accordion folder. (I like to keep coupons visible so I don’t forget they’re there, so I keep mine in a toast holder on the kitchen counter.)

This exercise serves two important purposes. The first, of course, is clearing paper clutter from your home. But maybe more importantly, the time you spent sorting tonight should give you some clarity for how to deal with the papers that will enter your home in the future. Hopefully, you’re better able to identify what things are, put them where they need to go, and deal with them swifty before they ever pile up again.

One more thing before you go off to sort and stack: As the cleaning editor here at Apartment Therapy, I’ve written a good many posts about how to sort through your paper piles. And each time, you readers let me know what was missing, or how the system didn’t work for you. So I keep reading your comments, trying to refine the process. This is draft number six or seven, and I really feel good about it.

If this system worked for you, please let me know. And also let me know if it didn’t work for you. We’re all in this together, so lets share our best advice and keeping cheering each other on!

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Download the printable PDF calendar: January Cure 2019

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