How to Manage Your Mail in 5 Steps

Get control of paper clutter by managing your mail

Several pieces of mail stuck in a front door mail slot, close-up
Epoxydude / Getty Images

Learning how to manage your mail is a surprisingly daunting organizational task because you can't just visually organize mail; you've got to read and touch every document in order to file or discard. That said, the best way to start is to jump in and do it now.

  • 01 of 05

    Dump the Junk

    Junk mail
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    Reduce the amount of mail you receive by stopping the influx of junk mail.

    Unsubscribe from all catalogs––yes, all of them. You can find their contents online already. Most have fine print with instructions for unsubscribing, or you can do it online. Cutting down on the amount of junk mail you receive will cut the amount of time you spend managing your mail. It's also good for the environment.

    After unsubscribing from everything, your mailbox will be blissfully free of junk mail for a while, but it will slowly begin to accumulate again. Continue to remove yourself from mailing lists on an ongoing basis or set aside some time every six months or so to remove your name from any lists you've been added to.

  • 02 of 05

    Schedule It

    Wallet and keys near inbox
    Fancy/Veer/Corbis / Getty Images

    Most people sort through mail while walking in the door after work and often stop in the middle to put away their coat or turn their attention to what's for dinner. Resist the urge to manage mail until you have the time and attention to give to this task. Here's why:

    • If you sort on your way in the door, chances are you are not prepared to manage your mail at that time. You need the right tools and the attention to decide how to use or discard each piece.
    • Never touch a piece of paper more than once if you don't have to. This is what makes paper management so exhausting: You have to read it each time! Wait until you're ready to manage and discard.
  • 03 of 05

    Use the Right Tools

    Fellowes P-12C Cross-Cut Shredder with SafeSense
    Photo / Fellowes

    Have the right tools at hand to discard, recycle, or respond to your mail. This includes:

    • Shredder
    • Recycling bin
    • Filing system and calendar

    Don't have your shredder and recycling bin in separate rooms. They should be next to you as you work so you can take action right away. This way, you won't have piles of paper waiting to be recycled and shredded all over the house.

  • 04 of 05

    Establish a System

    Letters Tied Up On Writing Desk
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    There are three end games for every piece of mail:

    1. Action – Mail you need to take action on right away or eventually. This kind of mail will be broken down into further categories like archive, response, action, etc.
    2. Recycle – Junk mail that has no value to you and no identifying information on it beyond your name
    3. Shred – Any piece of mail that has any identifying information on it beyond your name and address. This would include social security numbers, dates of birth, credit card offers, and more.
    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Keep at It

    An attractive file box from The Container Store
    The Container Store

    Now that you have a system down, you have to keep it up. If you don't have time every day to devote to sorting your mail, place it in an inbox on your desk, near your entryway, or in a corner on your kitchen countertop. Plan on spending time once or twice a week to sort each piece of mail so you don't miss anything important.