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Rock, paper, scissors…

July 23, 2011

Of all the organizing jobs out there, paper is my least favorite. I love diving into a barely accessible clothes closet, a disheveled linen closet, or a packed to the gills garage, but loads of paper? Not so much. That’s because I’ve seen the extreme cases. Homes filled with stacks of newspapers, magazines, catalogs, fliers, bills, and unopened mail covering tabletops, couches, beds and floors. For those whose piles have become out of control or have a hard time making decisions, the process can be tediously slow: File it? Pay it? Read it? Shred it? Stick it back in the pile?

Last weekend I helped my mother with about a year’s worth of “paper” she needed to weed through. Her pile was not extreme and even though it was stacked on an extra desk out of the way, the pile called to her daily. After putting on some music, we got to work.  Sorting through bank statements, taxes, house receipts, important family documents, and the real killer – stock portfolio statements (if I had a penny for each piece of paper stock companies wasted on printing, that alone would be a hefty retirement package!) we had our afternoon cut out for us.

First, we quickly divided each piece into separate piles by subject, not spending time reading it to see if we needed to keep or not. This kept the momentum going, since stopping to read not only tires you out but keeps you from seeing progress, and it’s the progress that motivates you to finish. Once each pile was created (i.e. House Manuals, Retirement accounts, Home Insurance, etc.), my mom sifted through each now much smaller (and less daunting!) pile, while I created a file for each subject. Then every time she finished culling a pile down I filed it right away in a storage cabinet. And before we knew it, the piles were gone.

The job took about four hours (including one short lunch break, but not including all the shredding afterwards!) and my mom felt immense relief. I’ve encouraged my parents to open the mail near the garbage (“At least toss the envelopes which add bulk”) and my mom has signed up to receive stock statements via email, which will save her not only from getting back into that paper pile predicament, but will no doubt save a tree as well.

Paper shouldn’t be overwhelming. As long as you create a system for where to file it (and don’t forget the garbage is your most important file!), your home and office should remain paper free and easier to keep up.

Have any other paper solutions? Please feel free to share.




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