It’s week 5 of the 8 week declutter challenge and this week is all about ways to control paper clutter. I’ve got 10 guaranteed ways to control paper clutter and it won’t cost you a ton of money or take up a million hours of your precious time. But the end result is so worth it – you can find what you need, you don’t have piles and piles of stuff to sort, and all your papers are neat and organized.
I’m sure the majority of us deal with this on a daily basis. Bills, receipts, manuals, lists, taxes, and then throw some kids in the mix and you’ve got papers coming out of your ears. And if can be overwhelming at first, but once you get a system in place that works for you, I promise you’ll never be drowning in paper clutter again.
If you haven’t joined in, come along and start getting rid of the clutter!
And catch up on the first 4 weeks here:
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First things first. The most important thing you need to do when it comes to organizing your papers is create some sort of family binder. Nothing fancy – a simple 1 inch binder and some dividers. Mine is an old white binder from college and some handwritten tabs. I keep ours in our firesafe. This binder is not something you’ll pull out monthly or possibly even yearly, but it’ll be oh so important if you ever need it. Here’s what you need in your family binder:
- Birth certificates
- Your will and medical directives (and if you don’t have one of these, stop right now and get one)
- Life insurance policies
- Directions for whoever would handle your estate or personal affairs should something happen to you – mine happens to be my sister and I’ve left her directions that she might not find in our will – account information and so on.
- Marriage certificate
- Social Security cards
- Any other legal document that isn’t easily replaceable and may be necessary for important events
Now that this is out of the way, we can move on to all the other paper junk that is filling up the house.
Sort the Mail Immediately
If you can get into the habit of sorting the mail right away, you won’t end up with endless piles of paper to go through. Recycle papers go straight to the recycle bin and bills or other important papers find a home. I keep a small organizer on the kitchen counter of things that need to be paid and/or filed. Then when I’m doing the weekly budget, it’s all there in one place.
File Boxes or Organizers
These don’t have to be fancy. I bought some file boxes and folders to keep papers organized. Make some tabs for your most common papers – cars, home repairs, insurance, taxes, mortgage, receipts, retirement accounts, and so on. So gather up all your piles of papers and start sorting. I like to pile it all on the floor and make piles for keep, shred, and trash/recycle. I keep the file boxes easily accessible downstairs so it’s not a huge hassle to file things away.
Online Bill Pay/Paperless Billing
This has been a major lifesaver when finding a way to control paper clutter. The majority of my monthly bills allow for online billing and I use the online bill pay service through my bank to keep up with them. This means that 90% of my bills never come in the mail. And I get a notification through the bank when I have a new bill to pay. Seriously – if you aren’t doing this, I would consider signing up. I only have one or two bills that don’t participate in electronic billing. And you can still view the bills and all your payment histories. Nothing is lost except the clutter!
I keep an organizer on my desk for those papers that I haven’t had time to file yet. I gather up my papers from the kitchen organizer and bring them over when it’s time to pay bills or do the monthly budget. And I know it sounds like a lot of moving from one place to another, but part of this whole declutter challenge is to find a system that works for your family. And this one happens to work for us. I know if it’s in the organizer on the desk, it’s already been handled. Just waiting to get filed in the boxes.
This one is tough sometimes. However, I’ve noticed that I just don’t have the time to sit down and read 10 magazines a month. I looked in my pantry the other day and I still had an issue of a magazine from last summer.
Clearly, if I haven’t taken the time to read it since last summer, it’s not going to happen. Pick one or two that you really love and cancel the rest. I realize there are plenty of people who read magazines consistently, but I’m just not one of them. I have two favorites and the rest I just don’t need.
Ahh the giant pile of receipts. Look through them and decide what to keep. I have a file folder labeled specifically for receipts that I know I need to keep. If you are keeping certain receipts for business purposes, look into a service like Expensify. You snap a pic and toss the receipt. This is what my husband uses for his business expenses and when tax time comes around he can easily go through his Expensify account and it’s already organized. If you can get into the habit of going though your paper receipts once every 3 months or so, most of them can be trashed after that time. Unless something has an exceptionally long return period, it generally can’t go back after that long.
If you’ve got kiddos, you know how overwhelming school papers can be. Art projects, report cards, writing papers, and so much more. Get a big plastic file box for each kid and some file folders. Make it pretty if you want – it doesn’t matter as long as there is a designated place for each kid’s school work. And let’s face it – you can’t keep it all. And even if you do, there’s a slim chance they are going to want it back one day. I keep a select few things that come home and the rest gets recycled.
Label it from Preschool to 12th grade and keep it somewhere handy. I keep ours in the bottom of our pantry. As soon as I sort their papers every Friday from school, I set the keepers on the top of the boxes in the pantry. Once a month or so, I go ahead and file them away. And often as I’m filing, I toss out a few more once I realize the boxes are getting too full. Check out this post for ideas!
I pick out some art projects and use it to decorate their playroom or our entryway by the garage. Wal-Mart has the best inexpensive frames that are perfect sizes for art! I buy these in 10×13 and these in 12×18 and those fit most of the art that comes home from school!
And for the special cards that come home from school, I use these pretty boxes that get stored in my closet. It’s really sweet to go back and read them from time to time and I know exactly where to put that special homemade birthday card.
If you’re into projects, DIY, or budgeting, chances are you have lists in 10 different places. Things you’ve taken out of a magazine, ideas and goals for your budget, bill reminders and so on. Make it a little easier on yourself and create a budget or project binder, or both.
We have a large binder that we’ve used for years. Our monthly budget is in an Excel spreadsheet, but the binder is where I keep up with long-term goals and other ideas that come to mind. Write out your monthly goals and use it during your budget meetings if you have them.
If you’ve got a big project coming up like a kitchen renovation, get a binder and keep up with your budget, estimates, expenses, receipts, and anything else related to that project. Take it with you to the store if you need to and keep everything organized together. Again, nothing fancy, just a place to keep it all together.
And last but possibly the most important way to control paper clutter:
Stick to your system
Figure out what works for you. Try out different organizing methods, but if you find something that works, stick to your plan. Make it part of your to do list. Whether you have a few hours to devote or a few minutes, as long as you have a system, it’ll be so much easier on you in the long run.
Thanks for joining me for the 5th week of the 8 Week Declutter Challenge! I’ll be back next week with some kitchen organizing and declutter ideas! Have you decluttered any spaces yet? I’d love to hear from you if you have! And share any of your great organizing ideas with me!