How to Reduce Paper Clutter

It started so innocently. I’d come home from shopping, and I’d throw a receipt in my “inbox.” I needed the receipt to start the price book that I was determined to start this year. And then I’d get some mail that needed to be dealt with…later. So into the inbox it went. The problem was, nothing ever came out of the inbox. Pretty soon, my inbox was so cluttered, I moved it to a file box. And the file box started to pile up. School stuff? Into the file box. And that end of the school year stuff adds up quickly!

paper clutter

Well, this weekend I did something about it. I finally finished setting up a new filing system, and I filed EVERYTHING! But most of the stuff in the box ended up going into the recycling bin. It’s funny how those important papers didn’t seem so important after they’d been sitting in the box for a few months.

It took me all day Saturday to clean that one room, but I learned a few lessons about paper clutter.

1. Set Up a Good Filing System.

Everyone’s filing system is going to look different. Unfortunately, I never seemed to figure out a good system on my own. I must have failed filing 101 at some point in my life. I balked at spending money for someone to do it for me, until Angelsong, one of my readers who’s taught me a lot, mentioned that she had a good experience with My Oh-So-Organized Filing System by Maria Garcia.

Granted, you could easily make this kind of filing system yourself, but I’ve tried and failed many times. For those like me, who are paralyzed by trying to start a filing system, it’s worth the money to buy something ready made. Trust me. If you’ve seen my desk throughout the years, you’d know that for whatever reason, I can’t figure out a filing system on my own. Frugality, yes. Filing, no.

So I set the system up, and now I have a place for everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING.

2. Make Decisions on Your Paper Clutter Right Away.

When you get the mail, deal with it. Don’t put it in a “to be filed” folder. Just file it. If it’s a bill, put it in the “to be paid” folder. Or better yet, pay it right away. If it’s junk, toss it into the reycling bin immediately.

It’s much easier to make decisions right away, when you have a place to file the papers right away. You know the saying:

A place for everything, and everything in it’s place.

It’s true. If you have a place for everything, it’s much easier to keep an area organized.

So much of my clutter was due to stuff that I couldn’t make a decision on. It just piled up. And eventually it all ended up being recycled. If I had done that in the first place, I would have saved myself a Saturday afternoon!

3. Periodically Go Through Your Files.

There’s no use having a “To Do” folder, if you never look at it and do the things in the folder. The same with a “Shred” folder. If you never get to the shredding, your papers will pile up, and the task of shredding will seem impossible.

Schedule a day once a week to deal with your files. Look through them and see if there’s anything immediate that needs attention. Shred the things that need to be shredded. Pay your bills.

Once a month go through files that are used frequently (finances, menus, to do lists, etc) and purge anything that you don’t need. And once a year go through ALL your files. If you do this regularly, paperwork will never get the better of you again!

Do you have a good filing system? Or are you a natural piler, like me?

Photo by orphanjones.

13 thoughts on “How to Reduce Paper Clutter”

  1. One great way to sort out and actually get rid of paper is to use ScanSnap from Fujitsu and Evernote. You can scan documents with the ScanSnap, which will create PDF’s that have been OCR’ed. You can setup ScanSnap to automatically send those PDF’s to Evernote.

    Evernote is free (they also offer a premium option for $49 a year or $5 a month, but everything you really need is free!). It allows you to access those notes, documents, etc on almost any device including PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, etc. You can even use someone elses PC/Mac and login to Evernote to get access to your files, notes, etc. Evernote not only saves files, but notes, web pages, etc. The info if stored in the cloud and on your computer. It syncs up every time it opens, or whenever you want it to.

    I started using it about 5 years ago, and now have over 2,000 “notes” stored. I have save tons of information from websites in there, and they have web “clippers” for just about every browser out there. Their clipper is even smart enough to just save the text of the article, without all the junk around it. But you can save the entire page if you want, just an area you select, or even just the URL if you would like.

    Evernote has saved me tons of time, as it is one place you can store just about any kind of information you need. You can even password protect individual notes for greater security if you need it.

    ScanSnap’s are available in all kinds of sizes, styles and price points. Search for scansnap and go to the Fujitsu site to get more information. Amazon offers them at a discount.

    Even if you don’t want to spend the money for a ScanSnap, check out Evernote. It is the single most useful utility/application that I use across all of my devices.

  2. Very timely post. My problem is that although I have a working filing system, and have allocated a day to paperwork every week, the mechanics of it keep failing me. I always end up needing more than the few hours on a Wednesday to keep it at bay. I keep ending up with a piled up tray. Habits I need to break and make I think!

  3. I can’t even begin to tell you how timely this was. I have spent the past week going through about 15 years of accumulated mail at my grandma’s house. Today alone we threw out 12 garden trash bags full of junk mail. We have had to go through every piece because she had a tendency to write person info., including credit card numbers, on everything. We also found hundreds of dollars stashed in envelopes around the house. She finally passed away this evening and we are so bogged down in everything that it is quite a distraction. I implore everyone to get your paperwork in order so your family can spend your last days/hours with you instead of desparately seeking healthcare information, insurance numbers, financial docs., wills, titles, etc. I know that is what I am going to do.

  4. Positively great tips! But of course, you learned from experience. It must have taken hours to file all that away. And it is alot of help to maintain the system, too. I file paperwork every Friday at the same time I pay my bills. Keeps the paperwork in check and my kitchen counters clean from piled junk. LOL.

  5. I am on #3 for the most part and desparately need to go through my file cabinet and get rid of at least half of what is there. It is just a project I don’t even want to start.

  6. Great post. I have an office full of papers scattered around the room that I need to file. Maybe one day, I’ll actually get around to it.

    I’d started organizing it a few weeks ago and then I had to look for a receipt and it ended up being worse than when I started.

  7. If you have trouble figuring out a place for that box of See’s chocolates, I’d be happy to take them off your hands!

  8. Thought you had come into my house and took a picture of my desk !! Just this weekend I decided to spend 15 min a day working on getting this done. :)

  9. There’s just this great feeling around having something organized, isn’t there?

    Oh…and I noticed your box of See’s Candy. We LOVE See’s Candy. We live in GA now, but both The Man Beast and I were raised in CA…See’s Candy fans FOR LIFE!

  10. Hurrah!!! Good for you, and way to go! I knew you would find that filing system helpful…if it can straighten out our filing cabinet and keep it in order well over a year since its purchase, it will work for anyone. Maria Gracia is a winner. There is so much freedom in having your papers and files in order. Yesterday, I needed some information for an appointment I made in the spring for today. I went to the file, and pulled out the folder with all of the information needed for the appointment in literally seconds. No pulling my hair out because I lost the appointment card! I am so happy for you!

  11. I bet you feel sooooo accomplished now right? I need to do that too. My spare room is my ‘office’ in your case. I start many new ‘projects’ but that is one that I keep putting off. I really need to go through my filing cabinet and shred old bills and put in the new ones. I wanted to do it this past weekend, but it was tooooo nice to sit inside. I’ll save it for a rainy day, OR what I plan on doing is really tackling the house when I get home from work, since I get home so much earlier then DH. So I’m going to break it all out…I’m trying to be a good wifey :)


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