Organizing: Tackling the Paper Mess Part 1

Paper Problems can rob you of time, energy
and in some cases, money!
It has been said that every piece of paper sitting in a pile represents a decision that was never made.

Looking at  that growing piles of paper on your counter, dresser, dashboard, desk or even dining room table can be frustrating and overwhelming, but breaking the task (and the piles) down into smaller segments will help ease some of the pain, clear some of the clutter and help restore your Stress-Free Space!

Beginning the task is often the hardest part, and I recommend you not focus on all the piles of paper, but on just one reasonably sized pile at a time. Understand that clearing clutter is an emotional task as well as a physical one, and to do it successfully you must be prepared to reduce or eliminate as much distraction as possible, and to possibly do the task over several days or even weeks.

Now, pick a single area  (such as your office/desk or kitchen/counter top) and work in 10-15 minute increments. The shorter duration of the task will help prevent overwhelm and distraction. 

(By the way, it is absolutely reasonable to ask for assistance if you think you might have a hard time deciding what to toss and what to keep. Sometimes a friend, family member or a professional organizer can help take some of the attachment out of the task by focusing only on the information that is important to keep.)

Once you have selected the pile you will start with, (be sure it can be gone through in 10-15 minutes) designate 4 categories in 4 separate piles or containers:

  • magazines, catalogs & books (set aside for now) 
  • papers you no longer need and are tossing (for trash can)
  • papers with personal information (for shredding)
  • papers you will keep to file later (for a box, bin or basket)
For the moment, you will focus first on the sorting &  de-cluttering-we will save the filing and shredding for later.

Pick up your first pile (any pile will do) and go through it-making a decision and placing each paper in its correct container until the pile is gone or your 10-15 minutes are up. (If you are undecided, save it to the end of the pile.)

Now, looking at your bins, you should have the most papers in the "toss/shred" bin, and the least in the "file" bin. If not, go through your "file" bin a second time.

Okay- admit it. That felt good, didn't it?

On to the next pile, following the exact same procedure as above. Stay focused and do not get distracted with the content of the papers. (Example: Love letters from your ex-husband that make you sad/angry that the marriage is over, or cute greeting cards from friends that make you reminisce about old times, etc.)  Stay on course.

Once you have completed two piles, take a second look at what you have left in your "file" pile and see if you can whittle it down further.

Then take a look at your magazines & catalogs and decide what can be tossed (old outdated catalogs-place them in trash) what can be put back on bookshelf or donated (books-put the ones you are keeping back on shelf, and set ones you are donating by front door ) and what you might want to pull a recipe or article out of (magazines-place on bottom of "file" bin under the papers you have placed in there.) 

Some key questions to ask when deciding what to keep and what to toss: 

Do I need it for a specific/legal purpose? (Example: bank statements, tax returns & receipts.)

Is this the most recent/updated copy?    (Example: phone bills, retirement account statements)

Do I have the room for it? 

If you have a paper shredder, be sure to put those documents with personal information (medical bills, bank statements, etc) through it before you toss them in the trash. If you don't have access to a shredder, there are companies (such as mine) who will come out to your home with a portable shredder and shred them for you. 


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