Reader question: Magazine clutter & organization

Unclutterer reader Michael wrote in with this question:

What solutions can you suggest for magazine freaks? I have about 10-12 magazine subscriptions–which means about 30+ objects or so come to my door each month, demanding attention. Plus I buy other magazines. I sit at a computer all day and so prefer not to switch to digital subscriptions.

Well, the first question you have to ask yourself is why do you have a dozen magazine subscriptions. These can pile up out of inertia because it’s often a lot easier to subscribe to a magazine than to unsubscribe. Whenever I get a renewal letter from a magazine I take the opportunity to consider whether I’ve been reading it and really enjoying it, or whether it’s been piling up unread. Piles of unread magazines can cause feelings of guilt, but you should remember that you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. Let magazine subscriptions expire if you don’t devour them and no one will think the less of you for it.

Now, I’m not sure that advice applies to Michael because he seems like an avid reader who does consume the magazines he subscribes to. If that’s the case, what I suggest you do is keep them all together in one place, pull out only the one you’re reading, and always put it back before you take out another once. Magazine clutter comes from having them strewn about–on the coffee table, by the bed, in the bathroom. A drawer or a simple desk tray might be all you need to keep all your mags in the same place. If you’d like something sharper, try a nice wall-mounted magazine rack.


Once you’re done with a magazine, throw it out. There’s no reason to keep physical copies for reference. Magazines aren’t searchable and they take up space. If you want to go back to an article, you will no doubt be able to find a digital version online. One thing I like to do to keep an article I think I might go back to is find the online version and then dump it into Yojimbo, a document management program for the Mac (there are tons of applications like this for the Mac and PC, I just like Yojimbo). This way I have the peace of mind of knowing that I didn’t throw it out without any of the heft–and it’ll be easy for me to find it again with tags and searches.

If you can’t find a online version of the article, take a page from the solution that Erin explained last week. She uses the Fujitsu ScanSnap to scan in pages she wants to keep. The device scans in both sides of a page at once and OCR’s it–that is, it makes the text computer-readable so you can search the files. She then puts the articles in DevonTHINK, an app a lot like Yojimbo.

I hope readers will share their magazine tips in the comments below. And don’t forget you can always send us your organization questions and we’ll answer them on the site.

12 Comments for “Reader question: Magazine clutter & organization”

  1. posted by Mary-Lynn on

    I read many magazines as well and here’s what I do:

    1. They come in and get into a neat stack on an end table. No, it really is a neat stack. I could use a magazine rack of some kind but I have enough other junk that I don’t want more junk to hold other junk.

    2. Every so often one will get pulled from there and travel with me or go to the bedroom, but it always goes back there.

    3. About every two weeks I make a point of spending an evening going through them. I rip out the articles I think I might want to read and toss the rest in the recycling. I’m pretty brutal about this ripping/toss thing but I do keep a lot of the articles. You’d be amazed at how much smaller the pile gets when you remove all that advertising.

    Actually, you probably shouldn’t be amazed.

    4. The articles go into a plastic zip folder. That folder goes with me when I travel and I can easily get through many of the articles that way and equally easily toss or recycle them along the way.

    5. I keep a few of them for various reasons. It’s this step that I’m personally struggling with – how to organize them so I can find them later (not physically – they all go into a magazine rack) but actually know what I’ve read when and why.

    In summary: that ripping out step is the key. You subscribe to magazines because you like the content – they’re quite disposible objects so dispose of the advertising as quickly as possible and keep the parts you really want. After doing this for a while it becomes quite easy to decide which are worth keeping and which you should cancel.

  2. posted by Jerry Brito on

    Mary-Lynn: Great suggestion on ripping out articles. Your comments provoked a couple thoughts. First, somethin I didn’t mention in the post, when I get a magazine in the mail, the first thing I do is go through it and remove all the inserts and throw them away. Those things drive me nuts as they always fall out. Second, I like that you put the ripped-out articles in a binder you take with you. I have a to-read folder that I always have with me. As I surf the web or go through my workday I print out articles and papers that I want to read at some point. They all go in my to-read folder (which is more of a small pendaflex). So do magazines and other brochures and things I pick up along the way. Whenever I have time before a meeting gets started or on the Metro, I pull out my folder and read. Whenever I’m done with something that I don’t want to keep for reference, I toss it. This helps me make the most of my time and makes sure I get thru all my reading.

  3. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    Bunches of good advice here. For similar thoughts (and more neat magazine racks), see this.

    And here’s another nice magazine rack.

    One futher thought: Instead of just throwing out the magazInes you’ve read (in the recycling bin, of course), you might first offer them up on freecycle.org. Obviously, that would only apply if you didn’t use Mary-Lynne’s rip-things-out approach. And it’s only feasible for some magazines – no one is likely to want weekly news magazines, for example. But I’ve seen many magazines go to new homes on my local freecycle group.

  4. posted by melissa on

    I often sell magazines to Half Price Books.

    Also, Like above, I tear out inspiration and paste them in an inspiration journal. (I usually read lifestyle/decor mags.)

    Just found this site via ApartmentTherapy. This is great!

  5. posted by michael stewart on

    In place of an actual magazine rack, we use baskets.

    We purchase a coffee table from IKEA that has six cubby holes and some neat rectangular baskets from Target fit perfectly inside.

    We have one basket for recent magazines, one for kids’ books from the library, etc… It makes tidying up (w/ kids) so much quicker.

  6. posted by Matthew Cornell on

    I recommend to clients the “Rip and Read” technique. Toss each magazine in your inbox, then process them one at a time by looking at the table of contents, selecting articles you want to read, >cut them out

  7. posted by Nicolette on

    I love Mary-Lynn’s recommendations…I have to get more aggressive in the rip/toss stage! My mags sit too long in the pile stage!

    When it comes to organizing the ripped out pages I have a similar routine. I keep a series of file folders labeled with my traditional categories, a stack of file folders and a Sharpee nearby when I am going through the pile of mags. I immediately file the pages that fit in an established folder. The remaining rips are sorted and new folders are made on the spot.

    Then when I am looking for a book recommendation, a travel destination, vendor, recipe, restaurant, inspiration, etc. I just pull the file. The next step is to boot files that aren’t accessed in 3 months!

  8. posted by Alice on

    I have given some of my more picturesque magazines to the local high school art department. I just save my old mags in a handled grocery bag until its full and then haul them in. I would imagine daycare centers, after school programs, even older adult program may be able to use magazines for craft projects. It would be worth checking this out rather than just trash them.

  9. posted by Lisa on

    I make a small pile next to my bedstand, then, when I have a doctor’s or dentist appt I take the finished stack with me and leave them at the office. Sometimes I take them to the gym. I make sure to cut out or black out my name and address first. I love the fact that there’s all these feminist and progressive magazines at the fancy gym, and have fun watching other people read them.

  10. posted by mikey on

    We have a large inbox-style wooden tray that holds our magazines. After one of us reads a magazine, we Sharpie that we’ve read it (“Mike read”) and return it to the tray. That way, when the other one of us finishes reading it, it goes into recycling right away. No more keeping magazines around, wondering if the other people in your house have read it yet.

  11. posted by Lisa Z on

    If you have extra magazines laying around, you should send them to our troops overseas. Sometimes they need something to read, and their options are usually limited. If you need a place to send ’em, go to anysoldier.com. My hubby is listed there 😉

  12. posted by Carol on

    The two local libraries I visit regularly have boxes in the front hallway filled with donated magazines. There seems to be really good turnover, which says that people are delighted to have the chance to read your discarded magazines.

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