Taming the Clutter Monster: Six Ways to Eliminate Paper Clutter

 In Outer First Class

If you’re like me, paper clutter tends to take over in a matter of days if I don’t continually slay the dragon. It will take over my desk, end tables, kitchen table, etc. Bills, both those that have been and that need to be paid, flyers for events I’m thinking about going to, grocery store weekly specials, manuals, notes, notifications, magazines, the list goes on and on. This type of clutter especially makes me feel scattered, disorganized and contributes to me feeling like I’m perpetually behind on cleaning.

Here are some ways to help control paper clutter. These tricks go a long way in keeping this monster at bay.

Shred ‘em. You may be saving lots of papers because you believe you need to keep them. Lots of them can be shredded instead. According to Suze Orman, you can shred those old utility bills, paycheck stubs (if you still get a paper stub), receipts and bank statements, etc. after one year unless you are using any of the bills and receipts for tax deductions, then keep them for three years. Consumerist says to ditch the old bills as soon as you know it to be correct (unless using for tax purposes).

Go green. See how many bills and statements you can get switched to electronic. It saves time and trees. Create a folder in your email for each type of bill and just save it there when it shows up (make sure you pay it first so it doesn’t become out of sight, out of mind and get missed). Some companies even give you an incentive for switching to e-bills. If your employer doesn’t do electronic paystubs for direct deposit, put that in the suggestion box. Paylocity and Paysphere are two firms that do a great job at this that I’ve had experience with.

Scan it. If you aren’t sure if you will need a particular document in the future, scan it. If you know you’ll need it but you don’t need the paper copy, scan it. It is much easier to run a search on your computer than to pour through piles of paper looking for the one thing you need. In fact, you can scan those old bills, statements and papers from #1 and then shred the paper. (This should go without saying, but back it up. Back, back, back it up.) I recommend one folder per vendor rather than month to month, but if it makes more sense for you to do it some other way, go with what works for you.

Google it. When you buy a new gadget with a manual, check the product website to see if the manual is available online. If it is, download the .pdf and save it in your manuals folder. Then recycle the paper copy. If you really, really need a paper copy you can print the part of it you need later. Chances are you won’t reference it that often, and when you do, electronic will be good enough.

Get over it. We keep lots of things because “what if?” What if I decide to go to that store..I need the coupon! I could lose out on $3! I have to keep this flyer because it has the address of that art show that I might go to. Etc, etc. Here’s an idea: recycle it. If you really think you’ll use the coupon put it in your purse or car. It will be with you if you go there. Eventually it will expire if you don’t use it and you won’t feel bad about tossing it. After you do that a few times it will become easier to let it go. Put the address of the art show in your phone along with the day and time in your calendar app, or snap a photo of the whole flyer on your phone so you can have the whole thing at your fingertips. You know what? You might lose out on $3 by pitching that coupon. But it’s worth it in exchange for the mental clarity and well-being that comes with a home that’s not swimming in clutter.

Get a clutter control box. This one is my favorite. Get a good sized decorative storage box that closes (clasps shut is even better). Keep one anywhere paper clutter gathers. Put all your paper clutter into it. Go through it once a week, once a month or whenever it gets full and purge. It keeps your areas clear and neat and you know exactly where any random piece of paper is that you are looking for. Have company over? Pick up the box and put it in a closet. I have one on my kitchen table that clasps shut and has a handle like it’s a mini suitcase that I got at Marshall’s for around $13. I have another one with a magnetic flap close next to my desk that I also got at Marshall’s for $10. This concept has worked well for me and I hope it works for you too. My clutter practically cleans itself up now.


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