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How to get rid of paper clutter

Of all the clutter that we have in our home, paper seems to be the worst.

When people email me they normally say “I struggle with paper. Paper is my nemesis.” “If I could get a handle on the clutter, my house would be ok.”

And I get it.

I remember being worried about throwing away receipts, and what if I needed the toaster instructions? It was so official-looking in the package! Even the tag on the pillow that said only to be removed by the consumer? That silly tag caused me SO MUCH STRESS.

Junk mail sat in piles around the house because it seemed irresponsible to throw out pizza coupons, I mean, what if I decided to order pizza? Shouldn’t I be prepared for that?

I kept all the utility bills, credit card statements, and privacy policies from every single company. Because I thought I was supposed to file all of them.

And then there was the filing.

We’re supposed to file everything, right? The only filing systems I knew of were the hanging file systems- so I was supposed to decide on some categories and then file appropriately- but what if I didn’t label it right? What if I couldn’t find what I needed?

The file folders were purchased… and they sat there, reminding me of my failure.

I was completely stuck.

No one else seemed to have this issue. What I would have given for Google back in 1996! 😂

So I boxed up all the papers and shoved them in the closet.

Oh, the house felt so much better! And at least if I needed something I could dig through the boxes of papers… right?

And that is how I lived my life. For at least 15 years.

Even after deciding to declutter and embrace minimalism- papers were the very last thing I decluttered.

And you know what? I still feel a twinge of anxiety when I throw papers away. 

These days when I teach people to deal with paper clutter, the method is almost the same. ALMOST.

Have a plan.

Before you get started on The Great Paper Decluttering, it makes a big difference to have a plan. Determine ahead of time what things you need to hold onto and how much you would like to get rid of.

If my plan in facing those 8 boxes that were sitting in the basement was to get down to ONE box, I would be more ruthless as I worked.

I was pickier about what I kept. AND even though I was willing to keep ONE box, I knew I wouldn’t keep it forever – I had a date in mind for when I would completely get rid of that box of paper.

Gather all the papers.

Not the sentimental items, not the already filed items, not the birth certificates and titles- unless they are just in piles around the house.

As you gather, set aside the things that need to be addressed right away: bills that need to be paid, items that need a response, etc.

Deal with those items first.

You’ve got them all together- go ahead and deal with them now. From this point on, let’s be “deal with it” people.

Most of those things in our homes are piled up because we just don’t want to deal with it right now.

I get it! But I also know that there will NEVER be the perfect time to deal with those things.

All of it is inconvenient. Because who enjoys paying bills? It’s not exciting- but it does need to be done! And doing it now means you won’t have to deal with it later.

Now, what to do with the big bunch of papers?

Sort it. Quickly!

The Minimal Mom made a great video on her process of doing this- and it’s a great way to deal with the papers to get through it as fast as possible. You can check out her video on decluttering paper quickly here.

Here are the categories:

  1. Trash/recycle
  2. Shred
  3. Just in case
  4. Irreplaceable

As much as possible, put things into the trash/recycle bin or shred.

Then the “just in case.” These are things that you most likely don’t need, but for some reason, you feel like you should hold onto them.

After you fill the “just in case” box, date it for one year from today- if you haven’t had to reference anything in that box in a year, you know you can discard all of it. Don’t look in it- just put it right into recycling or drop it off at a shredding service.

Generally, I don’t agree with keeping things “just in case.”

But I know the anxiety that came every single time I thought about decluttering the paper.

The task seemed enormous and I had so much fear in getting rid of something I would need down the road.

The truth is, I haven’t needed anything other than our irreplaceable papers. The irreplaceable papers are not completely irreplaceable, but they would take a ridiculous amount of effort to get them replaced.

  • Birth Certificate
  • Marriage License
  • Divorce Decree
  • Parenting Plan
  • Vehicle Title
  • Mortgage papers
  • House Title
  • Passports
  • etc.

Set up a system for incoming papers.

It always feels good to clear out the paper that has been tormenting us for so long. But we need to make sure we don’t allow it to get overwhelming anymore.

Here are the things I implement to keep paper clutter under control:

  • Sort immediately. When we get the mail, we head directly to the trash/recycle bin and immediately toss the junk mail.
  • Have an “inbox.” Ours is a simple basket that I drop in any bills or things we need to deal with. My husband takes care of all the bills, and this prevents him from asking “where’s the house payment?”
  • Deal with kid paper clutter ASAP. When the kids get home from school- we go through their backpack with them right away. Sign any papers that require a parent signature and put it right back into their backpack. Then we look over all their school papers, talk about it, and throw out everything we can. If you want more info on kid paper clutter- see my other post on how I deal with the crafts and artwork.
  • Find a filing system that works for you. I found that I will gladly put things in drawers- so now that is my filing system! I got this little cabinet at Ikea a few years ago and LOVE it. If I get anything that needs to be filed here, I simply put it in the drawer. The receipts and statements I need to keep for business fit easily and at the end of the year, I just put them all in a manila envelope, label it with the year, and put it in the bin with a copy of our prepared taxes.
  • Go paperless as much as possible. Whatever we can, we set up automatic payments and paperless statements. This saves us putting out time and energy to remember to pay certain bills and the filing of paperless statements is all done on the email account.

 

Of all the clutter that we have in our home, paper seems to be the worst. Here are specific strategies to help you overcome paper clutter and live a life of freedom.

 

About the author, Rachel

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, I go live in my FREE Facebook Groups every weekday- feel free to join me there: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group

2 Comments

  1. Carmel on 07/26/2020 at 6:56 PM

    i have never had a problem with paper like that. i simply file or discard as i go along. I keep important documents in one place, and i have an indexed box for everything else including receipts.

  2. Bristol on 07/31/2020 at 4:10 PM

    Good plan. I tend to hang onto things longer than necessary, “just in case”. I have to force myself to sort through all sorts of papers every once in a while.

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