If you are like me, you want to reduce paper clutter in your home so badly that you have started reading several articles on reducing paper clutter only to hear the words that make your old school nature shudder–“go 100% digital!” You think to yourself, “Well, maybe I can do that…” and then read two paragraphs more and decided the plan is way over your head and not something you have time to figure out right now. And so the paper piles continue to grow.
That was what I did too, at least until this past year when I decided I was going to get rid of paper clutter in a way that worked for me and that plan barely includes anything digital.
How To Reduce Paper Clutter Without Going 100% Digital
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1. Reduce The Number Of Places Where Paper Can Pile Up
Last fall I got rid of a small desk, a large hutch, and a dresser. These pieces of furniture seemed to be paper clutter magnets in my home holding more clutter than items that I needed. Since I had already spent one year decluttering a small area a week and another year giving a box a month to the local thrift store, I had other places in my home to store the stuff we needed to keep that were in these pieces of furniture.
I put the need-to-keep stuff in those tidy areas and then sold two of the pieces of furniture to friends through Facebook and sent the other piece off to the thrift store.
2. Designate One Place For New Paper To Land
With three pieces of furniture gone, there is now only one table for incoming papers to land. Sometimes papers do land in other areas, but at the end of the day I collect those papers up and toss them on what my husband and I now refer to as the “paper table.”
Yes, this table does get messy pretty quickly, but it is just one area getting messy instead of four or more and it doesn’t stay messy for long (more on how I keep it in control in a minute).
If you are worried about guests seeing this mess, put a basket that has a flat bottom that can fit at least an 8 by 11 piece of paper on the table and let the papers land in it. When a guest is due to arrive, grab the basket and put it in a room they won’t be in. Problem solved.
3. Buy This And Use It
About the same time I started researching all the “go 100% digital” articles, I bought a family sized paper shredder…and then I let it sit in its box for at least six months as I tried to get up the nerve to figure out the whole paperless world.
Finally, as I stated at the beginning of the article, I gave up trying to be someone I am not and decided to handle paper clutter in a way that works for my personality and got the paper shredder out of the box. Now it sits plugged into the power outlet closest to our “paper table”–ready to go when I have a few minutes to attack the paper pile.
4. Pick A Paper Clutter Reduction Plan That Works For You
I am describing my plan in this article, but I want you to tweak it so that it works for you. You are not me, I am not you: chances are the same decluttering approach won’t work for both of us.
Here is what works for me. While I am making dinner, I attack the “paper table” in between dinner tasks. I shred, file, recycle and make a reuse pile (more on that in a moment) in between stirring pots, checking on things in the oven, and setting the table. I find I need to do this about one or two evenings a week to keep our paper tamed–now that I have it under control.
Perhaps attacking paperwork while making dinner won’t work for you. If so, that is fine. How about setting aside an hour or so each weekend for paperwork. Attack it while watching TV each evening for an hour until it is caught up, then for a few minutes each night to keep it caught up.
5. Create A Simple Filing System
My filing system of choice is a plain clipboard for papers we need to deal with over the next few weeks, a shoebox to hold those papers we should keep, and a large envelope for documents we need to file our upcoming taxes. The clipboard sits on the table, the large envelope is found on the shelf beside my budget binder, and the shoe box is under a table nearby.
At the start of every year I write the new year on the outside of a new shoebox and take the last year’s shoebox up to the attic. When the oldest shoebox is over seven years old, I will shred the contents. At least that is my current plan, I have a bit of catching up to do (Want something a bit fancier than a shoebox? This container should work great for a year’s worth of papers for most households).
Although most of my paper clutter plan is new, I have been using the shoebox system for years and years. Trust me, if you are keeping more papers in the course of a year than what fits in a shoebox, chances are you are keeping too many. The contents of our shoebox are strictly legal-type papers that would be needed for tax purposes or for claiming refunds on a large purchase. Sentimental papers are a whole different blog post.
6. Create A Simple System For Keeping Track Of Dates And Papers You Refer To Over And Over
I mentioned my clipboard above. On it, I keep all papers that have dates for appointments, meetings, and social gatherings.
I take the time about once a week to sit down and write down all these dates on a large desk calendar like this one that we hang at the top of the stairs that take me down to the laundry area of our home. Since it is in a high-traffic area I see the dates over and over, which helps me to remember them.
Each day as I write out my to-do list by hand on my favorite type of paper pads for to do lists, I make sure to reference the wall calendar and add those appointments and activities on my to-do list. I write down the time the event starts at as well as the time I need to leave the house to get there on time.
7. Stick To The Plan Even After You Are Caught Up
This is the hard part: once you are all caught up on the paperwork you need to spend some time each week keeping it caught up. As I said, I use the little down moments found in dinner prep to do mine. You, however, may prefer to spend a bit of time each weekend doing yours. Or perhaps you prefer to attack the pile while watching TV. Do what works for you.
8. Switch As Much To Digital As You Feel Comfortable With
I know I said this plan was for those that didn’t want to switch to digital, but remember I said “100% digital”. To reduce incoming paper in your home, try and change what you are comfortable with to digital.
For me that means one bill at a time switched over to paperless billing. Instead of printing off school activity emails I now save them and use the email app on my phone to refer to them. Very soon I plan to figure out how to get the bank to stop sending me paper statements. Slowly, one snail pacing step, at a time I am getting less and less paper stuff coming into my home. It is less overwhelming to do the switch this way, but honestly, I can’t see myself every being completely paperless.
9. As Much As Possible Stop Bringing Home What You Are Not Using
It used to be that when I visited another city I would pick up every paper tourist literature I saw. Now I use Google, Yelp, and Trip Advisor to help me find information on the places I want to see and I leave the paper literature right where I found it.
When I see a pamphlet that has information that might be useful, I snap a picture of the useful parts with my iPhone instead of picking it up.
I also stopped subscribing to every free magazine I could get and trust me, since I am a thrifty ninja, I know a lot of places to find free magazines. Instead, I subscribe to a small handful I actually read. And if I see something in the magazines I want to keep, I tear out the page and put it in a plastic sleeve in a binder to refer to again. I go through the binder once in a while and remove those items I no longer need. The rest of the magazine goes in the recycling bin or if I tore nothing out, it goes to a friend.
10. Encourage Others To Go Paper Free For Simple Stuff By Setting The Example
If I am hosting a party, I create an event on Facebook and invite everyone that way. I might send out an email or take the time to invite each person individually through a text so that they can snap a screenshot of the text to keep a paper-free version of the details.
I have also used free e-cards like those offered through DaySpring to send birthday cards and thank you notes through email or Facebook messaging. But Christmas cards, except for one year when we had little money to spend, Christmas cards stay handwritten and mailed. As I said, you decide how much to go digital, just make sure to come up with a system to control what stays paper.
11. Use The Recycling Bin And A Clipboard As Much As Possible
This might sound strange, but one of the mental hurdles I had when dealing with our paper clutter was all the waste paper creates. I know I make my own home essentially a garbage bin when I put off dealing with clutter, but it is hard for me to feel okay about adding so much to our landfills.
To ease my environmentally friendly side I now keep a clipboard handy when I am decluttering our “paper table.” I then put all one-sided paper that isn’t being shredded on that clipboard and I use those papers for rough drafting out blog posts, writing grocery lists, and other tasks like that. I now buy a lot less paper. If the paper is used on both sides and doesn’t contain private information, it goes in the recycling bin. Pretty much everything else is shredded and then tossed.
Need a bit more guidance to get your papers sorted? Check out the Sunday Basket system. I heard a podcast on it once and it sounds like a great kit for those struggling to get their papers in order, but don’t want to go 100% digital.
3 More Posts That Will Help You Get Rid Of That Clutter For Good!
- How To Start Decluttering When You Feel Overwhelmed
- How To Declutter When You Don’t Feel Like it
- 52 Weeks To A Simplified Home: A Realistic Decluttering Plan
Need a little decluttering support? Join my Snail Pace Clutter Removers Facebook group.
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