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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Bennett

How To BANISH Paper Clutter FOR GOOD!

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When it comes to paper clutter there is nothing in my life that has caused me more grief or anxiety. That may sound a bit dramatic but allow me to get vulnerable with you here.

There was a time, long ago as a young adult that I had an entire armoire chock-full of completely un-opened mail. Just walking to the mailbox gave me anxiety let alone opening the mail. I was scared of some important document, or bill or letter from the IRS that I would just hide it away in that cabinet. The most embarrassing part of this story is that the armoire moved houses with us and I just packed everything up without actually going through it.

Maybe it was the fact that I was an inexperienced newlywed running a home for the first time, maybe I was lazy, or just mayyyyyybe it was my undiagnosed ADHD...

Whatever it was, one day I decided that enough was enough. I was losing sleep over the "skeletons" in my armoire and I knew I needed to make a change.

And don't worry, I'm not wanted for tax evasion or skipping jury duty. All of my info is up to date. All of our birth certificates are filed and bills are paid... Needless to say, I finally got my act together.

It wasn't overnight. It wasn't even in a year. But over the next decade I made some incremental improvements that lead me to learn some valuable lessons and principles about paper clutter and today I'm sharing with you my top 4 tips for tackling your pile (or armoire) of paper and mail!

To hear more about how I tackle the paper clutter in my home and to see my systems in action check out this video.

Tip #1 Go Digital

First off, I have to share what may seem obvious to some-- GO DIGITAL! For some reason, this didn't occur to me right off of the bat and I wasted so much mental and physical space on storing paper that didn't need to actually be there!

Go through and see if your bank statements, mortgage payments, coupons, phone bills ect can be sent to you via email. I also have unsubscribed to magazines and junk mailers from credit card and insurance companies. (Here's a great resource to get started with that process if you have a few too many unwanted ads entering your mailbox every week.)

Going digital is absolutely something that anyone can do and it helps keep track and eliminate the stuff that is coming into your house on a daily or weekly basis!

Also, did you know that many owners manuals and instructions booklets for small appliances and household items can be found on the manufacturer's website? I've replaced so many dusty paper copies with a simple digital download that I keep in a file on my computer. Easy peasy.

Tip #2 Set strict paper boundaries.

While going digital can significantly cut back on the number of pieces of paper entering our home, not every flyer, invoice, or legal doc can be sent to us via email, so we're still often receiving things in the mail.

Since this is the case, we need to decide where paper does and does not go once it enters our home.

In our house, we have "no-go" zones for paperwork and mail. If we allow the paper to go just anywhere we end up losing important files, things pile up and we can often forget about a bill or necessary document. Not to mention that we're risking damaging something important by having it in a place where food or drinks could spill on it.

So where do we place the mail as it enters the house?

First off, MOST of the mail we receive goes straight into the recycling bin. Ads, mailers, political flyers or any mail that doesn't have our personal information on it makes a short trip from the mailbox into the bin outside our garage. This means only a few pieces a week actually end up in the only spot mail belongs- on top of my computer keyboard on my desk!

Now hear me out. The only way I can get myself to notice an important piece of mail is when I sit at my desk and it's blocking my way of getting into my computer. Now that my ADHD has been diagnosed I've learned a lot about what works for my brain.

For you, that might look a little different. If I didn't spend so much time at my computer editing videos, sending emails or writing blog posts, I might choose a different spot that will get my attention and ensure I stick to my routine with processing important mail.

This brings me to my 3rd tip.

Tip #3 Create paper routines + habits

My little routine of sitting down at my desk and taking care of any pieces of mail that are laying on my keyboard has been the single most impactful step I've taken to actually processing the mail and paperwork that needs attention.

This forces to either respond, pay the bill or file the important document.

If it's the former, I either shred once processed or hold on to it in a tiny "pending" pile beside my computer. This is anything that I've taken care of but have yet to finish because the ball is in someone else's court, I'm waiting to hear back, or there's an upcoming document that will complete the task. (Again, this is going to look different depending on the circumstance!)

If it's the latter (an important doc I need to keep), I pop it into one of my files I've set up in my hanging files cabinet. These are important documents like tax returns, receipts, insurance info, birth certificates and the like.

I have large or "macro" categories set up for this sort of filing. If I get too detailed or "micro" in my categorization, I have a difficult time sticking to the routine because I get overwhelmed. But this is another great spot to say the "do what's best for you" line.

I truly can't dictate what will work for your household or your brain. I just know that the ever-popular KonMari method or micro organization and a million color-coded file folders is not the way for me. My friend SWEARS by it, however so let me know in the comments at the bottom of this pos, what sort of organization works for YOU!

The routine of processing our mail starts at the mailbox, makes its way to either the recycle bin or my computer keyboard and ends in either the shredder or my file drawer.

When mail and paper in our home has a determined life cycle, it's easy to stick the habit of starting and ending its journey.

Tip #4 Coloring is a verb

Now, you might be saying "well, Natalie! my paper clutter isn't the problem, it's my kids that make all the mess!"

I hear you. Before I learned a pivotal lesson, my house was covered in scraps of paper with tiny drawings, doodles and cutouts. Don't get me wrong... I agree that each little work of art made by tiny hands is so very precious. I, too, would love to be able to keep every scrap for memory's sake.

But I can't... And honestly, what's most important about that sweet drawing or that piece of copy paper that has two lines chicken scratched on it and then was ditched under the dining room table is that it represents something my kids did!

When I began to not see coloring as a noun (a thing) but rather as a verb (an action) I realized that the act of coloring (or painting, or gluing, etc) was the most important part of the whole process.

When my kids are coloring they are practicing. They're exercising their creativity, they're learning about composition and color and sometimes they're seeing how many pieces of copy paper they can chicken scratch up in a 2 minute dash. (Seriously, why do kids do this?)

It's play. It's expression. It's practice.

And I've realized that it's ok to feel sentimental about it all, but when we hold the finished product above the experience of creating that art piece, we sometimes miss what it's all about!

Letting go of the pieces that have served their purpose has freed ALL of us up to enjoy the process of creating those pieces a bit more. This is because we are working in a tidy space, and when our space is tidy, so are our brains!

Sure, works of art or projects that we deem special for a time (long or short) DO belong on our bulletin boards or fridge fronts... But letting go of that guilt of having to keep every scrap to make room for more verbs in my life (and in my kids' lives) has been such an important step to keeping the paper piles under control in our home and school room!

I hope these tips were encouraging to you. If nothing else, I want you to know that you are not alone in your struggle with paper piles-- big or small. Whether it's a junk drawer with a few extra mailers in it, a kitchen table piled high with doodles from your mini Picassos, or an entire armoire full of unopened mail like Newlywed Natalie circa 2013... we've all been there and we can all get through it. Our recycle bins and shredders await!

Thanks for stopping by!

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1 Comment

Shannon McRae
Shannon McRae
Oct 11, 2022

You were the first person I heard say Coloring is a Verb and now I tell everyone I know about it as I throw away my child's 14th Paw Patrol coloring sheet lol

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