Radical Simplicity and a Beautiful, Messy Life

The Ultimate Guide to Dealing with Paper Clutter for Good

Organizing Papers

When I ask people what part of their home and life is the most difficult to simplify, time and time again people answer that paper clutter is the bane of their simple living pursuits.

And I get it.  With six kids and a busy household, paper comes through our doors almost faster than I can deal with it. 

In order to get rid of paper clutter for good, we need to address two things; we need to deal with the clutter that already exists, and we need to put systems and habits in place to prevent clutter from accumulating again.  If our habits aren't changing, we will find ourselves organizing and reorganizing time and time again. Nothing changes if nothing changes.

Grab an empty laundry basket and collect any paper clutter that currently doesn't have a home. Take note of where it tends to gather.  The kitchen counter?  Then entry way?  This will help you develope a system that works for you and your family.

Here is how to deal with paper clutter for good. 

Reduce the amount of paper coming through the doors.  The first step to taming and organizing paper clutter is to have less of it to tame!  Cancel catalogues and sign up for paperless billing with your bank and utilities.  (Bonus, there is often a fee associated with paper bills and statements, so you'll save money too.)

Create a landing spot for paper that requires action.  Many people call this their command center.  This is where you will put bills to be paid, kid's school forms, etc.  Think vertical (such as wall files and corkboards) rather than a pile on the counter.  Things get lost and forgotten in piles, and piles get in the way.

Have a recycle bin or shredder near the places that paper clutter tends to land, to make discarding it easier.  Immediately recycle anything that only contains information you already have access to online, such as sale flyers, take-out menu's and phone books.

Have a place to stash receipts you will need for the current year's taxes.  We once had a magazine file on a shelf and now use a pocket in our budgeting binder.

Create binders for papers that you tend to collect.  If you find that a lot of your paper clutter is recipes, or notes for your blog, or documents for work, put like items together in a 3 ring binder so that you always know where to find them, and where to put them when similar papers arise.

Get unsentimental (a.k.a. ruthless)  If I kept every piece of art my kids brought home I would need a whole extra bedroom to store it all in.  I keep one or two peices a year (I just slip them in a page protector in our family photo album to look back on one day) and I toss the rest while the kids aren't looking.  If they ask about it, I explain that I simply can't keep everything they make for me.

Have a simple filing system for things that must be kept.  We have a wooden filing cabinet (painted a fun bright yellow!) that holds all our important documents.  Don't create more categories than you really need, it will overwhelm you and make filing a dreaded task.  Keep it simple.

Here are the categories we have in our filing system:

  • A file for each member of the family (including the dog) for things like immunization records, diploma's, and other personal files.
  • A home file, with home insurance documents, etc..
  • A vehicle file, with our vehicle insurance documents, etc. 
  • The last 7 years of tax receipts, stuffed in a large envelope and labelled.  Each year when I file away the most recent year's receipts, I pull out and shred the oldest, so that I only ever have the past 7 years of documents. 

More tips to make your paper organization last:
  • If you only need a piece of paper for a tracking code or account number, consider taking a photo of it with your phone and then discarding it. 
  • When possible, touch each piece of paper only once.  Use your time efficiently be dealing with the paper while it's already in your hand instead of letting it pile up for later. 
  • Open every piece of mail that comes through the door.  Unopened mail is perpetually stuck in limbo. Open that envelope, even if (and especially if) it's something you'd rather not see, like an overdue credit card statement
  • Make notes and lists digitally, or use a specified notebook.   If you are a list maker (like me!), avoid losing your list and adding to the paper clutter by writing your lists and notes in a smartphone app.  I use evernote for nearly everything. 

pssst.... want to be part of a super encouraging online community of people striving to clear the clutter and live a simpler life?  Join my just-launched facebook group Radical Simplicity and take part in weekly challenges as well as share your own journey with like minded new friends.  I can't wait to connect with you over there!!

And as always, if you like this post, will you share it?  Thanks loves.

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