4 Steps to Plow Through Those Paper Piles

Paper. No matter how much we hear about going paperless, it’s still a fact of life that paper in every form whether it be junk mail, supermarket coupons, business cards, magazine clippings, bills or receipts will continue to be part of our lives for the foreseeable future.

There are really only four ways you can manage the inflow of paper:

1. Stop it before it starts
2. Determine if you must act on it
3. Determine if you must or need to hold on to it (or really want to)
4. Toss it

Stopping it before it starts. This is akin to the prevention approach. Depending upon the type of paper you have, you may want to consider some of the following approaches
Get off mailing lists. Contact the Direct Marketing Association at dmachoice.org
Stop printing website pages from the Internet. Of if you must, only print those that are associated with a task or action you plan to take.
Don’t take what you don’t need. Just because they hand it to you doesn’t mean you keep it. If your local supermarket hands you a coupon at the register, unless it’s an item you know you will buy don’t keep it and ask the cashier to dispose of it.
Be a business card snob. Only take business cards for those people and organizations that you probably (not maybe) would do business with. If someone hands you their card that you know you will never refer to, politely decline by saying, “I know how valuable these are to you, please share it with someone who can benefit from your expertise.” Or a more direct approach, “Thank you for offering but in my effort to go paperless, please save this for someone else.”
Stop clipping magazine and newspaper articles. Seriously, when was the last time you actually looked in that file and did something with that article? When you clip an article you are actually contracting for your own time. What is your time worth? With everything else you have to do, are you really going to make this recipe? Are you really going to going to invest in a marble countertop? It’s great to keep a single file or box of images that inspire you, but rather than keep every picture related to the hobby you think you plan to do “some day” – use the time instead to focus on ways you can actually do that hobby today!

For all other pieces of paper, you should ask yourself, “Is there a necessary action I need to take with this?” If so, then take the action and dispose of it or file it if you’ve been advised to when you’re done.

If there is no necessary action associated with that piece of paper, then you should be keeping it for one of the following reasons only:
1. You have been advised to by a financial professional. Examples would be your tax return or record of business expenses.
2. It would be difficult to replace such as a passport, birth certificate or deed.
3. It’s a record of where your money comes from and goes to such as an unpaid bill or a recent investment statement.
4. You know you will reference it again and probably more than once such as frequently called numbers, vendor information or mailing labels.
5. It has strong emotional value such as a cherished photograph or sentiment from a loved one AND would be dearly missed if lost.

Whatever is left over, according to to the National Association of Professional Organizers, there is an 80 percent chance you will probably never refer to it again except when you decide it’s time to purge your files.

This is the very definition of paper clutter. You keep it but it serves no purpose for you. If this is the case for you then ask yourself, “If this piece of paper were to disappear, what would it cost me in terms of lost time, money or information?” If the answer is nothing or probably nothing, then it’s time for the shred or recycle bin.

For more practical tips on organizing your life at home or at work, subscribe to Back On Track, the e-guide to organizing living from LET’S MAKE ROOM.

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