Is paper causing you stress? Are you noticing piles at every turn? Paper clutter can be a thorn in your side, but there are things you can do straight away — yes, right now — to banish the paper monster (or at least put it in its proper place). Along with previous tips we’ve shared, here are six more things you can do immediately to keep paper clutter to a minimum.
Make sense of your greeting card collection
Greeting cards (and other types of stationery) are a great way to keep in touch with the people we care about and to celebrate special moments with them. But, what happens when you buy a card for someone and then can’t find it? Oftentimes, these cards co-mingle with documents in paper piles, making them difficult to find. Instead, store blank cards separately from your other paperwork in a specific spot, folder, or something like a card organizer.
- Use a greeting card organizer to categorize/store blank (not sent) cards.
- Only keep cards you’ve received that have high sentimental value in an archival box or card book. If the cards aren’t particularly special, snap a picture and recycle them.
Shred credit card offers
Unwanted credit card offers can fill your mailbox and increase your mail processing time. If you receive a large number offers, this can be very frustrating. Unless you plan to apply for the credit card, remove the offers from among the mail you need to read/act on and shred them immediately (or put them in your shred bin to destroy later). Be sure keep them out of your recycling bin to reduce your risk of identity theft.
- Sign up for OptOutPrescreen to stop receiving preapproved credit card offers in the mail.
- To cancel all mailings from members of the Direct Marketing Association, remove yourself from their mailing lists through DMAchoice.org. (Note: Both of these steps, however, will not stop mailings from financial services companies you use.)
Hold on to your children’s frame-worthy artwork
Children’s artwork can be difficult to trash or recycle. The artwork provides wonderful memories and, if your child is particularly creative, you may have a large collection of their work. When that volume outgrows your display areas (like the front of your fridge), you could find them scattered about your home. Consider creating a display wall or mount two or three frames that will hold the most prized pieces (and rotate in newer work). You can also turn the artwork into interesting things like placemats, postage stamps (Zazzle.com or PictureItPostage.com), photo books, or a stuffed toy. Not sure which ones to keep/display? Choose the artwork that is most meaningful to you, or if your child is old enough, allow him to pick the ones he loves.
- Select a display area for your child’s masterpieces.
- Keep all artwork that you still need to decide on in one location.
- Take pictures of the artwork you like but don’t want to keep/display and give the originals to a grandparent or friend.
Cut back on your coupons
Couponing is very popular these days and can be very helpful when used for items that you use frequently. Like other paper that you get on a regular basis, they can get out of hand and get lost in the paper mess. Cull your coupon collection by removing those that have expired and keep only the ones for products/services you use often.
- Keep coupons in a coupon holder, plastic envelope, or binder.
- Sign up for digital coupons that can be scanned from your smart phone (or that are attached to your store loyalty card).
Be selective about the magazines you’ll keep
Why are magazines so difficult to purge? Perhaps it’s because their covers promise fascinating stories and lifehacks that can streamline the busiest of households? It’s no wonder they end up in almost every room in your home, infiltrate your bags, make their way to your car, and even find a long-term spot in your office. Somehow, they seem to compel us to keep them well beyond their usefulness. Do your best to get rid of them before the new one arrives in 30 days. Instead, use the table of contents or the cover stories to decide which pages you’ll keep and scan for future use. And, remember that you’re likely to find the same content online as many publishers create e-versions of their articles.
- Donate magazines to doctor’s offices, senior or community centers, art teachers, or your local library if the magazine is extremely popular or very rare/expensive.
- Cancel your subscriptions and only purchase the issues you need or save the online version.
- Create specific (paper or electronic) folders for each page you keep (“patio project,” “decorating ideas,” “healthy eating,” etc.).
Recycle old shopping lists, task lists, and other handwritten notes
Do you like jotting down notes or your to do’s on slips of paper? Writing task lists can help you organize, prioritize, and focus on your to-do items. They can also get mixed in with other types of papers and disappear rather quickly. This means you’ll probably spend too much time looking for that phone number you wrote down, the paper with the things you needed to pick up at the grocery store, or the sticky note with the name of that app you wanted to download. Keep your notes and lists in a spot where you’ll remember where you put them and can easily access them, and, once you’re finished with them, recycle or shred them if they contain sensitive information.
- Write task and grocery lists in a notebook instead of on scraps of paper.
- Take a picture of your note or list and upload it to Evernote.
- If your notebook is not accessible, use your smart phone to record a voice memo instead.
Let go of conference materials and brochures
If you attend conferences, you will invariably get reading materials from the conference organizers, from the sessions you attend, and from the vendors you meet. And, if you’re like many people, though you may be interested in reviewing everything once you get home, you probably forget about it. To avoid conference paper pile ups, schedule an hour on your daily calendar the day you return home or the next day to go through all your conference materials.
- Bookmark the sites of vendors you’re interested in researching further.
- Recycle flyers and other unwanted conference brochures.
- Scan pages you want to keep from the program book or session notes (or simply keep the CD, if one is offered).
A good amount of the paper that comes into your home and office can end up becoming a pile of clutter, if you’re not careful. One of the reasons this can happen is because there are several steps needed to process paper: sorting (reading and understanding), categorizing, deciding (what to keep/not keep), naming, and filing. Depending on how much paper you’re trying to organize, the process could be tedious.
Instead of waiting to go through your paper clutter all at once, consider doing smaller paper management tasks on a regular basis. The following are six steps you can take to stop paper clutter in its tracks immediately:
Let go of junk mail
Some mail reaches our doorstep (or desk) camouflaged as important reading material. Junk mail might look like catalogs, magazines, coupons, or anything that you think you might get to later, but usually don’t. Other papers, however, start out as important (“while you were out” messages) but then their priority drops, and they’re still treated as high level documents. Remove the junk mail immediately when you notice it so you don’t have to deal with it when it’s time to focus on the documents you actually need.
- Sign up for Catalog Choice to remove yourself from mailing lists
- Shred credit card offers and documents with sensitive information
- Try even more steps to being removed from direct mailing lists
Be ruthless with receipts
Receipts can infiltrate even the smallest spaces and can be very elusive when they’re needed (like when you actually need to return an unwanted purchase). Which ones should you keep? Hold on to business and personal receipts you need to retain for tax purposes, for large purchases, and for items that are still under warranty. What about the all the others, including the one from the supermarket? It’s safe to recycle them after you reconcile them against your monthly bank statement (assuming you paid with a debit or credit card, small cash receipts can be disposed of immediately).
- Purge receipts for small items after reconciling them against your bank statement
- Sort through the receipts from your pockets, wallet, or purse
- Start using an envelope or zip-top bag to stash your receipts in while you wait for your bank statement
Curtail your printing
Do you really need to print that article or report? The less you print, the less you’ll have to sort through when you need to find something important. Instead, consider saving documents to Dropbox, Doxo, or another cloud storage service for easy access no matter where you are (as long as you have an internet connection). You can also print them to PDF.
- When possible, use Google Docs to collaborate with others in real time
- Sign up for Evernote, Instapaper, or Pocket to start saving online articles to read later
- Print online documents to PDF to save a digital copy on your computer
Organize your important documents
You might keep papers out and about so you can see them because, if you don’t, you may forget them. If you’re predominantly a visual processor, you could end up with many papers strewn about your space in no particular order. Or, perhaps you just haven’t made it around to filing your papers. A desktop filing system can help you quickly file needed papers, making them easy to find when you need them.
- Post only the few papers you have to see to your bulletin or magnetic board
- Put away five files that already have folders ready to receive them
Reduce your book collection
Even in today’s online-dependent world, many people still read books to get information or as a way to relax. Some of us get so enthusiastic about reading that we attempt to read multiple books at once, which means our desks, bags, or coffee tables might be covered with them. You might also accumulate more than you have room for and you may start finding them in several places throughout your home and office. Try to keep your books only in rooms with bookshelves or storage space for when you need to set the book down. Or, if you typically read on on the metro, subway, or bus, put the one you’re reading in the bag you use every day.
- Give away copies of duplicate books
- Trade books with someone else or participate in a book exchange
Decide what to do with business cards
Business cards help us remember contact information. Sometimes, we get them when we go to networking or social events or from a vendor or service professional. More often than not, they end up bound with rubberbands in desk drawers or in wallets, pockets, in between paper piles, or even as bookmarks in books we’re reading. If you haven’t called the people on those cards in six months to a year, it’s likely that you probably never will. Also, thanks to the Google search engine, it’s easier than ever to locate a business or professional contact even without a business card.
- Give unwanted business cards to someone who might find them useful (or put them in the recycle bin)
- Select a handful of business cards to scan or manually enter contact information in your phone (or contact management software)