Papers are easily one of the number one clutter issues in our lives. We are afraid to get rid of something, for fear of needing the information on it or needing a copy of it. We feel shame for not filing utility bills and grocery receipts. Aren’t we supposed to compare our receipts to our ATM & credit card statements every month??
And then there are the sentimental papers: the award the kids got for good attendance at school, the baptism certificate, the participation award for soccer… and the drawings, aren’t we supposed to cherish every picture our child gives to us? There’s not any more room on the front of the fridge, but…
We have this idea that we are supposed to keep every single statement, warranty, instruction manual, receipt and note from school.
Thankfully, we don’t. And here are 8 actionable things that you can shift to avoid paper piles crowding your space.
Deal with papers immediately. (Also known as the “one-touch” rule)
- Mail: As soon as you get the mail, head right to the recycling bin or garbage and toss all the junk mail- don’t even take it into the house with you, if possible.
- School: Sort backpacks every day as they come in, have the kids do the homework ASAP and put it back into the bag so it’s done and ready for the next day. If there are notes from teachers, permission slips, etc. sign them and put them right back in the backpack. Mark significant events on the calendar with correct info and toss the remainder. Let go of all the drawings, crafty things, etc. that were just sent home for your inspection. If you find something unique, take time to take a picture with your child holding it and spend time talking to your child about the project and then let it go. Click here to read about how our family generally deals with craft & art projects.
- Church: If you can toss the papers you get from church before getting into the car, you will be one step ahead! Many churches are cutting back on the amount they hand out in the first place, which is excellent, but even Sunday School coloring sheets can pile up in the car and on the counters. If possible, take time at church to ask your children questions about their lesson, what is going on in the picture/craft project, what was important about the story and what did your child find the most interesting. Then, make it a habit of throwing it away. (Gasp! Can you believe what I just said?! But remember, the important thing is talking to your child- if you just take the paper home and throw it away in a week, nothing significant would have taken place in conversation, but if you intentionally talk and ask questions and learn the lesson your child learn, you can toss that paper without guilt.)
- Have an inbox for all the papers that need to be dealt with soon. Near the kitchen, I have this wooden tray I put all the bills after I’ve sorted the mail. Once a week, my husband, Brian, pays bills and balances the checkbook, so he knows right where to find all the statements he needs. After he’s paid the bills, he tosses the statement part. We keep as few papers as possible – only what we need for records.
- Have a long term filing system. Some things need to be kept, tax records, personal records, etc. and for that, I have found that I do best with a drawer system. I used to do hanging files, but I would leave everything in piles rather than file it away. Now if I receive a paper I need to keep for an extended period, I put it into the appropriate drawer of the cabinet (a cabinet similar to this one).
- Set a weekly time to catch up on paper. Make it a habit to deal with papers: take time out each week to pay bills, etc. that are waiting in your inbox. It’s easiest if it’s consistent, like every Saturday morning. Once you are in the habit of dealing with them weekly, it doesn’t take long, and you should quickly be done within 10 minutes. Keep all your stamps and envelopes, extra checks, etc. in one area so you can sit down and take care of everything in one setting (rather than running all over the house finding things you need to finish the task).
- Set as many statements as possible to “paperless.” Many banks, credit card companies and various service companies are giving the option of paperless billing/statements. What a wonderful option! You still need to set aside time each week to pay/view/respond as necessary. If you are an out-of-sight-out-of-mind type person, set up a routine of weekly bill paying or set up automatic bill pay through your bank. Depending on your email service you can have your e-statements automatically filtered into a separate “bill” folder in your email, making it very easy to find what you need and have your records all in one spot.
- Automate bills. If any companies you deal with can automatically withdraw, it’s a great way to keep the papers at bay. Keep a minimum amount in your checking account, so you never stress about being able to cover your bills.
- Toss receipts. Ok, not if you need them for tax purposes, but if it’s just the receipt from the grocery store or gas station – toss them! If you enjoy looking over your receipts weekly, you can ignore my advice, but if you are struggling with paper clutter, I say let them go!! At times, if I have purchased something I need to confirm fills the function adequately (clothes for the kids, new coffee maker, etc., I will leave the receipt with it, until I have used it and confirmed I will keep it, and then I toss all packaging and receipt. My business receipts go right into the appropriate drawer for business expenses; no other receipts are kept. If you are worried: if you use a credit or debit card to purchase something, the majority of stores can easily pull up any transaction you have made there within the last couple months just by scanning your card (which means THEY have your receipt on file!).
- Cancel subscriptions. As with anything, if you love it, keep it. But for most of us, life takes over and those magazines we imagine reading while we sit on our porch swing sipping iced tea… end up piled in the corner of the dining room. The only time I have read through a magazine in the last ten years has been sitting in a waiting room.
- Avoid couponing. I completely understand that some people get crazy deals on things with coupons – and it impresses me! But I see the downside of it as well: overstocked pantry, shelves and cupboards, items purchased that wasn’t a need, “but it was such a good deal I got it anyway” and all the piles of ads to go with them. Couponing only saved me money when I was purchasing prepared foods and cleaning supplies, but since moving to a real/whole food diet… well, let’s just say, I’ve never seen a coupon for fresh broccoli or a big bag of lentils!