Drowning in a Pile of Papers

9 Feb

For a lot of people paper is the never ending and overwhelming mountain that bombards them daily and steals all their organizing wind out of their sails (often before they’ve even started). Whether it is mail, ads, bills, school papers from their kids or just paper announcements they need to keep track of – it can add up really quickly. And their plan of attack (or system) to cut it back and corral just doesn’t seem to work.

Can you relate? While there is no easy “one size fits all” solution to how to fix this issue if this is you, there are some questions you can ask yourself and tips you can implement to help yourself. If you need more help or really are “stuck”, drop me a line with some pictures and I’d be glad to point you in the right direction.

Questions to ask yourself:

1. What kind of “Paper” comes into my house? And what of those do I need to keep?

Advice: Depending on what paper plagues you, you’ll need to find a “home” for each of those types of papers (the ones you want to keep). For everything else, you’ll want to have a envelope opener and a recycling bin close at hand and immediately chuck the useless junk mail, advertisements and paper you don’t need.

2. Am I visual person that needs to see bills, announcements and coupons to remember them, or can I file them away until the appropriate time of when I need them?

Advice: Depending on how you answer this question, your solution might need to be a series of hanging folders, a physical inbox(es) for different types of papers, a big command center area or just an accordion file with appropriate labels. If you’re a visual person though, make sure those things that need to be attended to are visible to you (but not taking over your space) and if you’re not, then file them away in a system that is setup to bring you back to that piece of paper when you would need it.

3. How do I (or my family or my roommates) “bring” the paper into the house?

Advice: This is a little bit of where “the rubber meets the road” and a little bit of where should my paper “homes” be. Depending on who brings in the mail, where your kids typical drop off their after school stuff and the setup of your home (or office), this will change where the best “home” for your paper will be. Each family and each space is different, but you want to make sure that each “home” for your papers are easily accessible (not upstairs in the home office when you come in through the garage) and logical to where you’ll finally “attend” to them.


Additional Tips you can Implement:

1. Contact the places that send you the most “junk” and tell them to stop. This might even be your banking institution (calling them to change your privacy preference so that they don’t share your information with their partners) or signing up for auto bill pay or a service like Mint.com that can remind you via e-mail or SMS that you have an upcoming bill (versus getting a paper statement). You can also go to a couple different places to take yourself off common distribution lists and catalog lists. Two places are Catalog Choice and Direct Mail’s National Do Not Mail List.

2. Open every piece of mail you receive immediately and sort out the necessary stuff from the fluff (this could even be envelopes if you bill pay online or advertisements thrown in with your statements).  You’ll be surprised how much you really end up keeping once this step is done.

3. If was said before and I’ll say it again. Have a home for each person’s mail and important notices. For spouses and roommates, this means an “inbox” just for them where they’ll see it but it won’t lay around on the some counter somewhere (and spread like an infectious disease). For kids this might mean a folder (hanging ones like this …. are great) where things pertinent to only them go. You can have them daily empty their backpacks of their papers and put it there and you can make it a daily habit to go through to see what needs to be attended to.

4. Lastly, if your system doesn’t completely work for you, don’t throw it all to the wind and give up. Just take a long look at what part is the “speed bump” and adjust your system. The process of organizing (and yes, it is a process) doesn’t happen overnight and habits aren’t formed overnight. So try it out, give it some time and make necessary changes until you have something that works for you and your household.


Come back and check out my next post if you’d like to see my (well, actually my household’s which I slyly implemented and keep them all too) paper process. It’s not the neatest system, but takes into account the organizing personalities of others who use the system, the space and tools we already had (a truly frugal solution!) and it works for us.

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