Paper clutter accumulates for a variety of reasons, but the end result is the same: you’re overwhelmed by the stacks of papers in your home or office and you don’t know where to even start to get rid of them. To prevent the most common causes of this situation, and to tame your already overgrown stacks of papers, follow these seven steps to less paper clutter.
1. Reduce junk mail.
If you have too much paper because too many catalogs and other things you don’t want are arriving in your mailbox, there are some ways you can reduce their quantity.
Most retailers that send out catalogs have a phone number you can call if you no longer want to receive them. You can also request to be removed from the mailing lists of charities and nonprofits. The Better Business Bureau has tips on the latter. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission provides resources for removing yourself from some direct marketers and other companies who send unsolicited offers through the mail.
2. Organize only what you need to.
Once you've cut down on junk mail and make an effort to stop grabbing random papers and bring them into your home (aka flyers, take out menus, and business cards) you'll have less to declutter and organize. This is a good thing. Schedule time to declutter every few months (more on that in #5 below) but also try to be more discerning about what you save on a daily basis. This is especially true if you have hoarding tendencies or grew up before everything was online.
I used to save every takeout menu slipped under my front door, but these days, there’s no need: all those menus are a click away.
If you’re holding on to papers because you want to throw them away but you’re worried about privacy, buying a small shredder is a simple solution. If you don’t have much to shred, you can take documents to select FedEx locations and have them shredded for a fee.
(Personally, I would rather just rip the papers into small pieces with my own two hands than pay someone to shred it.) In some areas, you can also take papers to a bulk shredder on certain days. Google your town name plus “shredding” or “shred day” to see if that option is available where you are.
If you’re keeping old newspapers, magazines, and flyers because you don’t want to throw them in the garbage but you don’t know the proper way to dispose of them, take a few minutes to research the recycling rules where you live. Just knowing what can or must be recycled and where to bring it can break the cycle of laziness.
5. Throw out old papers.
If your excess papers are of the “this might be important” variety, find out which old documents you really need to keep. Unnecessary old records might not look like stereotypical clutter, but they add weight to your boxes when you move, and they up precious space in your files.
6. Scan what you can.
If you’re storing papers because they contain information that you want, remember that you don’t necessarily need that information in paper form. Instead, scan them and save them on your computer or an external drive. A decent, inexpensive scanner is very useful to have around (I use mine for keeping and sharing old photographs, as well as for work documents) but there are also apps that use the camera on your smartphone phone as a scanner.
7. Pay bills online.
If your papers are piling up because you have a lot of bills to pay, find out which of them can be dealt with online, and sign up for paperless billing whenever possible. You can also choose to receive some other types of records, like bank statements and receipts, in virtual form.
8. Organize those “in-between” papers.
Lastly, if your desk is covered in papers that you need to deal with soon but not right away, designate a place just for them. Depending on your needs this could be an accordion folder, a simple box, or a clipboard. Stash dated coupons, bills awaiting payment, and other time-sensitive documents here until they can be used, filed, scanned, or tossed.