Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Preventing Paper Pandemonium

It's been a few months, but the great clutter purge of 2015 continues! This whole process is turning out to take much longer than I anticipated, mostly because the more I throw out, the more I tinker with everything that's left. I made my husband rearrange all the furniture in our bedroom last week because I felt like the new arrangement would feel less cluttered (which we both agree it does, but my husband ended up at the chiropractor from the back breaking labor, so he's getting pretty tired of this project).

My #2 biggest clutter issue (right after children's toys, which is by far the #1 cause of clutter around here) is definitely Marie Kondo's third category: papers. A few months ago, paper clutter covered nearly every surface in my home. The kitchen counter, the kitchen table, the dresser, the desk, both nightstands, even the bookshelves were repositories for random paper.

What were all these paper items? Well, there was mail that needed to be sorted, mail that had already been opened but needed dealing with (bills, etc.), coupons I wanted to use at some point, handouts and flyers from church, homework and school papers, papers from both our church assignments, grocery store ads, handouts from our doctor about baby development, scraps with various people's addresses and phone numbers written down, scraps with grocery lists written down, receipts... you get the idea. Basically, it just looked like our house was vomiting paper all the time.

For me, tackling this category of the KonMari method was less about considering what brought me "joy" (all those doctor bills and insurance papers bring me absolutely zero joy, but alas, I probably shouldn't throw them out), and more about developing a process for dealing with paper before it became clutter. This was actually a pretty huge revelatory experience for me, and one that I haven't yet perfected, but I'm getting better. Much better. And it's making such a huge difference in the clutter level of our home.

Now, some of this may seem insanely obvious to the rest of the world, but I'm learning as I go here, so this is what I've figured out about dealing with paper clutter.

Don't Let It In The House
Every day when we pick up the mail, I sort it as soon as I pull it out of the box. Any scrap that isn't super necessary, I throw away before we enter the house (it's convenient that our complex has a recycling bin right next to the mailboxes, I'll have to set up some similar system when/if we move to a house). If I get handouts or papers while I'm out and about, at the doctors, at church, wherever, I try to record the pertinent information in my phone calendar or notes app, and leave the paper there. It doesn't always work, but the less paper that comes through the door, the less clutter to deal with.

Ten Minutes a Day
This is an idea I've adapted from Gretchen Rubin, but I try to take ten minutes every day, usually as part of my nightly clean-up routine, and "deal" with paper clutter. That means pay any bills that came in the mail, file coupons, or simply take care of it so it can be thrown away. If I deal with it daily, less builds up.

You Don't Need to Store It
For some reason we had boxes and boxes and drawers of paper files. I went through it all, and instead of asking whether it brought me "joy" or not, I asked "is this completely necessary to hold on to?" Tax documents, birth certificates, and the like got a yes, while all those lessons plans from that one year I taught seventh grade English got a no (I have most of them in electronic files anyway). Basically, I discovered there are a lot fewer essential paper documents than I thought (I even questioned my husband on the tax documents, and while we have started electronic filing and storing all that stuff in recent years, we're hanging on to the paper documents from our early years marriage because of the six year audit rule). Basically, all our essential documents can fit neatly in one file drawer, no elaborate organization systems are necessary. It's all right there, easy to find when we need it.

Electronic Clutter is a Real Thing
Computers, phones, and the internet have made the biggest impact on reducing paper clutter across our entire culture, but I'm only just now figuring out that it's important to keep electronic clutter in check too. I LOVE using electronic files to reduce real paper clutter, but I want and need to be better at making sure my electronic files aren't overly cluttered. I got a new laptop for Christmas, and it was so refreshing to start over with this blank canvas, but six months in and the clutter is already there. It's absolutely not as noticeable the paper clutter in my house, which makes it easier to ignore, but I still feel very itchy about it. So, I'm slowly working through the process of cleaning up and organizing my digital files, managing my email inbox and calendars and to-do lists. It's an interesting process, mostly because I feel like there are a million apps and ideas and systems about organizing electronic "stuff," and I don't have it all figured out yet, but I'm working on it.

I know that as we pass through other seasons of life our paper clutter issues will change, and I'm still working to figure this all out. However, the big thing I've learned is that the best way to deal with paper clutter is to prevent it. I'm getting better at dealing with paper as soon as it comes in the house, not letting it hit the counter or the kitchen table but making sure it finds a home or gets dealt with immediately. So far, it's made a huge difference.

How do you deal with paper clutter? I'm all ears for other strategies that tackle this issue.

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