Reader Sandra submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
Could you please do an article on how to keep mail organized? I considered myself pretty much clear of clutter, except for my mail. It’s driving me crazy. Even thought I toss everyday the junk, some how I have not been able to follow a good system to get rid off my mail clutter on my desk (these are payed bills, insurance stuff, etc). Now it’s taking over my son’s desk. Please help. Love your blog!
Sandra, I love your question!
I want to start by saying that I have every system imaginable in place to handle mail — and there are still times when it all falls apart and I find mail on my dining room table. It’s the constant incoming stream that makes it such a difficult issue for the home. I hope that the following advice, however, keeps these breakdowns in your system less severe and less frequent.
First, start by reducing the amount of mail that comes into your home. Sign up for services like Precycle (formerly GreenDimes and Mailstopper), which stop junk mail before it ever arrives at your door. Try to get as many utility and monthly bills as possible switched to automatic electronic payment. If mail doesn’t come in, it can’t pile up on any desk.
Second, create and use a mail processing station near the door where you get your mail. It should include a trash can, shredder, recycling bin, and pen/pencil. Each day when you come inside with the mail, immediately shred any items that include personal information that might be tempting to identity thieves (a few seconds of shredding can prevent weeks/months/years of fighting legal battles). Toss into the recycling bin any junk mail and mail you only needed to read once (announcements, etc.). And throw into the trash anything that can’t be recycled.
On the items that still remain, write actions on back of envelopes (Pay by 2/10, Complete and return by 2/05, File in Tax Forms folder) and disposal dates on the fronts of catalogs and magazines (Read before 3/1/2010). Nothing should come into your home that doesn’t have a specific to-do note appearing on it somewhere.
Third, since you live with other people, you will also want to have mailboxes of some kind for the other people in your home. These can be cubbies, pockets, baskets, or even file folders. If the mail isn’t for you, you need a place to store their correspondence so they can easily find it and process it themselves.
Fourth, once you’ve put away all of your other items and set things so that they’re ready for the next time you leave (keys on a hook, coat hung in closet, lunch bag out of briefcase), pick up your mail and head straight to your office. Immediately schedule to-do items on your calendar. Store magazines and catalogs in a place where you will read them before their disposal date. File documents that need to be filed, and take care of any action items that can be completed in less than two minutes. Treat your mail the same way you handle your other work.
This routine might take you five minutes from start to finish, but handling your mail in this way will keep you from turning your son’s desk into a mess. Remember that everything in your home needs a place to live — and that includes each piece of your mail.
Thank you, Sandra, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.
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