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Paper Clutter: How To Get Rid Of It For Good

I know from all the comments I get that paper clutter is a big problem for a lot of you so, seeing as I’ve just completed the ‘paper’ category of the KonMari Method (watch the video here: The KonMari Method — Papers), I thought I’d share some of my tips on eliminating paper clutter once and for all.

Paper clutter

Bank statements, utility bills, newspapers and magazines, receipts, pay slips, greetings cards, letters, photos, notices, leaflets, catalogues… and on and on. Paper piles up! Getting rid of it for good is a worthy effort; you’ll be surprised at how much of your home is taken over with it. But it won’t be an easy task, so let’s take it one small step at a time.

If it feels overwhelming, remember that there’s only a finite amount of paper in your home. Every single scrap you slay is one step closer to winning the war on paper clutter. So saddle up and ride out!

Step 1: Stem the flow

There’s no point braving the enemy if you’re just going to let them call for back-up. You need to cut all communication so that, once you have the paper clutter in your home surrounded, you can be sure the cavalry aren’t going to come knocking. Cut paper clutter off at the source by doing the following:

    • Stop junk mail

Unsubscribe to mailing lists. Details on how to do this will vary by country so do a quick Google search for how to stop it or ask at your local post office. Another great way I’ve found is, if the letter has a return address on it, return to sender with a note asking them to remove you from their list. And, depending on where you live, putting a sticker on your mailbox specifying “no junk mail” is usually enough to stop leaflet-droppers.

    • Cancel subscriptions

Particularly to catalogues, which only encourage you to bring more clutter into your home. If you have subscriptions to magazines or newspapers, re-evaluate which ones you REALLY love and read religiously, and cancel the rest. (Added bonus: saving money.)

    • Don’t let your bag be a Trojan horse

Don’t accept flyers or leaflets while out and about, unless you’re truly interested in the contents, or dump them at the first available opportunity (preferably by recycling). Also reconsider receipts. Some shops (like Apple) offer the option of having a receipt texted or emailed to you. If you do get a receipt, consider whether you really need it. Obviously keep receipts for things that will require proof of purchase if something goes wrong. But, chances are, when you walk out of that salon, you can safely scrap the receipt for your cut and colour. Empty the contents of your bag before heading for home and sift through it for useless scraps. (‘Cause look, if you’ve bought the shopping, you no longer need the list, right?)

    • Deal with mail immediately

Have a recycling bin nearby. Scribble a “return to sender” on those you no longer want to receive, and dump anything that’s a one-off or has no return address or that just isn’t relevant to you right now. Anything that contains sensitive information should be shredded or otherwise destroyed. (Keep a small box for storing papers for this purpose. Don’t let it get too full before you deal with it.)

If it’s a bill, pay it. If it’s an important piece of reference material, file it. If it’s a magazine, put it somewhere you can easily reach for and read it the next time you have a chance, like beside the couch or on your bedside locker. In short, do something with it, don’t just let it build up. It shouldn’t take longer than a minute or two to deal with the mail every morning, so no excuses.

    • Switch to e-statements

Get all your bank statements and bills sent to you online. (And, while you’re at it, consider setting up direct debit payments so you’ll never have to receive a reminder again.) This step alone will eliminate a huge amount of paper clutter coming into your home.

Step 2: Purge

This step should come as no surprise. There’s nothing to it but to do it, so get stuck in. Every time you come across a piece of paper, your first inclination should be to get rid of it. The only thing that should stop you is if it’s valuable and irreplaceable.

If it requires some action that will only take a minute or two, like RSVPing to an invitation, or transferring an important date to your calendar, do it there and then and ditch the notice.

If you want to do it the KonMari way, then gather every single scrap of paper you own into one pile and then pick them off one by one until you’re done. (This could take hours or it could take weeks, depending on the number of paper soldiers. Whichever it is, take regular breaks and know that you’re making progress. Each piece of paper is one step closer to sweet victory.)

If the KonMari Method scares the bejaysus out of you (though I still recommend it, ‘cause fear can be a great motivator), then go all guerrilla warfare on paper clutter and make a commitment to yourself to deal with every piece of paper you come in contact with during your normal day-to-day routine.

    • Clearing the kitchen table for dinner? Deal with whatever papers are on it. (And no, dealing with them doesn’t involve putting them aside for later.)
    • Rooting out receipts for your tax return? Great! Now’s the perfect time to go through all of them. And yes, you’re required to keep tax documentation for a specified period (varies by country), but you don’t need receipts going back to nineteen-oh-dickety, so ditch them.
    • Kid brought home another school project? Now’s the time to re-evaluate all the others, along with the artwork. By all means, keep the ones that mean the most to you, but just ‘cause little Janie scribbled on a scrap of paper doesn’t mean you’re obliged to treat it as sacred forever. It’s OK to let the little squiggles go.
    • Reading a magazine? Have a look at all the ones in the pile that have gone unread. Donate them to a friend or doctor’s office and be on your merry, magazine-less way. (Did you remember to cancel your subscription to the ones you’re no longer reading?)

Filing cabinets, in particular, can be friend or foe. If utilised correctly, they can be invaluable. If utilised like 99% of us do, they can be a black hole of old bank statements, pay slips, and every other piece of paper you’ve laid your hands on for the last lifetime or so. Go through it drawer by drawer, folder by folder, and be realistic. You don’t need pay slips from your very first job, and you don’t need insurance forms for things you no longer own.

Like I said, if you’re serious about eliminating paper clutter, assume it’s trash unless there are VERY compelling reasons to think otherwise.

Paper clutter -- recycle

Step 3: Organise

Divide everything you have left into categories. To make it easy, you should really only have three:

    • stuff that requires some form of action (like an invitation that needs an RSVP),
    • stuff that needs to be held onto temporarily before being moved on (like a limited time warranty), and
    • stuff that needs to be filed on a more long-term basis (like birth certificates, tax documents, etc.)

Sub-divide and colour-coordinate and all that jazz if that’s your thing. Otherwise, don’t bother your arse — those three categories will stand you in good stead. If one category is looking a little unruly, go back through it and see how much more you can let go of.

If you’ve pared it back as much as you can but it’s still looking like a whole forest laid down its life for it, THEN you should consider sub-dividing. Keep the topics fairly broad — house, car, business, medical, etc.

If, like me, you have to keep tax records, separate each year so that, when a new one rolls around, it’s easy to pick out the oldest and send it straight to the shredder. I just use plastic folders like the ones below (affiliate link) and stick a small sheet of paper in front with the year on it, but go with whatever size storage you need.

Step 4: Set up an “inbox”

This is the one I’m currently working on myself. It’s inevitable that you’ll still have some paper clutter coming into your house, so it’s important that it’s dealt with quickly and efficiently so it doesn’t start to take over again.

As I said above, you should be dealing with things immediately — recycling, shredding, and filing like there’s no tomorrow. (Keeping the recycling bin and shredder nearby helps immensely.) But sometimes there are things that require action but can’t be done there and then, so have something set up to temporarily store those items. A letter tray or magazine folder, a cork board or, hell, even an empty cereal box will do. Whatever keeps them all together in a place where you can and WILL easily deal with them later.

The inbox prevents paper clutter from having an escape route and floating about your house, ready to lay siege when you least expect it. ’Cause I can almost guarantee you’ve dropped something on the kitchen table to look at later, but then moved it to the counter during dinner, and then moved it to the living room while cleaning the kitchen… Before you know it, you’ve random bits of paper all over the place and you can’t remember what you did with that form you needed to fill out.

Meanwhile, the sneaky bastard has gone into hiding behind your bedside table and is busy laughing his treasonous arse off at you. Nah. Round up the infidels into an “inbox” holding cell.

Step 5: Review regularly

Look, you can’t just shove everything into a cereal box and celebrate. Find time on a reasonably regular basis to hold trials.

“You are hereby charged with cluttering up the place and disrupting the peace. How do you plead, paper?”

If you’ve followed steps one to three carefully, the box shouldn’t fill up too frequently. But keep an eye on it. Is there anything in there that you no longer want to receive? Back to step one you go. Did you find something that you thought might be useful but can now be filed under “forget it”? Step two is for you. Everything else should be actioned and then either dumped or filed, according to step three.

Don’t grant pardons with impunity — everything in your home needs to earn its place there.

And now you’re master of your paper domain. You’ll have cleared a great big chunk of space in your home, a great weight off your shoulders, and you’ll have saved a rainforest while you’re at it. And all because you read this blog post and put its ideas into practice. Go you! Give yourself a great big pat on the back for beating paper clutter.

Please accept this paper crown as a symbol of your righteous victory… and then quickly recycle it.

I’d love to know if you have any specific tips that have helped you with your paper clutter! Leave them in the comments below so we can all benefit from your wisdom. 🙂

Paper Clutter pin


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8 Responses

  1. Just want to start off by thanking you for doing your website/blog/videos. I have just recently found it/them, and am enjoying your work and videos immensely. I also love Irish dialect, so its fun to go back and just listen to you! 🙂 I look forward to hearing your insights into the U.S., once you are able to come over.

    Anyway, sorry about the off topic start. 🙂

    Even with having “stemmed the flow” which is a great start – some times I don’t even get mail two days in a row!- I was (and admittedly still somewhat am) drowning in paperwork mainly because I’m a bit OCD and feel the need to keep things I really don’t need. I did have a file system which was fairly complex which worked great for several years. Everything broken down by store/genre/category. But I started longer work shifts and had less sleep/time to do anything and thus causing my paper avalanche, because I didn’t want to have to do the work to keep it up. (sigh)

    So what I have decided now is to use the 13 pocket plastic file folder that you can get for a dollar at the discount store. I label a pocket for each month and anything that comes in that month – bills once they are paid or paid electronically, receipts using my credit card, etc. go in that month. Cash receipts for non-important items get recycled. Then when I get my bank statement, I can reconcile it easily, and at the end of the year, I just throw the whole plastic organizer in the file where I keep my taxes for that year. That keeps all the items that might be needed for taxes together. Anything that needs to be saved more specifically for warranties, big purchases, etc., gets pulled out at the end of the month at reconciling time and placed in the 13th pocket. Then at the end of the tax requirement time, I can just shred it all together. And then reuse the organizer for the next year.

    If you happen to have something that has longer than a 7 year warranty, just pull the receipt from the 13th pocket before you get rid of it. (or see below)

    I can keep it someplace near where I sort mail so I can slide bill receipts for ones paid online into it quickly, and also grab the receipts out of my purse and shove them in the pocket also. It takes up very little room – it about 9 inches wide and 5 inches tall.

    Anyway, Its a start. 🙂 I’m still working on clothes in the KonMari method which I have already modified, so paper is a loooong way away.

    The other thing I do, if the item is amenable, is place the manual (after tearing out the other languages), any spare or repair parts and the receipt, if it is for that item only, in a baggy and tape it to the item. Works great for things like TVs, computers, bookcases, some furniture, inside of cabinets etc. -anything that has a fairly hide-able surface which I can tape or staple to and not block vents. Helps prevent the “where the heck is the Allen wrench that fits this item?” conundrum.

    Thanks again and hope you are feeling well. Sorry I am so verbose today. LOL

    1. Hi Amy! Sounds like you’ve come up with some great solutions! The paper system you’re describing is similar to the “tickler” system, which I’ve been considering implementing but, honestly, I’m not sure it’s necessary anymore. We can easily go a whole week without mail here! I do have a similar set-up for taxes though — I use an A4 plastic “wallet” to store all important documents and then, when they’re no longer needed, I just feed the contents to the shredder. So simple for keeping everything together!

      Also love the idea of taping relevant things to items, particularly the proper tool. Simple, but so effective! Well done. =)

  2. I don’t know if I’ve told you this one before but I once read a tremendous tip on kid’s artwork:
    Collect in clean pizza boxes, labeled with each child’s name. Once the pizza box gets full edit.
    Another is to set up time once a month or so and photograph the child with the item, so when it comes time to delete, you can always just have a trusty USB.
    (FYI, I don’t have kids…just what I’ve read)

  3. I just watched your video on getting rid of paper clutter, where you suggested getting off mailing lists. I don’t like the junk mail any more than you do, but I just take it straight to the bin unopened. I feel like the postal service which we enjoy and take for granted might come under the chopping block – most of the time the junk is all I get. If that goes away so might my great postal delivery service, so I’d prefer to just toss it than prevent it. Most of my other mail consists of bank statements and medical insurance information, which I look at and then shred. I still have tons of paper around my house for some reason.

    1. I never thought of it like that. I guess for me, though, I’d rather limit the huge environmental impact. I can’t see the postal service going anywhere anytime soon.

  4. I’ve heard you can soak papers in soapy water and then make into a ball when they’re unreadable and throw into the trash. Does that sound feasible to you? Would save a lot of shredding time.

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