I don’t know a single person who has looked forward to this category of the KonMari Method — ‘Paper’. I’m no exception. Even though my pile was significantly reduced last year, paper is still so fiddly and contains so many different types of information that it becomes a pain in the arse to manage.
But let’s jump on in and look at how I fared last year, and then leap forward to this year’s foray. There’ll be a discussion on all the ways I failed, the things I learned, and Marie Kondo’s #1 tip when it comes to paper clutter. (It’s harsh, but effective.)
In fairness, we don’t actually have that much paper coming into the house. All our bills, bank statements, etc. are accessed online, so most of the madness has been cut off at the source (which I highly recommend, by the by). Still, it’s surprising how much of it seeps in, so let’s look at where I was last year.
The KonMari Method -- 'Paper' -- ROUND ONE (2015)
In short, I lost a bit of my sanity. It took me over 3 hours to go through everything, spread over 2 evenings, and I made the mistake of not immediately putting aside bits and pieces that really belonged in the "Mementoes" category. No, I foolishly sat down and read through old letters from friends and ex-boyfriends, poems, song lyrics, notes to classmates, etc.
Learn from my mistakes, peeps.
I ended up keeping about 75% of the stuff (which consisted largely of notepads). As decluttering binges go, not the best. But hey, progress is progress, right? My poor shredder earned its keep that month. (In fact, I probably spent almost as much time shredding as I did going through everything. Another mistake I won't be making again.)
Marie Kondo's #1 tip for dealing with paper clutter
- Discard everything
Yup, just get rid of it all. Unless there’s some overwhelming reason to hang onto it (eg. it's required by law, or you love it and it's irreplaceable), out it goes.
It’s in stark contrast to what she usually preaches, which is to focus on what you’re keeping, but I think, when it comes to paper, she has a point. We generally keep WAY more than we actually need. It’s one of those big “oh but I might need this information someday” categories.
But be real — when was the last time you referred to the user manual for your toaster?
The KonMari Method -- 'Paper' -- ROUND TWO (2016)
Oh lordy, paper is so TEDIOUS. Having to go through each and every sheet, scanning the contents to see if there's anything that needs saving... YAWN! Talk about time-consuming!
And paper is deceptively small. It’s hard to imagine it takes up much space ‘cause it’s all tiny and innocent… until you’re pulling boxes and boxes of the crafty bastard off your shelves.
Another small challenge I encountered was the crossover between paper and stationery. In the end, I put it down to a judgement call. I included things like notepads, scrapbook paper, writing sets, etc., but excluded things like sticky notes and planners. Those will all get done during ‘komono’.
But I went in with Kondo’s rule in the front of my mind, determined to get rid of every single scrap of paper unless there was a VERY compelling reason to keep it. Like if I needed it for legal reasons. Or if it was a notebook.
The process (with pics):
It only took me about 10 minutes to pull everything out, which is probably on the quick side, but remember that I’ve already completed this category once so everything was pretty much in the same place, i.e. our home office. But there were still some assorted papers scattered throughout the house so I’m definitely going to need a much better “inbox” system. I feel like my filing system is reasonably good for long-term/reference items, but totally shite when it comes to things I want to do something with, like forms that need to be filled out, etc.
How long did it take? Not nearly as long as last time! Last time felt like an eternity; this time it felt more like an hour and a quarter… Because, umm, it was. (Though see below for some additional time I spent the following day.)
I did utilise a little exception to make the process go a little faster, which I also used back when I was going through my clothes — a pending pile. But don’t worry, it got the green light from Marie Kondo — she says it’s perfectly acceptable to have a pending pile for papers that require some form of action before they can be dumped or filed, like invitations that need to be RSVP’d to, or details of an upcoming appointment.
I also used it in a similar way to how I use it during the ‘clothes’ category — to put aside things that would otherwise have slowed me down. Some of my notepads were full of notes so I needed to go through them to make sure I wasn’t dumping anything important. Ditto old planner pages, because I wanted to see if there were any important dates or details worth keeping.
I went back through them the following day, removing the pages that were important and dumping the bulk, transferring some information, actioning items, etc. That added an extra 2 hours onto the total time.
It’s more time than I would’ve liked to have spent (call me old-fashioned but sorting through scraps of paper isn’t my idea of an exciting evening) but, all things considered, I ain’t complaining.
I honestly didn’t think I’d have that much to get rid of because, as I said at the outset, we don’t have that much coming into the house in terms of paper, and I’ve already been through this category once before.
Now we all know I wasn’t going to count every piece of paper individually, so let’s just go with the highly scientific “eyeballing” method, shall we? Based on my investigations, I estimate I got rid of about 40% of the pile.
How is this possible?!
The bulk was made up of notepads. Last year, I didn’t think I could let go of them. But, upon closer inspection this year, I realised that a lot of them had elements I disliked — either poor quality paper, or the ruling was too wide for my teeny-tiny handwriting.
And even with those gone, I ain’t running outta writing paper anytime soon.
So what did I learn from Round Two?
My current "inbox" system is shite. Plain and simple.
I set it up in our home office after Round One but, to be honest, I’m not in there all that often so I tend to just wander in, throw some papers into it, and then close the door and never look back. It's a case of "out of sight, out of mind".
The lesson? Don't think you've got your shit together just because you’ve technically got a home for everything. Because look, you can put stuff wherever you like and feel all delighted with yourself, but it’s no good to anyone if it’s too hard to access or is in some other way inconvenient.
The solution? I need to either move those papers to a different place or, if I can’t find suitable alternative accommodation for them, I’ll have to schedule in regular time to spend in the office reviewing them. (I'm leaning towards the latter because I feel like the office is the appropriate home for paper.)
Any pearls of wisdom on completing the paper category?
Why yes. Pull up a pew.
- Papers will take up a long time. Be prepared. Have snacks and drinks on hand, and get comfortable ‘cause you’re there for the foreseeable.
- Take plenty of breaks. Spread it out over the course of a few days or even weeks if you need to. It’s a marathon, people. When you’ve got a bajillion bank statements, you can’t sprint.
- Be ruthless. Remember the golden rule: get rid of everything unless there’s a VERY compelling reason not to. “Might need it” is not compelling. “Could be useful” is not compelling. “Not sure” is not compelling. Look at everything with the mindset that you’re definitely getting rid of it. Only retrieve things that are valuable or irreplaceable. Dump everything you can get a copy of if you really need it (bank statements, utility bills, etc.)
- Make a note of everything you could switch over to e-statements. (When you’re finished the category, go do it.)
- Dump all user manuals. Seriously, you don’t need them. Most manuals are available online these days anyway and, let’s face it, you’re just gonna Google the problem or call the company anyway.
- If you really do feel you need to keep something, but you don’t want it taking up space on your shelf, maybe give scanning a go. (Personally, I hate scanning, but if it’s something you don’t mind doing, and you can keep the documents organised on your device, go right ahead.)
- Use a pending pile. If something is going to take more than a few seconds to peruse, put it aside and plough on.
And that’s about it. I’ve a few more tips in the video version, and I also answer the question of how you should sub-categorise papers, so check it out below. (Just FYI, I recorded it on St. Patrick’s Day.)
And that’s a wrap on another category. PHEW!
I’m currently arse deep in ‘komono’ so expect more updates soon.
(Probably the #1 question I get about my KonMari journey is whether we still have all those bottles of Tabasco sauce in the kitchen. Ha. Watch this space!)