• Elizabeth A.

7 Steps to Declutter Piles of Paper

It's easy for paper to get piled up in our home or office. The piles may go unnoticed until they grow a little too high, and instead of letting you have space for your cup of coffee, they've made themselves at home and happily adorn your desk. So, how do you tackle these piles without getting overwhelmed and needing that second cup of coffee? These 7 steps will help you in the process of decluttering paper. The process is simple, and it starts with 15 minutes. Ready to take back your space?

1. Tackle it in small increments.

If your paper pile is overwhelming, I recommend working on the project for 15-20 minutes each day until it is complete. Don’t exhaust yourself!

2. Get a recycling bin, sticky notes, and a shredder.

You will want to make space for new piles. Clear an area around you on the floor. As you start sorting papers, you’ll get a good idea of the main categories most papers classify under. Use sticky notes to label the piles around you with those categories (ex. Health bills, Automotive, Pet, etc.).

Since you’re working in 15-20-minute increments, there will be various paper piles around you until the project is finished so give yourself permission to have a messy space during this time. Decluttering looks very “messy” before it looks organized but trust the process and keep going!

3. Hold off on buying storage containers.

Many times, people want to purchase a file cabinet, file box, or storage container before sorting... resist the urge! You won’t know what size containers you’ll need until AFTER you finish sorting and purging. The amount of papers left will give you an idea of what size container will fit them best. Be sure the container you end up getting has tabs for your different categories or a way to label them. You will also want the container to be filingfriendly. That just means that it needs to allow for placing papers upright or lengthwise, the last thing you want is a container where you’ll have to stack papers. You won’t be able to find what you’re looking for as easily!

4. Sort.

Start skimming through each paper and ask yourself the following questions. Notice I said skimming… don't get distracted by reading each document word for word.

a. Will I need to use this information again?

Keep what’s useful. It’s useful only if you might need it later! You may want to toss old bills, old receipts, notes, expired coupons, or agendas. Contracts should be kept until no longer valid. For papers that serve more as a memory, place on its own pile and use a sticky to label it: “Memories”. For printed photos, make a different pile. These should be placed in a different location dedicated for photos only.

If it’s tax related, consider what the IRS recommends: “Keep records for 3 years from the date you filed your original return or 2 years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later, if you file a claim for credit or refund after you file your return. Keep records for 7 years if you file a claim for a loss from worthless securities or bad debt deduction.” (www.irs.com)

b. Do I have this information online or can I find it electronically?

Chances are if the printed information is accessible online, that will be the place you search for it next time you’re wondering about it. Recycle duplicates. Of course, don’t forget to shred important documents. If you don’t have a shredder at home, take your papers to Office Depot, they charge a small fee to shred your documents.

5. Find the right storage container.

You’ve finished all the sorting, go you! Now it’s time to find the right container or way of organizing your newly created piles of categories. If you have a lot of papers, find the right file cabinet for your space. Not all file cabinets are metal and boring nowadays. Wayfair, Houzz, or Amazon are great websites to search for modern file cabinets to fit your style and décor.

And, if you’re like me and don’t hold on to a lot of paper, then there’s no need for that file cabinet. Look for a file box instead. This file box below is sold at The Container Store (although I actually found it at Home Goods on sale!).

6. Label the tabs.

Don’t skip over tabbing and labeling. Name your tabs according to your sticky note categories. You’ll be able to find documents easily and continue filing if you’ve specified your categories and established a place for your papers! Once you're done doing this, you're basically finished, but I wanted to throw a #7 for good measure.

7. Finishing tips:

>> Cut back on the accumulation of paper in your home or office by going paperless when given the chance for electronic bills or doctor-visit documents.

>> Don’t let the paper pile up! Maintain your new organization system to keep all papers in their place and easy to find.

>> Recycle & Donate. Donate old magazines to teachers. As long as the magazine is kid-appropriate, teachers can use it for creative cut-out projects and more. Donate kid-appropriate books to a school, too! Lastly, don't forget to recycle as you purge those unneeded documents.

I wish you much success in the process of paper decluttering! And remember, do it in increments, otherwise you may get papered out.

If you’re in the Austin area and need a helping hand, feel free to reach out! I offer a free consultation and can make your paper stacks disappear (well, not actually, but I can give them a proper place). Get in touch here.

Got a tip for organizing paper that you want to share? Let me know in the comments section.