For most of us, paperwork just seems to multiply. Although the first step to conquering paper clutter is to organize the paperwork we already have, we can’t stop there.
Because the piles grow so quickly, we’ll never be able to keep our paperwork under control unless we set up routines for managing it.
Unfortunately, once paperwork has gotten out of control, taming it takes a lot of time. Most of us are busy and don’t have several hours in a row to dedicate to such a project, but that’s okay.
Since this is a blog on gradual minimalism, we’ll break the job down into a series of 10 minute projects.
“Perhaps one of the most ‘collected’ items in any home is paper.”
A couple of weeks ago, I suggested you quickly go through your paperwork, tossing what you could immediately tell you don’t need and giving some thought to how you’ll organize things in the future.
If you can’t complete a project in 10 minutes, don’t let yourself become overwhelmed or depressed. Spend more than 10 minutes that day only if you really want to. Otherwise just keep going in 10-minute increments until you’re done.
1. QUICK TOSS
You should have already completed the ruthless recycling described in my earlier post, but you’ve probably had some new things come in since. Take 10 minutes to quickly toss the obvious stuff.
2. INCOMING PAPERWORK
As nice as it would be if we could just deal with all of our paperwork as soon as it comes in, most of us don’t have that luxury.
Today, choose a place to keep the mail and other new paperwork until you can get to it. It takes only a few seconds to do this and helps keep things from getting out of control again.
In the future, before you put anything there, toss all the junk mail into a recycle bin. You’re a lot more likely to do this if you have a bin nearby, so choose your spot carefully.
Then you’ll need to make sure you review and sort incoming paperwork at least once every couple of days. The “incoming” pile will contain important papers that need to be dealt with.
3. ELECTRONIC BILLS AND STATEMENTS
Sign up to get all the bills and statements you can electronically. You won’t need to save most statements and bills once you’re reviewed and paid them, but if you do need to, don’t print them. Instead, save the PDF to the appropriate folder on your computer.
4 . PAPER BILLS AND STATEMENTS
Set up a place to keep any unpaid paper bills and paper statements that need to be reviewed. Find any paper bills you already have and put them there.
Unless you carry your checkbook with you, keep it there as well, along with stamps and address labels. When you sort the mail or get paper bills from other places, make sure you immediately put the bills in this location.
Once you’re done paying a bill, toss it unless you need to save it for tax or other reason. You’ll need a filing system for the items you keep. If you don’t have a good one already, don’t worry about it today. Just put these papers in a filing pile for now.
5. SYSTEM FOR BILLS AND STATEMENTS
If you don’t already have one, you need to create a system for ensuring your bills get paid on time and statements are promptly reviewed for errors.
I find it easiest to do this twice a month, since I’m paid twice a month and that’s often enough that I won’t have to worry about late payments.
If you’re not already in the habit, mark the next bill-paying day on your calendar so you won’t forget. When that day arrives, be sure to calendar the next time.
Unless you need to save a receipt, handle it this way:
- If you paid with cash, recycle it.
- If you paid with a check or debit card, enter the amount in your checkbook register, whether that’s paper or electronic.
- Then save these receipts, along with credit card receipts, in an envelope until you’ve reviewed the statement.
I have one envelope per month, and just recycle all the receipts in there when I first pay bills during the next month.
You’ll probably have to save some receipts. Reasons include to take a tax deduction, to get reimbursement from your workplace or to return a product. These should be filed away for later reference. Just set them aside for now unless you already have a good filing system.
Take those invitations, flyers, post-it notes, pages ripped from newspapers, kids’ soccer schedules and postcards you’ve saved about upcoming events and enter all the information into your calendaring system.
Do this even if you’re not sure you’re going to go. You can mark the entry with “maybe” or “tentative” if you like.
You can usually toss the paper once you’re done with calendaring, but there might be a few things you need to keep. For instance, maybe you’ll need an invitation to get into the event or to use directions to a place that’s difficult to find.
Create one place that you will always keep these items, and put any you have there now.
Get into the habit of adding items to your calendar soon after you find about them.
I toss papers on the computer desk and add them into Google Calendar the next time I’m working at the computer. Of course, this works only if you don’t have too much paperwork on your desk already. You’ll need to find a system that works for you.
Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.
– Khalil Gibran
These 10-minute tasks will give you a good start on the path to conquering your paperwork. Future posts will offer more 10-minutes tasks.
Remember, the point is to make slow progress. Don’t worry if you have to skip a day because you’re too busy to work on decluttering or if one evening you’d really rather just watch TV.
Do commit to 10-minutes a day at least a few times a week, though, and you’ll soon begin to see a reduction in paper around your house.