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Paper clutter… it’s my nemesis. It creeps up on you. It’s hard to make a decision on it. I mean… you might need it some day, right?
I put off tackling our paper clutter for so long. It was so easy to just toss it in the file box, no rhyme or reason, and shut the lid. Then, I would go looking for something and be unable to find it.
Cue having to sort through the shit storm that was the file box. And proceed to have a mini meltdown.
And melt down, I did. Seriously, how did we get so many pieces of paper?? What purpose could all of this junk possibly be serving piled up in box in the corner of the closet! Agghhh…..
While Marie Kondo and my dad just throw caution to the wind and toss it all out with last weeks trash. I’m a little more subtle. There are a few (very few) documents that we need to hold on to. And we are not ready, as a family, to go full-on digital (though, we are getting pretty close).
So, I tackled the paper clutter beast. Was it fun? Not in the least. But necessary. And I feel so much less overwhelmed now. I can find important stuff, and I know that the rest of it can be tossed out (with last weeks trash).
If you’ve found that your paper clutter has taken over every single crevice of your home. Every counter and table. Or just gotten piled up in a box or corner. I’ve got you. Here’s how to tame the paper clutter monster without being overwhelmed by it.
How to Declutter Paper in 4 Easy Steps
1. Gather it all up.
This will probably take you a minute, and some strength to gather it all. That’s okay. Give it time. What I did was put it all in a large cardboard box all piled up and obnoxious. Taunting me with its sheer size and tendency to annoy me.
Now, just because you’re gathering up a semi trailer full of paper doesn’t mean you need to go through it in one sitting. Don’t. Don’t do that to yourself. That paperwork didn’t get this out of hand overnight, and you’re not going to fix it overnight.
Set a timer. 10 minutes. That’s it. Maybe you get 10 minutes done and you feel like doing another 10. That’s okay. But don’t overwhelm yourself with this. It’s going to take some time to go through and that’s okay.
2. Gather some supplies.
Supplies to declutter paper? Are you kidding me?
Haha… it’s nothing special. You’ll just need a box for recycling, a box for shreddables (totally a word), and a box for your keeps. The keep box doesn’t need to be very big. You’re not going to be keeping much.
I also suggest investing in a scanner and a shredder. Do you have to have these items? No. But it will make life easier. If you don’t have a scanner, there are apps for your phone in order to digitize some things. And you can pay a company like staples or even UPS to shred docs for you if that’s your thing.
You’ll want to keep your box o’ paper and the supplies located in the same general vicinity… at least while you’re actively going through it. Then, if you want, you can put it up for a while.
I will note that while you’re doing this, you need to keep your keep box safe. I used the fireproof/waterproof file box that I was going to be filing everything away in anyway. But, don’t file anything. Just set it somewhere safe. You’ll file when you’re all finished, I promise.
2. Sort into three categories.
These will be items that you do not need that contain no personally identifying information. So, you don’t want to throw your credit card statement in this. But, you can throw that birthday card from when you were 8 in there. I won’t tell.
I will briefly mention kids artwork/schoolwork here. As I did go through it while I was going through our paperwork. I will say only this… you don’t need to keep every little thing. If it’s a milestone, original, and you personally love it. Keep it. If it’s something that they personally love, I have them display it on a clipboard hanging in their room.
If you’re just hanging on to it because you think you might want it some day, or even they may want it some day. It’s time to put it to rest. They’re not going to want it. I keep some really special items, the rest we display for a short time and then we say goodbye to it. I have a small pile of meaningful artwork that I keep that is generally displayed.
This is all of the stuff that contains personally identifying information. Old bank statements. Tax documents over 7 years old. Financial statements. Billing statements. Medical records and insurance paperwork. That sort of thing.
Put these items in the shred box and when you’re finished, start shredding.
This should be a small, easily managed pile. As a rule of thumb, here is what we kept, personally. You need to do what works for you though….
1. Tax Documents. You should hold on to tax returns and any supporting documents for 7 years.
2. Warranties. Hold on to these for as long as they are good. An alternative is to scan them. We didn’t have many, so we opted to keep them.
3. Loan and Mortgage Docs. For routine notes, hold on to for the life of the loan. For mortgage papers, keep them until payoff plus 7 years.
4. Medical Bills, Receipts, Insurance Paperwork. It’s recommended that you keep these for 3 years. If you write anything off on your taxes, then you’d keep them 7.
5. Vehicle Titles and Maintenance. Hold on to these as long as you own the vehicle.
6. Investment Statements. Keep these for the life of the investment plus 7 years.
7. Vital Records. Birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, death certificates, social security cards and the like should be held on to forever.
That’s it, really. Almost all of our bills are paid online, so I only hold on to a statement if I’ve paid it by mail and only until the check clears.
Questions to ask yourself about paper clutter.
Will this information ever be useful again or be required in a specific circumstance?
Tax documents are a biggie with this one. The rest, it’s generally a hard pass.
Could I easily get this information again if I needed it?
Could you find it online and print it out? Could you scan it so that you have a digital copy of it?
3. File away.
Now, you need a filing system to keep track of what you kept. I keep everything in a fireproof/waterproof file box. Each category I listed above has its own file folder. Medical stuff has dividers for each individual. So, our file system is pretty simple. We don’t have much to keep, so it’s not too difficult. I do place our tax documents in an envelope and write the year on the back. When 7 years is up, they get shredded.
4. Keeping the paper monster away. (Daily Sorting)
Once you tackle the disaster that once was a paper monster, you don’t want it to get out of hand again, right? You can keep it under control by tackling paperwork as soon as it comes through the door. We do this daily as part of our routine. Sort the mail and any other papers as soon as they come in (or in the evening when you have a moment).
We have a simple sorter with three sections. One for file away, one for deal with it, and the other holds stamps and a few coupons if we have some paper ones.
The junk mail and other pointless garbage that does not contain personally identifying information gets recycled.
We shred bills after they’re paid (for the few we get paper statements of). And also those ridiculous loan and credit card offers.
These are things like financial statements and insurance statements. They don’t require being dealt with immediately, but they do need filed and put away. These go in the file box immediately, or put in the “file” portion of our tray and put away on Friday’s when I manage our bills.
Deal With It
This is mostly bills and other important inquiries. They have to be dealt with whether we want to or not. These go in the “deal with it” tray on our mail sorter. Some people pay their bills as soon as they come. We pay ours weekly. So, you either deal with it when it comes in the mail or you file it in a sorter to deal with later.
Paper clutter can easily become a beast that gets far too out of hand. It can take time to go through it, but if you take the time it won’t be so overwhelming and once you tackle it you’ll be better able to keep on top of it so that it doesn’t get so out of hand in the future.
Is paper clutter driving you mad?
Other Posts You’ll Love:
- How to Make Time to Declutter
- The Ultimate Guide to Decluttering When You’re Overwhelmed
- 117 Things to Declutter Right Now