It amazes me, in this digital age, the amount of paper used every year. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all tree hugger on you. But did you know that nearly 4 billion trees are cut down each year to make paper? And that the average American uses approximately 700 pounds of paper products in one year? One year! Now multiply that times the number of people you have living in your house. For my family of 5, it means that we consume 3,500 pounds of paper each year. Sadly, some days it feels like it all comes sweeping into our house all at once. And once those paper piles start growing, it’s hard to tame them.
After the marvelous revelation of how much unnecessary paper was in our house, and after knowing what a challenge paper can be in our home, I wanted to share a few simple steps to purge or place your paper!
The best way to keep a handle on paper is don’t allow it to enter your home.
Sign up for online statements. Go green and save your creditors the time and paper of mailing you statements or invoices. If you need to see a statement, you can always go back and download them online. Now I will admit that I do receive a couple paper statements. However, these are statements that I need for business purposes and are filed as soon as they arrive and not seen again until tax time.
Afraid you’ll miss a payment if you don’t get a paper statement? Automatic bill pay is one option available through most banking institutions. OR… in your monthly planner, keep a list of all your creditors and the date your payments are due. This way you have a reminder to go online and look at those statements and get your payment scheduled.
Do you really need a credit card receipt? Do you need to bring the playbill home from your date night at the theater? How church bulletins need to come home with you? Think about all the unnecessary paper that comes into your house. Yes, it’s much better to bring something home and put it into recycling rather than letting it go to a landfill. But don’t give it a home in your home.
Purge your paper.
Just get rid of it! Chances are if there are paper stacks accumulating in your house or office, you don’t need those papers anyways. You probably don’t even know what’s in each stack. So let’s get ’em gone.
But don’t try to tackle all those paper stacks at once or you’ll feel overwhelmed and under motivated. Start in the spot where homework and mail lands first. Clear off countertops and desktops first. Then, go on a paper hunt in drawers.
As each piece of paper goes through your hand, make a decision right then what to do which each paper…
Recycle. Shred. Scan. File.
Every paper in your house should fit into one of these categories.
Work smart, not hard. If you have several things to scan, do it all at once. Don’t run back and forth to the printer. However, as soon as the item is scanned get the paper straight into recycling or shred.
Don’t start in another room or spot in your house until each area is done. That way you’ll see the decluttering progress and be encouraged to keep going!
Chuck catalogs, magazines and newspapers.
News flash: catalogs, magazines and newspapers are paper. Shocker, right? And they are space consumers and clutterers that you don’t need!
If there’s an article you just can’t live without, tear the page out of the publication and recycle the rest. Then file it as soon as you tear it out. If it is a craft or recipe you want to make, make sure you have a dedicated file for “New Recipes to Try” or “Crafty Things”. Better yet, scan the article into the computer or find it online and bookmark it to come back to later. It’s much easier to do a quick computer search than it is to flip through magazines trying to locate the article you want to reread.
While you’re at it, unsubscribe from magazines you’re no longer interested in. (Nice little money saver too.)
Saving event flyers and invitations is not necessary when you have a calendar system to record upcoming activities.
Ideally, a digital calendar is the best choice because it goes everywhere with you. It’s convenient for checking times and scheduling appointments.
But I gotta tell ya it was not easy for me to convert. I have always appreciated having a wall calendar. When I’m making breakfast, I like to look over and see what’s coming up for the day and for tomorrow. I appreciate having that visual.
However, my hubby is a techie. He wants everything at his fingertips where he can see what’s happening whenever he wants, whenever he wants. So he was adding stuff to an online calendar and I was writing things on our wall calendar. As you can imagine, that didn’t fly. So I agreed to try the whole “digital calendar thing”. I’m not big on change, so immediately I went into it with a grumbling attitude, but I have to admit that I now love it!
(BTW… our digital calendar choice is Cozi. And I can’t help but give them a little plug… Cozi keeps all my crap in order so I look like I’ve got it all together app. Just like most other digital calendars, Cozi gives both a weekly and monthly. But what I really love about it is that each family member is color coded on the calendar so at just a quick glance I can see who has an activity on the schedule. Plus, we have all our shopping lists (grocery, hardware store, Christmas) on Cozi so I always know what we need when I’m out running errands. I can have multiple reminders for upcoming events. I get easily distracted so having the extra reminders really works for me. We tried the free version for a couple months and then upgraded to the premium package. Totally worth it!)
Anyways, when thinking about calendars, what you need to ask yourself is: Does the calendar work for my whole family? Am I consistent and on top of adding things to your calendar? What could I do better to make scheduling better and easier for myself and my family?
If having a visual calendar is better for your family, create one. Pinterest has a plethora of ideas.
Our house doesn’t have a good spot for a wall calendar so we use a notebook calendar. One that I love is the Erin Condren calendar. It’s bright and colorful, but the best part is is the stickers! My boys can add stickers to the pages to remind them of what nights they have sports and upcoming birthday parties and special occasions. Just paperclip it so that if the book gets closed, it’s easy to resume at the current week.
Become a member of the DIN DIN Club.
DIN DIN = Do It Now, Do It Now!
Stop procrastinating. When you carry a paper or the mail or whatever it is into your house, take care of it then! Don’t set it down on the counter. Don’t think you’ll get to it later. Just take care of it now while it’s in your hand.
Even with my boys… much of what comes home from school with my three boys is work done at school, homework, reminders of upcoming events, and permission slips. Our system is that the boys put their papers in a pile for me to look at. As they are unloading the rest of their backpack, I look at each paper. This is our time for us to talk about what they learned or what they need to work on. They tell me if a paper needs to be kept or returned to school. If not, it immediately goes to recycling. Event flier info gets entered into our digital calendar and then the paper recycled. Permission slips get signed and returned to the child’s folder. Within 5 minutes or less, we’ve just cleared out any papers that came home from school.
Only touch the mail once.
Sort and take care of your mail as soon as you bring it in the house. I usually flip through the mail as I’m walking up to the house and will drop the unwanted fliers and solicitations directly into our recycling bin as I come through the garage. Once the mail enters the house, if I can’t thoroughly go through it and take care of filing everything, it goes into our vertical file for unopened mail. However, if you have a minute and can take care of the mail immediately, do it! Don’t wait until later and don’t just do half of it. Get it gone!
Get your systems in place.
Have a place for everything. If you don’t have a specific, dedicated spot to place that paper you’re holding in your hand, you probably don’t need it in your house. On the countertop does not count as a “place”. You need to have a system. A routine to follow and/or a spot to “file” each and every piece of paper that enters your home or workspace. And that “place” has to be convenient. You are less likely to file papers if you have to go up or down a floor or if your filing system is hidden behind a pile of boxes in your storage room. Taking a few minutes now to get yourself organized will save you a lot of time in the future when you want to put your hands on something specific!
Building on the idea that each paper can be taken care of by recylcing, shredding, scanning or filing, these simple organization items can keeping paper chaos under control a simple task.
Use Vertical Files, Not Piles.
No horizontal piles. Stacking leads to piles. Piling often leads to more piling which leads to more piling which leads to a large overwhelming stack and probably more procrastination on tackling it. Get (or make) yourself a vertical organizer! With a vertical organizer come boundaries of how much paper can be confined in that space. When the organizer is full, it means it needs to be taken care of. No more procrastinating. No piles. (Check out Paper Organization: Vertical File Box for how to get your papers organized vertically and for printable labels.)
Our vertical file box sits on our sidebar and is where we keep temporary things… store coupons, restaurant coupons, etc. Because it’s so handy, we use it all the time. For papers that we need to keep (tax returns, car loan paperwork, mortgage papers, etc.) a filing cabinet or file boxes in an office is a great way to organize, but that doesn’t have to be at your fingertips.
BTW… creating your filing system is the only time you’ll hear me say this. As you are sorting papers to keep, create stacks of the same type of paper: car insurance, utility bills, bank statements, receipts. These will be the files/folders that you’ll be creating for your vertical filing system. And yes, each subject should have a go-to file for easy reference.
Create a “Take Action” Space.
A “take action” space is for all those things that need to be done soon, but you don’t want to file it out of sight and you can’t take care of immediately. For instance, school or team picture fliers. You need to send in money for the pictures, but your child needs it with him in 2 weeks on picture day. Or this can be your bill pay area. Or where you keep the grocery ads until you head to the store in a couple days.
Since I don’t care for visual clutter, I have a stacking file tray designated just for things like this. I have a girlfriend who likes to have her action area hung in front of her. You could use a magnetic or cork board to hang items up to help you see what is coming up. Use what works for you here. This will help you feel “pulled” together.
Yes, I have a thing for baskets. They’re a cozy, but useful decoration. And if used properly, can make organization a snap. To organize paper, I’d suggest getting two baskets and placing them on the floor in the area where most papers are “dealt with” in your home. And guess what the baskets are for? Recycle and shred.
Recycling. Papers you don’t need, drop it like it’s hot. When your basket is full, dump it into your recycling bin that goes to the curb.
Shredding. Shred unwanted credit card offers or anything that may have personal information on it. However, we don’t always have time to shred such items when we open the mail. We just filed everything else, remember? And filing takes priority over shredding here. So a shred basket is a simple way to get papers off your countertop until you have time to actually shred it.
Plan a Coffee Date with Paper.
Actually make a date, schedule it in your calendar, to deal with paper. This doesn’t have to take long. Once your systems are in place this should only take up about 15-20 minutes a week. Make it a time that you actually enjoy. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and sit down each week to review what is in your “Take Action” area. Go through your store and restaurant coupon files once a month and clean out expired coupons. Consider it system maintenance. At the end of my coffee date, I feel revamped. I’m on top of the action necessary items in our family’s life and of course, the caffeine coffee perk helps too!
Purging unnecessary paper clutter can be so freeing! Clutter clouds your brain. So not only are you freeing up space in your home, but also in your mind. And who couldn’t use a little more sanity?!
Several years ago, my hubby and I took a paper challenge with a local professional organizer and purged 87.6 pounds of paper within 48 hours! I couldn’t believe our “clean” house had been so paper cluttered. That’s when I began using the above systems and it has been a game changer on how we control the flow of and organize paper in our home.
So I dare you, friends… take the paper challenge too! Make your life simpler so you can simply enjoy life!