I don't know about you, but I hate paper clutter! Not only do I feel completely disorganized with paper clutter all around me, but I waste so much time searching for the papers that I really do need. Plus, being disorganized can cost money if you end up forgetting to pay bills and have to pay late fees.
Paper clutter multiplies tenfold during the school year. Although teachers and the school use e-mail to communicate, it still feels like each teacher kills a tree with the number of papers that end up making their way home to us. If we can't keep the papers under control we end up missing deadlines (and more).
As my boys headed off to school last week I've been working hard to get the paper under control so we at least start the school year on a good foot. We'll see how we're doing by the end of the year!
Here are some tips for how to clear the paper clutter:
Touch It Once
As soon as a paper enters your house (whether from the mailbox or your child's back pack), deal with it immediately and then either return it, file it, or throw it away. If you set it down to deal with it later, you'll have to take the extra time to look at it again, decide what to do, and then put it away. It's better to just deal with it from the beginning. As soon as you get the mail, open it over the trash so that you can immediately throw away or shred anything you don't need to keep.
Create a Spot for Actionable Papers
If you have papers that you can't deal with immediately, set aside a spot for papers that need follow-up. And then set up a system for follow-up (like To Do, To Pay, etc.). It doesn't do any good to have piles of papers that need to be taken care of that never actually gets done. I usually pay bills online the instant I receive them so I don't ever forget. With my bank, I can schedule payment for the future.
Get Rid of Junk Mail
You can register with DMAChoice.org to reduce the amount of junk mail that you receive in your mail box. If you never receive the junk mail, you never have to sort through it and deal with it. It does cost $2 for 10 years to register with the website.
Or, you can just opt out of credit prescreened offers with OptOutPrescreen.com. They ask for your social security number and birth date, but you don't have to give it to them.
Evaluate Your Subscriptions
If you have lots of old newspapers or magazines sitting around that you have never read, think about recycling them and then possibly canceling your unused subscriptions. You'll save money and time dealing with papers that aren't read.
Know what you Need to Keep
There are certain papers (like tax documents) that you need to keep for a certain amount of time (like 7 years for tax documents). Other documents like life insurance needs to be kept indefinitely. Other documents like bills can be discarded after a year. It's better to err on the side of keeping a document filed for too long than getting rid of everything and then needing it later.
Create an Organization System
Whether it be a household notebook or a full-on filing cabinet, create a system for keeping important documents that will work for you and your family. We have a large filing cabinet in our closet that I use to keep our tax returns, bills and bank statements for the last 12 months, as well as any important documents (although the really important documents are in the fire safe). Other people love to scan papers to digital form and then get rid of them entirely. Do whatever works best for you and your family.
Have a To-Be-Filed Spot
I tend to fail at keeping up with filing if I don't deal with filing the paper immediately, but if you can't do it right away, create a spot to pile papers that need to be filed. Create a schedule (like one day a week) when you will actually file those papers or determine you'll file them when they fill the hopefully shallow container. But, if they don't actually get filed eventually, you will likely end up searching through the pile several times looking for needed papers which is a huge waste of time.
What about you? How do you keep on top of the paper clutter at your house?