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)