No matter where I go or who I talk to, one thing is true.  The accumulation of paper clutter, the inability to locate important information when it’s needed, and the feeling of being overwhelmed by paper are common complaints.
Fortunately, with a little forethought and effort, we can set up systems and develop habits that will put us back in control and increase our feelings of well- being.

Paper Handling Tips

Here are some ideas that you may find helpful in your day-to-day battle against paper.

Keep it together

Designate a central location in your home for mail, paperwork from school, work, or any other source that enters your environment. Don’t drop them haphazardly around the house. If everything lands in one spot, you will never waste your time running from room to room with your hair on fire, trying to find an important document or piece of information

What I’ve seen working with clients is that most paper ends up in the kitchen. If this is the case for you and your family, try to designate an area that’s just for paper.  It can be a drawer, a countertop that’s not part of the main kitchen area, or inside a cupboard.  Maybe you have a small built-in desk or a butler pantry than can serve as your mini office. To keep things looking tidy put your mail, etc. in a paper tray or box.

Keep it moving

Keep a waste basket, shredder, and recycling container handy so that when the mail arrives each day, you can quickly rid your home of junk mail, flyers, ads or solicitations that appear on your doorknob. I keep mine right outside the door that leads into my garage.  That way it’s not cluttering up my work area.

Any material that contains credit card offers, has your social security number on it, or other private or financial information should be shredded. Next, open bills and other date-sensitive material right away. Inside most envelopes there are more non-essential items. If you pay bills online, the return envelopes are un-necessary. One solution is to stop receiving paper copies of your bills. But if you’re not ready to take that step, just discard everything but the bill itself.

Highlight important information

Once I’ve gotten rid of the non-essentials, I take the remaining statement and circle the due date and amount due.  If I need to contact someone I’ll also circle or highlight the contact information.  That way, the next time I look at that piece of paper my eye is immediately drawn to the important information.  I always unfold the bills and other mail so I can see the entire document. If there’s more than one sheet, I staple them together. If you’re stacking bills to file later, the unfolded papers will lay flat and you won’t end up with unstable piles.

Place all bills in your designated bill paying area in due-date order.  If you pay online, take a minute to write the date you submitted your payment on the bill itself. If you still pay by check be sure to record it. If you can’t file important papers right away, put them aside in another box or tray to be filed later.  Once a month might work, depending on how much paper you process each day.

To do

As mail and school paperwork come in, keep track of any follow-up action required.  Add events to your calendar, create a to do list for things you can’t handle right away.  This would include phone calls that must be made during regular working hours, forms you need to fill out for legal or financial purposes, signing permission slips for school field trips, or for tasks that take more time than you have available at the moment.

Cross items off your to do list as they are completed.  After a certain period of time, create a new list with any of the remaining tasks transferred over.  If the same task gets pushed to a new list more than once, ask yourself if it’s really important.  If not, let it go.

To read

If you receive more magazines and other periodicals than you can read each month, consider canceling subscriptions, donating outdated issues to your local library or retirement community, or keep a few in your car.  Then, while waiting in line to pick up your kids, sitting in a doctor or dentist’s office, or while your car is being washed, you can relax and catch up on your reading.

It is NOT necessary to read every magazine or newspaper from front to back.  Only read what interests you and skim or ignore the rest.  If you don’t have time to finish an article or you want to save it for future reference, don’t keep the whole newspaper or magazine.  Pull out the page or pages you’re interested in and get rid of the rest.

Hint:  Most articles convey information you can easily find online so maybe you don’t need to keep them after all. Put coupons in your wallet or automobile so you’ll have them readily available while shopping.  Periodically check expiration dates and discard as needed. Practicing these simple steps and strategies will guarantee that you’ll always know where to find important papers – because they will all be together, and nothing will fall through the cracks – because you’re taking notes, reminding yourself unfinished tasks.

Leave a comment