Paper clutter must be the easiest kind of clutter to lose control of in your home. There’s a never ending stream of paper coming in, and before you know it, there are piles of “important things” everywhere. But maybe they’re not so important after all. Maybe you don’t really know what’s in that pile, because more paper came in and you just piled it all on top because you didn’t know what else to do with it.
Making a few changes to your routine and systems can make a massive difference to the paper clutter in your home. I’m not saying it will all disappear overnight, but the trick is in knowing what to do with paper when it comes in, and being able to do that thing easily.
First of all, identify the problem areas.
Are there areas where paper seems to naturally gather? Where do you drop the post when it comes in? Where do the kids store their artwork? Where do you put those important documents that you need to follow up on, but haven’t yet? These are the areas that you need to focus on and find solutions for. Don’t try to fight your nature. It’s not about forcing yourself to fit an entirely new system, but working out where the problems are then finding systems that work with the way you and your family already live. If you always dump the unopened post on the kitchen table, you need to accept that and simply find the next step which gets it off the kitchen table as quickly as possible.
So what can you do to manage your paper clutter at home?
1. The One Touch rule
When you first get your hands on a piece of paper, deal with it. Chuck it , recycle it, file it or action it. Make a plan for where things go and what you need to do with them, and do that straight away. The more you can do this, the more manageable your paper clutter will be.
Wherever you’re mostly likely to handle paperwork should be where you are set up to deal with it. If you look through the post as soon as you walk through the door then just leave it on a hall table, put a bin next to it and immediately throw away (or recycle) what you don’t need. It might not be practical to have a shredder and full filing system in the hall, but at the very least you can get rid of junk mail straight away. Then take the rest where it needs to go. One or two letters are a lot easier to deal with than a whole pile.
2. Reduce what comes in
Do you read all of the magazines you subscribe to? Can you unsubscribe from some of them? Do you need to have your bills and statements in paper form? Can you request that they are sent digitally? If there are catalogues that regularly come through your door, but you always throw out, contact the company and asked to be taken off their mailing list. Reduce what’s coming in to your home.
3. Create a To Do/To File system
As paper comes in, take a minute to review it straight away and decide if it needs doing or filing (you’ve already chucked your junk mail, right?). Set up a simple, short-term filing system near to wherever you open the post, with a couple of of magazine files, boxes or an in-tray. One labelled “to do” and the other, “to file”. Sort the papers accordingly, and try to set up a regular time to file what needs to go into long-term filing. Be deliberate about this though and don’t file anything you don’t really need to keep.
If it’s something that needs to be shredded, you can either have a third file for “shredding” or set up your shredder in that area too and shred straight away. Shredders tend to get a bit antsy when faced with a year’s worth of shredding, so do it straight away if you can.
4. Go digital: invites and information
Maybe there aren’t so many invites at the moment, but when they do start flooding in again put the details into your calendar straight away. If you use the one on your phone, great! You’re more likely to be able to find your phone than that little invite when you’re late and dashing out the door anyway!
Scan any paperwork containing information which you need access to, but doesn’t need to be filed away. There’s likely to be a scanning function on your phone which you can use and will mean you always have the information on you, or buy a simple scanner to connect to your computer.
5. Contain the kids
Unpack the kids school bags as soon as they get home from school. Separate the school letters from the homework from the “artwork”. If the letters need actioning, put them in the “to do” box. If it’s info, scan them, then bin them.
Store all homework books together, so you always know where they are. I use a wall-mounted basket in the kitchen that the children can get to. When we’re ready to do homework, the books come out and they go straight back in afterwards. The same with reading books. As soon as they’re finished, they go in the basket so there’s no scrabbling round for them at 8.47 in the morning.
Children’s art can be more difficult and emotionally charged. For really special pieces, set up a file that you can access easily. It could be a box or a file in your filing cabinet. There are lots of different ways to preserve and store children’s art as lovely memories, but for now, it just needs a home that it can go to quickly and easily. When your file is full, you can decide how to store it long-term.
For the less special pieces, give your children some of the decision-making power. Give them a container (a drawer/noticeboard/basket on a shelf) that they can fill with whatever notes and pictures they like, but when that container is full, they need to decide what stays and what goes. It’ll help teach them that there are limits to what can be stored, but also that you respect what is special to them. Anything that’s not in the container can be binned with a clear conscience.
6. Set up a long term filing system
Set up a filing system for those documents you definitely need to keep long-term. This will be different for every home, but when you have worked through your paper clutter and found those things which can’t be kept digitally, create a system so you can file and find them easily. Keep the categories broad enough to allow for some wiggle room, but limit them to just the essentials so you’re not tempted to keep every manual, voucher and receipt.
And that’s it! Six tips to help you manage paper clutter at home. Small regular actions like these will get you there, so just keep going. Good luck!
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