For most of us, paper is our biggest enemy. It gets into our homes and offices with everything we do. It comes from the mail, school, work, and places we are not even sure about (my pool guy leaves me a piece of paper each week for goodness sakes!). Because there is so much of it, we need to get control of our paper if we are ever going to calm the clutter in our homes and offices.
1. Trace the source. If you want to get control you need to find out just where all your paper comes from. My paper source will be different from yours and we each need to manage our sources differently. For instance, since I no longer have children in school there is no “school paper” in my piles of paper each day. But I have a couple of businesses I run out of my home, so my source of paper comes from companies that support those businesses. If you want to get control of the paper in your world you need to determine the sources of the problem. Take a week or two to collect and sort the paper that comes into your home. You heard me, collect and sort. By collecting and sorting you avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There will be paper you need or want to keep, this will help you know the difference.
2. Keep What You Really Need. There are items you will want to keep; school memorabilia, contracts, deeds, passports, birth certificates etc. Once you have completed your detective work to determine the source of all your paper it is time to determine what you want to keep from those piles. Sort your files in order of importance, throw away the things that should never make it past the mailbox; flyers, letters addressed to “resident” etc. Determine the types of paper you will always keep and also the things that will always be immediately tossed. Do this thoughtfully and keep only what you need.
3. Assign a storage place and a filing method for the paper you deem important enough to keep. This step is really important. Just like everything we own, the paper we allow in our space must have a permanent place to live. If it doesn’t it will be clutter and you will eventually never see it again. Storage space does not always mean that you must put it in a physical filing cabinet. The added benefit of technology taking over our lives is that most things can be scanned and filed electronically. You can then throw that paper away. This is also a way to store the memories that children bring home every day from school. Who doesn’t want to keep their child’s kindergarten hand print? Keep and display it for awhile, and then scan it and throw it away. I really wish I could have scanned some of those items that lived on my frig over the years.
4. Touch it once. You will hear this statement from every organizer in the world but in order for paper to become clutter in needs to lay around the house for awhile. If you don’t allow that to happen you prevent the problem. Touching paper once means that all the stuff that comes into your house has a predetermined place to live. It is usually either a bill, something from your children you want to keep, invitation, event notices, cards, and letters. Each item that comes to the home should be given a plan of action to eliminate its clutter potential. Bills are paid and filed (or put in a place to be paid) children’s items are displayed or scanned, invitations are noted on calendars and responded to, then thrown away, and so on. It may not be feasible to always “touch it once” but if that is the goal, it will happen more often than you think.
Although paper is ubiquitous, it does not have to overwhelm our homes and offices. If you implement this plan of action just once, you will be in control of your paper and eliminate its potential to become a monster.
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