The kitchen counters, your desk space, your kids’ backpacks, the car…do they all look as if they’ve been hit by a paper tornado? Even though so many aspects of our lives have been digitized, we still seem to end up with an abundance of paper. And once the paper starts to pile up, it becomes more and more difficult to dig your way out. I’ve assembled at list of simple, easy ways to manage and minimize the paper in your life.
- Go Paperless! I know it seems obvious, but so many of us have yet to jump on the bandwagon. I was once one of those reluctant to go paperless. I used all the excuses in the book. “But, I like getting mail.” Really? You look forward to getting bills? “I like to see the actual printed statement or bill.” If needed, you CAN print it yourself. “What if I miss the email?” You could just as easily lose a bill in that pile of junk mail. The truth is, there is no good excuse these days for not going paperless. If it’s an option, DO IT! Bonus: You will save money on stamps, and many companies offer incentives (i.e. coupons or money back) for going paperless.
- Automate your payments. An easy way to make sure you don’t miss a bill in your email is to automate the payments. Set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking or savings account for any recurring monthly bills. You will still receive the statements via email, but you won’t have to worry about missing payments.
- Clean your email regularly, as well. Keep that inbox clean and organized by immediately deleting junk mail. Unsubscribe (only to reputable companies, otherwise you could make things worse) to email lists you no longer wish to be on. Create a simple filing system within your inbox (i.e. bills, online purchases, important information to keep, etc.) and file things accordingly as you receive them.
- Take the mail directly to the recycle bin. The worst thing you can do is set that junk mail on the counter to deal with later. Once it leaves your hands, the likelihood of you getting back to it drops to nil. As a new habit, sift through your mail right away, take the necessary items (and I mean NECESSARY) out, and drop the rest into the recycle bin.
- Create an easy filing system. Invest in a small file cabinet for important paperwork. The truth is there are still some items that you should keep hard copies of such as contracts, tax returns, wills, insurance information, investments, etc. Create an easy to use system for filing important papers, and USE IT. If something comes in the mail that deserves a place in your file cabinet, file it right away.
- Purge your file cabinet annually. Once a year, go through your files and get rid of any papers that are no longer necessary. Most cities offer a free paper shredding day once a year through the Better Business Bureau. Schedule your annual purge near that date in your city, and take your papers directly to the set location for shredding.
- Unsubscribe. Are you still receiving magazines or publications you no longer read? Think about cancelling subscriptions you no longer use, and donate those piles of magazines to a senior center in your area.
- Create a mail center. Set up an area in a centralized location. The kitchen or office (if you have one) work best. Have paper, envelopes, stamps, pens, and a system for sorting mail. I have a slot for bills to be paid and an inbox for other documents that need my attention (i.e. permission slips or other school correspondence). When I receive mail, it goes directly into one of four locations: the recycle bin, the bill slot, the inbox, or my file cabinet.
- Find a safe place to keep your memories. We’ve all been there. We want to save every scribble one of our children makes on a sheet of paper, every assignment they bring home from school, and we feel guilty when we contemplate throwing something one of our kids created into the recycle bin. But, with four kids, if I saved everything, there would no longer be room for me in my home. So be judicious, save only those items that are truly worth it. I keep a box for each of my children that contains artwork and assignments that are truly special. Another way to save these memories without saving the paper is to take pictures, and create a photo album of their artwork. And if it is a particularly exceptional masterpiece, frame it and hang it on the wall. This is a great, inexpensive and personal way to decorate your home with one-of-a-kind artwork.
The secret to reducing paper clutter in your home is to stop the unnecessary papers from entering your home in the first place. Then, create organized spaces for those papers that are necessary. Whether you take it to the recycle bin, file it, or hang it on your wall, it had better not find its way into another pile.