10 Easy Ways to Deal with Your Paper Clutter


If you are like most people, you want to know how to deal with your papers and paperwork systems. How in the heck do you get your papers organized?

It's funny that we thought the digital age meant that we were finally going to be streamlined and organized! Unfortunately what happened was far worse than what we started with: now we have truckloads of paper clutter AND digital clutter to contend with. DOH!

In order to really get a grip on your paper clutter, you need to take a multi-step approach. It's not necessarily hard but it does take some tenacity to stick with it even when you'd rather go do just about anything else. It also requires that you stay on top of what you've created. I gotta say, this is the step that usually trips people up. You can create the best organizational system in the world but if you don't maintain it, it won't work. It's as simple as that. So let's take a look at how you can finally ditch the paper monster that is making a mess at your house or office.

  • Gather, gather, gather. When we spread stuff all over our homes it makes it really hard to make decisions on what to let go of and what to keep because we never really have a good idea of what we are dealing with. Once you have everything in one place, then you can see what you have and make informed decisions on what to keep and what goes in the shredder.

  • Know thyself. Are you the type of person would is always hanging on to multiple copies of items, "just in case" you'll need it? Do you know that you can find most things online? For instance, most of those bulky manuals that come with printers, cameras, ovens and just about anything else that comes with a plug can easily be found in Google by simply searching for the model number and name of the product. And the PDFs themselves are searchable so if you're looking for a certain set of directions you can usually do a keyword search in the PDF and presto! You now have the information you need.

  • Shred, shred, shred. Identity theft is no laughing matter. It can take a long time to undo the damage of one jerk lifting your identification. I'm a firm believer in destroying any material that has your address, phone number and account numbers on them. Even though I think you should be shredding or burning this stuff, I also don't think you need to be doing it all yourself. If you have a small amount and a great shredder, than by all means do it yourself. But if you have a high volume of sensitive papers I'd advise you to outsource it. Many communities offer free shredding services quarterly (check your local government) and big box stores such as Office Depot offer secure shredding for a small charge. You can even hire a shredding company to come to your house if you have tons and tons of boxes of papers to dispose. Please please please do not just chuck it in your garbage or recycling without shredding it first!

Because paperwork can feel really overwhelming I want to give you some quick and dirty tasks that you can do in 10 minute spurts.

Everyone can find 10 minutes of time at least once a day. You can do this while you're on hold on the phone, while waiting for someone to come over to your house or even while you're watching tv in the evening.

10 Paperwork Tasks You Can Tackle In 10 Minute Increments:

1. Take one pile of paper and pull out the obvious garbage/recycling: catalogs, junk mail, duplicates, inserts and envelopes that come with the bills, and expired coupons are all easy to pull out and toss.

2. Create a bill paying center: gather up some blank envelopes, stamps, return address labels and two pens and put them in a clear plastic envelope or container and label it "Bill Paying". Bonus points if it's cute.

3. Take one pile of paper and pull out anything that requires quick action and add those items to your calendar and make a little note on the paper itself to remind you of the next steps you need to take.

4. Grab some papers and separate them by family member and label each pile with a labeled Post-It note (husband, child 1, child 2, etc.).

5. Open one pile of bills and recycle the envelopes and inserts and unfold the bills; grab a highlighter and highlight the amount due and the due date.

6. Grab a clipboard (one of my favorite organizing tools!) and a piece of paper. This paper is now your "To Do" list. Under the paper, add any papers that need an action taken on them. You can find some great ideas on how to make a boring clipboard look super fun here.

7. Thin out one file folder (pull out stuff that you don't need to keep), re-file it when you're done. Pop a sticky note on it that says "DONE" so that you know where you left off when it's time to come back and do the next one.

8. Figure out the next action step for something. A lot of the time we hang on to papers because we don't really know what needs to happen next. Spend 10 minutes thinking it through and figuring it out. Maybe you need to call someone. If so, find their phone number and write it on the paper. Or maybe you need to get something from another person before you can move ahead on a project. Whatever it is, you don't need to do it right now, just figure out the step for the next time you have 10 minutes to do the action.

9. Clear off one section of a desk or flat surface.

10. Make a pile of your kids papers. Discard the worksheets and daily practice stuff. Find more about how to deal with kids' papers here.

Take dealing with your paperwork in small steps so that you actually tackle the problem. You are better off dealing with it in short bursts rather than a never ending marathon. You can read more about how to deal with paperwork here and here. If you'd like some details on how to streamline your finances check out this great guest post here.

Knowing where your papers are and where they need to go feels amazing. Once you've tackled your paper monster you'll know where to find:

  • your bills

  • the concert tickets you bought

  • your kids' vaccination papers

  • your gift cards

  • your insurance policies

  • the paperwork from your volunteer work

  • your latest medical bill that's pending approval

And anything else you need in paper form. You really can have a place for everything and everything in its place and stop stressing out about papers everywhere. Life is short, enjoy your home!