Project: Simplify ’11: Hot Spot #2 revealed

Ready to tackle our hot spot #2 for Project: Simplify? I hope so, because it’s high on own my priority list. It tackles the sort of clutter that absolutely drives. me. crazy. It’s the stuff that sends my blood pressure rising, where I must patiently pray for patience, grace with my family, and a long-term perspective where the world won’t implode.

It’s gotten better in our family over the years. But it’s amazing how this clutter breeds on its own, if I’m not vigilant with attacking it regularly. And I admit to my own slackness the past few months.

I’m so ready to unleash my wrath with gusto.

Hot Spot #2

This week’s hot spot: paper clutter.

Whether it’s your kitchen island, your desk or home office, the junk drawer, or even your kids’ crafting station, we are going to take care of that paper that seems to grow on its own.

And then — this is important — we will take some small steps to keep this sort of clutter from growing quite so rapidly in the future. This second step is where the rubber meets the road — it’s one thing to toss some receipts; it’s quite another to know what to do with them when they enter your life again.

Because paper will keep coming, and it’s a good idea to have a workable, realistic plan.

Let’s get started.

Here are the tools you’ll need this week:

• A large box
• A smaller “to be shredded” box
• A smaller “take action” box
• Recycling bin
• Shredder (you don’t have to get all fancy — I got ours at Target)
• Trash can, for the rare occasion some paper isn’t recyclable (almost nothing these days)
• Calendar, either analog or digital
• Pen or pencil
• Any organizing supplies you might want — receipt stabbers, drawer dividers, repurposed boxes, the like (again, nothing fancy or expensive here — you probably have everything you need around the house)
• Scanner or digital camera (optional)
• File folders (optional)
• A specific spot for displaying kids’ artwork
• cleaning supplies (check Appendix A of Organized Simplicity)

Here’s the basic plan for unleashing vengeance on your papers:

1. Gather all your loose papers in to one large box — your receipts, your junk mail, your paid bills, the random notes, and even your kids’ scribbles just laying around.

2. Surround yourself with this main box, your recycling bin, your trash can, your “to be shredded” box or your shredder itself, and your “take action” box. Keep a pen or pencil nearby.

3. Start a movie marathon, IF it won’t distract you. Choose a dialog-heavy flick or one you’ve seen a million times (basically, you don’t have to stare at the screen). Inception probably isn’t a good idea.

4. Start at the top, and work through the main box one sheet of paper at a time. If anything needs attention (a bill to be paid, an event to be added to the calendar), toss it in the “take action” box. If anything needs shredding, either shred it immediately or toss it in the “to be shredded” box. Then, deal with its contents when the three-year-old isn’t around to help you shred more than you bargained for.

5. After you’ve emptied the main box, return to the “take action” box and — well, take action.

6. Once all your paper has been processed, create a spot for paper to land where it can be processed weekly from now on.

7. Take steps to minimize future paper clutter (go paperless with your bills, etc.).

8. Rinse and repeat, either weekly or monthly.

Click here to download and print a PDF checklist of this week’s hot spot (find the hidden irony).

Here are some possible specimens growing in your home.

1. Mail

Photo by Casey Serin

Do you get a plethora of mail? In our house, we rarely get anything of value anymore. Aside from Netflix DVDs and the occasional coupon we might use, most of it is useless. It’s amazing to me that companies still even use paper fliers and ads, with how much is done digitally these days.

Create a way to prevent useless mail from even entering your front door. Keep a recycling bin along your path between the mailbox and door, and toss all junk mail there, before going inside.

The same goes for envelopes for the rare pieces of mail you do need. Open up mail outside, and immediately toss the envelope in the bin.

Go paperless

There’s almost no reason to receive paper bills anymore. Head online to your bill services and select the paperless option. You’ll receive an email when it’s time to pay, which can then obviously be done online. I don’t even know where my checkbook is anymore.

Opt out of junk mail

If you’re in the U.S., there isn’t one main government site to completely eradicate junk mail (though I’ll be the first to sign up if one is ever created). Head here to be removed from Direct Mail’s “do not mail” list, though they can’t guarantee complete removal. At least it’s a start.

You can also head here to have a PDF created for you to mail out a “do not mail” request for the majority of junk mail offenders. Yes, the irony is not lost to me that you need to use a stamp to mail these junk mail offenders.

Head here if you’re in Canada. I’m not sure what’s available for those of you elsewhere, but if you know, please share in the comments below.

Once you pay your bills, they can either go in to a file folder that will be shredded after this fiscal year, or straight to the shredder pile. It’s your choice. I choose the shredder.

For any flier or notice related to an upcoming event, write down necessary info on your calendar, then toss the paper in the recycling bin.

2. Receipts

Photo by ben on the move

This is a tricky one, because sometimes you need them, sometimes you don’t.

If they’re for a debit card purchase you know you’re not returning (or some other purchase that would otherwise show up online), toss it in the shred pile. You’ve got a digital record of that purchase, and you can use that to enter it in your budgeting record (we use Pear Budget).

If they’re for a cash purchase, grab the pen and label it with your budget category, then store it near your computer so you can add these to your budget record. After you record it, toss it in the shred box.

If you’re self-employed and the receipts are tax-deductible business expenses, store them somewhere logical and write down as much info on it you think you’ll need.

3. Tax info

I am not a CPA, so please, double-check with a professional who can talk with you if you have specific questions. But according to the IRS website, simple annual tax returns should be kept for a minimum of three years or a comfortable seven years.  If you’re not sure, then plan on keeping them for life. They’re usually a few short pages, and since it holds all your necessary financial information for that year, more than likely you won’t need to keep “extras,” like W2s or 1099s.

4. Instruction manuals and warranties

Unless the instruction guide is 500 pages, or the warranty specifically says you must have the original copy for it to be valid, I like to scan these things. Quickly scan them, store them as PDF files on a simple CD or hard drive, and then toss the paper.

Also, you can easily find instruction manuals online for many common electronics and appliances, rendering their storage at home rather pointless.

5. Magazines

Photo by Ian MacKenzie

I do a combination of scanning, tearing, storing, recycling, and donating of magazines. If I truly love a magazine from cover to cover, I’ll keep it. I’m keeping all my issues of Cottage Living (may my favorite defunct shelter mag rest in peace).

If there’s just one or two items from the magazine I want to keep, I either scan it or tear it out. Scanning is the best option, since tearing it makes it useless to a used bookstore, but if there are enough items in it that I’ll use regularly, I”ll go ahead and tear them out. Recipes are a good example here — I’ll then just store them in my recipe binder.

If I find ideas for home decor, I usually scan those and store them on my hard drive. Then when I have a lot, I’ll burn them on to a CD or put them on our external hard drive.

If I haven’t flipped through the magazine in about six months or so, I usually recycle or donate it.

This is one area I plan to focus on this next week — I haven’t done this in quite awhile, and the magazine stacks are driving me batty.

6. Kids’ creations

At minimum, my six-year-old produces one drawing or story per day. It’s agonizing to decide what’s worth keeping and what needs to… move on. There’s absolutely no way I can keep everything, so some things just have to go.

I love the advice to save three things from every age of each kid — one that shows handprint size, one that shows handwriting, and one drawing. Don’t ask me how to possibly decide which of those are the most save-worthy.

But I do love getting rid of stuff, so for me, unless it’s remarkably creative or unique, out it goes. I either stash it back in the scrap paper pile, to be drawn on the other side, I photograph it and store the digital file, it’s kept and reused as gift wrap, or — most commonly — it gets recycled.

I’m a fan of displaying kids’ artwork as unique and frugal home decor. I like framing it, displaying it on the fridge, and pinning artwork from a clothesline on the wall.

How to get a long-term grip on paper clutter

I think the best way to keep paper clutter from mounting is to do everything you can from getting it inside your house in the first place. Don’t allow junk mail inside, go paperless with as many bills as possible, and don’t pick up pointless fliers, calendars, ads. or brochures. Prevention is the best medicine.

For the paper you need to process, designate specific spots just for that. Create an “in box” for everything that requires attention, and process it as soon and as often as possible. Make emptying this box part of your weekly home maintenance routine.

Photo by Becky Wetherington

Keep a simple, small file cabinet for those items you absolutely must keep — tax returns, birth certificates, and the like. Keep them in labeled file folders, and tuck the box somewhere away from your daily life but easily accessible when you need it. In other words, not on your night stand, but not in your attic, either.

At the end of the day, keep accessible and readable what’s ultimately important. If you find yourself feeling like you have to keep a piece of paper, but then you can’t ever find it, then perhaps you don’t really need to keep it. Note what’s most important on that sheet. Is it worth storing that info elsewhere — as in, can it be jotted on the calendar, scanned and stored on the computer, or entered in the budget? Do that. And then discard.

Go green at home by not printing more than you need, lessening your demand for paper in the first place, and teaching your kids how to conserve and reasonably purge.

Finish by Friday

Do your best to process your stacks of paper and to create a master “in box” by this Friday. If you have time, you can also declutter your book collection as well. Post your before-and-after photos either on the blog or in the Simple Living Flickr pool, and then come to Simple Mom to link up (I’ll provide another spot on that day’s post).

This week’s giveaway

Everyone who participates in this week’s hot spot — and then links to the before-and-after photos on her blog or the Flickr pool — is automatically entered to win this week’s giveaway! And as I mentioned earlier, all the prizes are tools to help further simplify your life, not more “stuff.”

I Heart Organizing

Organizing fan Jennifer Jones of I Heart Organizing is joining forces with this week’s Project: Simplify hot spot to bless one of you with a whole smattering of her services. A random participant in this week’s hot spot will receive:

One Room Inspiration Style Tile, which is a combination of design and organizational solutions for any given space (head here to see an example).  The style tile is intended to act as inspiration in solving both design and organizational dilemma’s in a specific room in the home.  A style tile will include 8-15 solutions along with a complete description and resource list.  She will continue to work closely with the prize winner until they are 100 percent satisfied with the recommended space solution.  Keeping the solutions on a budget is also always considered.

Three-pack of personalized digital files, which includes a Meal Planning Calendar, and Shopping List and a Cleaning Task List.

A chart or set of labels, custom created to suite the winner’s personal needs. This could be anything from a child’s task list or a family schedule or a personal “To Do” list.  Or, a set of labels for child’s play bins.

Head here for more examples of Jennifer’s work.

I Heart Organizing will help you celebrate your completion of this week’s hot spot with inspiration to keep up with your new-found organization!

Ready… Set… Go!

Alright, are you excited? I am. Set an example for your family, and get a great start to Project: Simplify by eliminating your paper clutter. I can’t wait to see your photos on Friday.

What’s sort of paper clutter is your major arch nemesis?

top photo source
Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. YAY!
    This is my BIGGEST challenge. I have never been any good at organizing my paperwork. And it comes in the house so FAST. I have bags and bags of papers that I’ve shoved away when company comes over, and I’ve never taken the time to get on track with it.

  2. Regarding receiving less junk mail. I have had excellent success receiving less junkmail by simply writing – “Return to sender. This address does not accept unsolicted mail. Please remove this name and address from your mailing list. ” on all advertisement mail that I no longer want to receive mail from and placing it in the outgoing mail. I know someone who even made it into a rubber stamp. While it may take a few months for all the junk to stop. It did stop.

  3. To reduce the space manuels take up just tear out the pages in your language, no point in keeping the pages you don’t understand.

  4. Ohhhh *squeeee!* The timing of this Hot Spot is far beyond perfect! I have paper in all sorts of oddly ‘organized’ devices, all in the name of being organized and achieving nada!! I could hug you right now!!!!!!!!!!

  5. AAhh, only a week, including magazines! better get a move on then. thank goodness this is one that I can do with the kids in the living room during normal playtimes.

  6. Tsh, I *love* your ideas–you don’t just say, “Hey, clean up the paper…GO!” You give so many practical ideas that will work in my house (I mean, the house in which I actually *live* daily with several small children) and they don’t cost me any more money or require lots of organizational “stuff” and they get my blood pumping to get this DONE!
    Thanks–this will be a HUGE relief when it’s finished. I love the idea of the big box first–that will make an immediate major improvement and then I can work on it as I’m able to all in one spot–genius!

  7. If you’re in the United Kingdom and want to stop getting loads of junkmail, you can register with the Marketing Preference Service for free at:
    There’s no guarantee that you’ll stop getting junkmail completely, but businesses are *supposed* to check the list before sending out marketing materials, or risk being fined.

    Thanks for the great tips Tsh!!

  8. this is such an awesome project. however, i am a slow poke..appearantly. i am only half way finished with my closet due to time constraints. on a positive note there’s not much in the area of paper clutter. i already pitch all unnecessary things. i just need to get a little more organized.
    so off we go!!!

    • I say just keep working on your closet then. There’s no reason to stop that in order to work on a hot spot that really isn’t a hot spot in your home. Do what’s important to you! 🙂

  9. I’m so excited about this week’s hot spot! I was just ready to head to my home office and go through papers that needed to be filed or organized. This week my goal is to do my taxes, and within those papers are receipts and other paperwork I need. This hot spot challenge couldn’t have come at a better time!!

  10. Oh good, this is what I need most! I have a box full of paper clutter accumulated from several months of cleanups that’s waiting impatiently to be sorted through, and I promised myself when I started new file folders last year that I’d do a yearly purge of them. There’s just so much I have trouble taking the time!
    Using boxes should make this task easier to split up into manageable increments than cleaning out my closet was.
    I love listening to podcasts while I organize, so I’ll get a few lined up.

    I think my biggest paper nemesis (glancing through my clutterbox) is mail with my name on it. File folders and a Shred folder help, but it needs a regularly scheduled purge to keep in check!

  11. love your pdf 🙂 – there is a small typo – it still says “for attacking your wardrobe”

  12. Paper is one of our worst clutter offenders around here! The island is covered, the desk, the end tables, my kids are prolific artists, plus those school papers! I am so looking forward to using your advice for a fresh approach! Thanks!

  13. Oh, Tsh. Seriously?!? So far we’ve worked on basically my two most OVERWHELMING areas. I did get my master closet done after purging a lifetime of memorabilia and now my desk. I can’t wait to show you my BEFORE picture. You’re going to die!

    But after doing my closet, I feel fantastic. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way about my desk. {We’re away for 4 days on vacation this week though so slow progress…}

  14. Timing is perfect on this! In trying to organize from moving 6 months ago, I’ve been opening up the office stuff: bags of papers, old receipts, pens, markers and other office gadgets that when we move I threw everything into a plastic shopping bag. Once moved, it sat somewhere until the next move! I’m now tackling all those bags & boxes. I find it hard to throw away pens, pencils, stapl removers (we have 3!) so hubby will take a lot to work and then I’ll give to the school.
    Another hot spot: old photos! It’s been moving higher on my priority list. That will be a time-consuming job to look at each individual photo and decide to keep, then categorize. Another hot spot project for another day…

  15. This is one that I feel I actually already have control over!! So, it will be a great week to just tidy up & make sure the plan we have in effect is working for us! Thank you again for this project!

  16. Tsh, I’m exhausted. In a good way, but exhausted.
    I bought your book this weekend, despite my resistance to do so because I really am avoiding bringing more stuff into the home. But I bought it with the idea that I will pass it along to someone else as soon as I am done with it.
    I am so glad I did. I tackled, and finished, the family room and living room. It is incredible. I already give so much away to Goodwill that I wonder how I can find more to give, yet I constantly live amongst so much stuff that it’s almost a full time job to manage it all. I want to be done with that.
    I gave away stuff yesterday that has survived previous purges, and I will admit, it was painful. All the books I kept for sentimental value, “The Infertility Diet”, “Getting Pregnant”, “How to Have a Healthy Twin Pregnancy”, “What to Expect the First Year”…all books I held onto because of sentiment. I don’t need the books anymore. I have the kids. That should be enough.
    Another thing that was actually worse…my magazines. I had 2 big coffee table drawers full of my favorites from the past. Some of these had beautiful design ideas I wanted to save. I maybe could have used your ideas from today’s post, but they’re gone now. (I did keep Cottage Living just to flip through one last time.) Ya know, come to think of it, they’re not actually gone gone, just outside in the recycle bin. Maybe I’ll pull them out one last time and see if there are any pages to rip out and put in a notebook. Hmmm…
    Anyway, thanks for the ideas and inspiration. Paper this week? Game on!

    • “…I don’t need the books anymore. I have the kids. That should be enough…” Thank you for saying the words I need to say myself. Maybe finally getting rid of the books and clothes and things will allow baby #2 to come…! In any case, “baby” #1 is here and well and is years past what “the books” can offer me. Thank you again for saying the words that I needed to hear to help me move along and purge what is now cluttering both bookshelf and mind.

  17. Tsh, I’m beginning to think that you have cameras inside my house… first the master closet, and now my paper stashes?! You’ve hit on my two worst areas in the first two weeks. 🙂 On the bright side, I’m beginning to feel more normal… glad that these are hard spots for others as well!

    • Ha! I’m actually just picking the areas I need to focus on in my house, so I’m glad they might be a blessing to another household or two.

    • I feel exactly the same way! These are the two biggest issues in my home…it’s great to finally be tackling them. Sharing the adventure has kept me much more motivated than I would have been on my own.

  18. Great ideas! I can use some real help in this area. I do have one thing I do with my kids and their art/stories/etc… that has worked well. (I have five sons all ages13 and under). I gave each of the boys an 11″x13″ accordion folder with an elastic closure. With very few exceptions, they choose what they want to keep or discard. They get to decide the value of what they’ve done themselves. As long as it fits neatly into their folder, they can keep it indefinitely. When the folder starts bulging, they have to go through it and cull.
    Sometimes, if there’s something they’ve made that I find exceptional or that I’m particularly attached to (like those “I love Mommy!” pictures), I label the backs with which child did them and when put them into a plastic bin to store for later years.

  19. I am so glad you picked this one!

    Last week I was unable to participate due to a medical issue. But I had just gone through my closet last month, so it was not pressing. I am all better now, and was promising myself that I was going to participate in whatever the challenge was, but I still had to get to the paper clutter on the counter this week. So when I looked this morning it was just perfect!!

  20. Yes… boy, do I need to tackle the paper clutter. The kids’ school papers and drawings are a major part of it, and health insurance papers that say, “This is not a bill” (and yet *seem* important in some way!) are another big issue.

    But you make a fantastic point, that not having a system for processing these things is the larger problem. I don’t have a central in-box to hold the things I haven’t yet dealt with… and I will often keep things just hanging around, in order to remind myself to deal with them, when really I could decide on the next action step, put it in a designated holding place til it’s going to have that action step done to it, etc. But not having that means that I touch each piece of paper multiple times—because it’s in the way!—and basically have to re-decide each time what it is, and then mentally procrastinate. 🙂

    Also, the perfectionist in me wants some amazing system for keeping the best of the kids’ creations… and that has sort of prevented me from moving forward with decluttering that stuff at all. I need to get over that!

  21. Well, shoot. I just removed a bunch of paper clutter two weeks ago, so I don’t have much to do (this is becoming a theme; maybe I’ll have tackled all of the hot spots prior to the weekly reveal?). I think I could plan to go through my magazines again. My three holders are full, which means it’s time to purge.

    Note for the moms/grandmas out there. A great way to display your (grand)child’s artwork is to frame it, and then rotate. That way you can enjoy the uber important piece for a while before the next one comes in, and no one will have hurt feelings when it’s time to recycle the art because a new piece will go into the frame.

  22. I just did this while working through your book! I will link my post when Friday rolls around, and do my linen closet this week instead. 🙂

  23. Ugh! Okay!!!!! Sheesh. I am not sure I like this thing …:) ..thanks, I am going to be SOO blissfully happy when I dont have all this paper laying around, thanks for HASSLING me into doing it! 🙂

  24. ~~OH MY

    ~~I am going to be BUSY<BUSY this week!!


  25. Emily @ random recycling says:

    Love the “large box” idea to start, thanks!

  26. Oh man! I’m not sure that one week is enough time to get this done with regular life too! Now I have to decide if this includes the boxes downstairs of files, letters and such that are just hanging out! So Much Paper!!!!!

    • Just start with a bit at a time, then. Don’t be overwhelmed, and certainly don’t put “real life” on hold…

  27. Going paperless for bills is an excellent suggestion to reduce unnecessary paper, however, it does have a drawback.

    Imagine you are the one paying the paperless bills – the bill comes electronically to you. Now imagine you are in an accident and become incapacitated. How will your husband pay the bills?

    This could be solved with some foresight and I offer my example for consideration.

  28. Wow…paper clutter is a huge challenge for me and I am looking forward to – but I’ll be honest, a bit overwhelmed by the idea of – purging and organizing what I do have around the house. I appreciate the fact that you have included ideas for slowing down the flow of junk mail into the house. This is one of those tasks that has been sitting on my perpetual “to do” list for years and I have no good reason for not getting it done before now. Thanks for the proverbial kick in the pants!

  29. GAH! Paper clutter is my nemesis! It’s good to be forced into these things sometimes; I’ve been meaning to develop a more well-oiled machine to manage our influx of paper, so this will give me the chance.

  30. That is a GREAT process. My paper is pretty much in line now but you are rightm, if you don’t stay on top of it, it can get out of control!

  31. I have a system for papers that need to be filed but what are people doing with ALL THAT PAPER that comes home from school? (Stuff to read, field trip info, graded assignments, events, etc)
    I find if I file it, then I forget about it or I stick it on the fridge (which looks terrible). Anyone have any tips for dealing with school paperwork?

    • If it’s only because of a date, I mark it on the calendar and toss it. If it’s something I need to sign, I sign it and put it immediately in my daughter’s backpack, so it doesn’t even really land on our fridge. If it’s worksheets, I just keep one every month or so, to see her progress — these go in a simple box. All the rest get tossed. And… Well, I don’t think there’s any other type of school papers I get.

      Anyone else have ideas to share?

      • There are so many papers I need temporarily, a week to a month, for my school kids! I finally posted a separate clip board for each child on the wall near their rooms. The kids have access to it and can look up that School Play Info., or the detailed instructions for their monthly book report. I attached them with Command velcro strips so I can pull the whole thing down occasionally. This has worked wonders in my house! They can be plain old clip boards, or they could be spray-painted and covered with decorative paper.

  32. While I finally got my kitchen clutter nicely organized, my office has turned into a paper disaster zone. Heck, it’s actually a clutter disaster zone and needs to be boarded up and shipped out.

    Sad thing is that I try to recycle all kids paper and put us on the dma list. But I still end up with tons! Will use this challenge to really work on my office. Think I may need to enlist some support or I may not be found!!

  33. OH NO!!!! The worst area for me! I already have a big bin full of paper AND a big garbage bag AND little piles here and there…..the paper has overtaken!! (I am actually quite happy that this is the next spot, I just hope that I don’t get lost in the sea of paper)
    Thank you for inspiring me to FINALLY tackle this hot spot! Here we go…..

  34. This is my hotspot indeed! However, I still am reluctant to move to paperless billing. I’ve seen too many reports from Microsoft and others that there are no reliably safe ways to encrypt info online. For that reason, I still try to minimize the online financial transactions.

    With magazines, I have a hard time tossing my Mother Earth News packed with good hints and my Eating Well, but I remind myself that most of this I can find online. I don’t even need to scan into my computer and create computer clutter.

  35. I took one look at the picture of paper and groaned….I’ve been putting this off for a long time! It’s going to be a busy week!

  36. I am so looking forward to this one especially. This seems like the never ending story around our house. It is a huge time and space waster too. My brain wheels are spinning, now if I can just adjust to the time change and get it into gear. Can’t wait to share the results on Friday.

  37. I did a major paper declutter at my house about 3 weeks ago. Luckily I have pictures and there is some paper that has made its way back! I’m going to focus on buillding a mail station to minimize the paper clutter and get rid of magazines!

  38. i am so excited you picked paper because that was my goal for this week anyway! we have our desk in our room and it feels so anti-relaxing to have stacks of papers i stare at when i am trying to fall asleep.

  39. Ugh, the bane of my life…not maybe that is clothes…no toys…okay, so can you tell I have a lot of very challenging areas.

    Going to grab the mail bin and the school paper bin. Thankfully, we don’t get a ton of magazines, but we do have a lot of catalogs…those will come out too.

    Thanks for the challenges.

  40. Gina Palencia says:

    Thanks, Tsh for getting me motivated and for providing direction… This is just what I needed to conquer the paper clutter in our home office.

  41. Okay, you have got to be in my head, last week cloths, an area I was thinking about tackeling, and sort of already started. And now, this! I said to my husband last night, I need to go through the filing. I had started about a month ago (shamefully, i had about 6 months of filing to sort thorugh) I got half way through and had to stop for fear of loosing my mind.

    Well, with the suggestions you make, I shall approach it later today. I must say, your book Organized Simplicity has revolutionized how I see my possessions. I already got rid of most of my cookbooks, optioning for putting the recipies I like or want to try on recipie cards in a small recipie box I got.

    Okay, to do my daily chores, and get my boy up and ready for the day….

  42. Last night when I was prioritizing for today, I put papers/taxes/bills on my “must do” list and then, ironically, your hot spot was paper clutter! Perfect timing. I may have 10 before pics since I have hot spots all over the house…. 🙂

  43. Lee Simmons says:

    I am excited about getting rid of the paper clutter this week! Your tips for kids artwork are going to dramatically organize our house. THANKS! I finished my closet last week and it has never looked better!

    I was wondering about the font you used on the pdf checklist. I’ve noticed on some of your other downloads and LOVE IT! Would you mind telling me which font it is? It is the font us use for the line “Here are the tools you’ll need this week”

    Thanks for that great ideas and the challenge to utilize them.

    • The main header (‘Project: Simplify’) is Rockwell. The subheaders (‘here are the tools’) is Pea Sarah Quick. The main text is News Gothic MT. Hope that helps!

  44. Perfect timing. My husband was just saying we needed to go through our junk drawer. Paper is my nemesis. This will be a hard week, I have many hiding places for paper. Thank you for the great ideas on how to tackle the paper clutter.

  45. Oooohhhh, you just HAD to go there, didn’t you? I have been procrastinating taking care of my paper pile (the papers that I have kept to file and that are important) for, oh, 8 mos. I know that I have to take care of it to find tax information (write-offs), so I will willingly dig in this week. I was so hoping for something easier this week! LOL! Thankfully, I did just purge my book shelves, so that does not need to be done 🙂

  46. This will be a great challenge!

    I do say I don’t even keep manuals anymore – I recycle them after reading and figuring out how to work my product. Almost all can be found online at the manufactures website!

  47. Great article! I have been overwhelmed with paperwork, house receipts and my son’s preschool art-work, they literally take over the entire house! I have been using and it has been a lifesaver! I can now scan in everything from receipts to artwork and it nicely stores it online for me…and I can finally get rid of unnecessary paperwork I don’t need laying around. It really has helped me keep more organized! Thanks for your awesome tips!

  48. You had to mention the magazines, didn’t you? Looks like my garage will get a visit from me, and my recycle bin will be mighty heavy. I LOVE Cottage Living…I don’t know if I can part with those 🙁 but they’ve been in the garage for months!

  49. Ouch! This one is going to hurt. I did start some of this over the weekend, however I have a looooooong way to go. I’m up for it! 🙂

  50. Oh this is going to be a tough one – I’ll be going through my desk, file cabinet and fire safe to make sure everything is where it needs to be and nothing that doesn’t need to be sticking around GETS GONE. Exciting!

    As for kids art work, one thing I’ve been doing lately is snapping a picture of my kid holding the art work and saving that – and keeping some of his favorite artwork on display on our sliding door. When it’s full and he wants to hang up something new, we decide what’s ready to take down and dispose of.

  51. phew! I was staring at my desk thinking how out of control it’s got again!

  52. Paper clutter makes me cry… where does it all come from??

  53. We all know that paper is THE common hot spot. I admit that I struggle with it then I get it in order. Then I fall behind and get it in order again. BUT, now I have a husband who has piles of paper in various spots throughout the house. Grrrr! Not to mention boxes and boxes of papers in the basement from years of stacking piles that he never got to! I have tried even sneaking some into the trash and believe it or not he noticed and went out to the dumpster to retrieve it!

    What’s a wife to do?

  54. I reall need to work on my office area! Perfect!!

  55. without a doubt, JUNK mail! my house would be pretty clean if it weren’t for random stacks of mail everywhere!

  56. I just did this when I cleaned off my desk in the office it was a paper nightmare…

  57. Receipts!! I hate them! I never know if I should save them, how long to save them, or if I will ever need them. They are in every room- bedroom, kitchen, all over the office space!

  58. I have trouble keeping up filing statements and receipts!

  59. LOVE the idea of scanning product manuals & warranty info! I had never thought of that before.

    We just did a deep dive on the paper clutter catch-all area of our kitchen. And a quick organizing of the kids’ art desk. These tips will really help us keep it all organized. Thanks!

  60. Like th closet decluttering, I just did this a week or so ago. I cleaned out most of our papers and such, recycled magazines and other stuff, and put garbage in a shred pile for later. Maybe I’m ahead of the curve. LOL!

  61. Dacey Goodrich says:

    Got started and loving it!

  62. Since these are all hot spots – can’t we just burn it all? 🙂 Oh, okay, I’ll do it. But I still haven’t recovered from last week’s challenge!

  63. My husband will be sooooo happy at the end of this week!

  64. I just did this over the weekend!!! A “junk” dresser, my husbands desk, and the TV cabinet!

  65. The best thing I did was place an open bin (not beautiful but sure beats piles) in the office for paper to recycle. We’re all (even the two-year-old) in the habit of putting unnecessary paper in it, BUT I wish I could tame everything else.
    I like the reminder that manuals are online and don’t need to be saved. We’re bad about saving all that stuff! Of course, at least it gets filed. I have yet to create the habit of filing in my husband and I just can’t seem to keep up on my own. And he insists on saving so much, I’m the tosser. We’d like to transfer to a digital filing system save medical, taxes, etc, but have yet to find the time to get things organized and scanned in. Maybe I’ll at least find motivation to start this week!

  66. My arch-nemesis when it comes to paper are training notes. I am a note-taker: conferences, seminars, church services, classes, etc. Then I have random pages of notes scattered around both my home and office at work. At work I have boxes of notes and ideas from years of trainings!

    Of course, it’s all great information so I can’t just throw it away!! But I don’t have the time, energy, or organizational know-how to do anything about it all. ugh!

    • Do you refer to your notes often? Or is it just the process itself that you enjoy?

      I found that I’d take notes at conferences, church, etc, but then never look at them again. I now just keep a simple Moleskine journal with me and jot EVERYTHING in that. Addresses, quotes, thoughts from the sermon, something from a seminar, my own random thoughts, etc. in one place — then I can access it when I need to (but I usually just forget about them, honestly).

  67. Kris Freitag says:

    I am set on this one! yeah–now I can do my closet–it didn’t happen last week. I have a basket in my kitchen where items go that need to be burned (we live int eh country, so I don’t shred, I just burn). In my office area, I have two drawers. The top drawer is my legacy drawer. If I should be in a car accident tomorrow and die, that is the drawer my hubby needs to go to. It has the insurance policies, it has the will, safety deposit key and list of what is in the deposit box, it has our retirement information etc. Anything he would need to deal with the loss of me is in that drawer–and vice versa. It has alleviated a lot of my anxiety, because its just all there.

    The second drawer is our monthly business statements, meaning: phone bill, credit union statement, medical file, etc. Anything we receive and manage monthly. The car insurance payments go in there, but the policy is up above.

    I also keep a hanging file in the second drawer for taxes: so school registration slips get put there, daycare reciepts, etc. Anything that I will need to manage taxes in 2012 goes in that file. Makes life a lot easier come Feb 2012.

    I keep a medium sized (sweater box) plastic tote for each boy. I store the very specials in there. My goal this summer is to get those into a book with their pictures. But until then its organized. There are 4 grades in one box for my oldest–and there is still plenty of room. I keep a special drawing or his first report written. The youngest has the first drawing of a person, etc.

    Their personal pictures–things they make at school that have their pictures on them (meaning photos) end up in teh christmas ornament box and we hang them on the tree. Each boy has his baby hat on the tree and baby socks that look like shoes and then their “ornament” from each grade. That will stop pretty soon, so it will work out just fine. I’d rather decorate the tree with those items than hallmark decorations. It makes me smile to see those bitty baby hats on the tree.

    Sorry so long.

    • Love your system! And thanks for bringing up the legacy drawer (also called a love drawer around here). We’ll be talking about that soon here on SM!

    • I love the legacy drawer idea. I have been trying to figure out where to keep everything that my husband (or my parents if the hubby for some reason is not home) would need if something happened. I believe I will start creating something like this as I go through my paper piles this week.

  68. Oh man! What an awesome giveaway!!! I hope I win this. I know the exact room I want to makeover with a style tile!

    I’m going to be attacking my filing system this week, which is my main paper hot spot. So excited about this!
    Jennifer B.

  69. Marianne says:

    This is SO FUNNY! On Friday when I finished my wardrobe stuff…I started to tackle the pile of mail on my kitchen counter! Oh, and I had gone through all my clothes a couple of weeks before Project Simplify began…made last week a lot easier, but I still got rid of a lot more stuff.

  70. I just cleaned my desk off.

  71. Oh! ARG!!! ALL paper clutter is awful! I think the worst though, is the “what the heck do I do with this?” and the “My husband needs to look at this” papers though! When I begin to do this week’s challenge, I will end up hitting almost every room in my HOUSE. This is scary. Very, very scary.

  72. After implementing some drastic changes a little over a year ago (with many of the suggestions you posted above acutally!), the paper clutter has been relatively minimal in my house!
    A couple “hobbies” my husband has actually helps with w/this. Let me explain….we have worms and backyard chickens! Ha! I bought a criss-cross shredder for $20 from someone on Craigslist (and it was still brand new in box even). -When I get the mail I put all “to do” items in one pile (usually small since about 90% of bills are set up as ebills and autopay). I take the pile of “junk mail” (removing the little plastic windows from envolopes) and shred them immediately. The shredded junk mail we use for food for our worms & bedding material for our chickens. I have the worm compost bin in the garage right next to our shredder and a cardboard box I use for overflow shredded paper. What used to be a chore I now find fun! I then process all “to do” items (using bill-pay through my bank for any bills….set up once, and it’s sooo much easier to pay bills for on-going months).
    I also don’t have a “home office” inside our house. I use a laptop inside, and we have our file cabinet in the garage. Our wireless printer is set up on the lateral file cabinet, and we have our “office box” that holds our office supplies (hole-punch, stapler, file folders, printer paper, etc.). For my rental properties, I created an Access database to enter all our expenses for maint. & repair items. I try to enter items as they come up, but I do have a box sitting on the file cabinet is a “holding place” for rental receipts till I get a chance to enter them before I file for tax purposes. I also have a yearly file folder that holds all “tax receipts” (ie. W2’s, year-end mortgage statements, donation receipts, and any other receipts to use for deductions) It makes it easier to grab the “2010 folder” when I’m getting ready to do our taxes.
    So, a couple things I’m going to tackle this week. Trying to eliminate/reduce even more in-coming junk mail (good tips above). Also, process minimal paper clutter that accumulated this week while I focused on my closet 😉 Lastly, getting my taxes done!

  73. I just wanted to point out a great resource on this project-Jen’s I Heart Organizing blog. She did the paper clutter challenge earlier this year and had some great tips!! I was pleased to see the giveaway associated with her. I love her blog -you two are my definite must reads, along with Centsational Girl…love that you’re hooked up together on this!

  74. Can envelopes with the little plastic windows be recycled as is or does the window need to be ripped out before recycling?

  75. I’m starting to feel VERY glad that we don’t have an office! We do end up with paper clutter (not to point fingers, but my husband is the biggest offender), but for the most part we don’t have a ton. Would NOT kill me to pull out the filing boxes and go through them, though! I do wish we had a good scanner, though. I’m wanting to go paperless with as much filing as I can, alas… the little guys tend to be pricey, and we don’t have space for a biggie!
    One thing people may want to check on if they have a LOT of shredding: many document destruction companies offer residential programs for off-site shredding. You can usually get a document storage box shredded for a reasonable price. I thought about doing this when I did my big paperwork purge about a year ago, because our shredder kept getting exhausted and taking “breaks” on me.

  76. Oh NO!!! This is my biggest area of need in my home as far as organizing. I have stacks upon stacks, and in mostly every room. My solution has usually been to push them all into a box and set the box in the closet and forget about it. I’m really going to tackle it this time, though, the right way.

  77. Okay, I need to share our non-organizing method for semi-important papers. Anything that comes in the house that we think “hmm, we should hold on to this for a while…” (bill statements, receipts for large purchases, instructions for some new appliance) goes into a file with the month’s name on it. That way if we do need one of those things, the big pile has some order (Did we pay that bill… I think we bought that about two months ago…). Once a year I go through the whole pile, throwing out most. This has been much more efficient for us than a more extensive filing system (that we never actually kept in order), really the only things that need to be kept longer than a year are tax forms & passports and a few things to do with our car & house.

  78. oaktreefarm says:

    There are several other kinds of paper that pile up with the aforementioned clutter to present a formidable challenge for me: lists , sentimental items not from my kids (greeting cards, notes, letters from my husband and family), coupons, and recipes. Of course, with two children (3 and infant) the photos are a never-ending project too.

    I’m really looking forward to sorting and cleaning up this week. Thanks for providing great motivation!

  79. Thank you for keeping your copies of Cottage Living! Thought I was the only one…also have my copies of Mary Englebreit’s Home Companion because I love to thumb back through them and be re-inspired. Really miss both of those mags coming in the mail. I have them tucked back in a corner cupboard, a perfect space for them in this house. When we move, it may be different and I’d have to face what to do with them. For now, I enjoy having them and love that you have saved yours, too.

  80. I’m so glad this challenge was next. I am constantly battling the paper war! I’m looking forward to learning some new ways to combat the demon paper clutter!

  81. I actually implemented some systems to tackle paper clutter a little over a year ago (many of the suggestions you mentioned above actually!).

    90% of my bills are set up as ebill and/or autopay through my bank. This eliminates a lot of paper & saves time from having to write checks for everything (and everything gets paid on time too – no more late payments!). Payments that are time sensitive and the save amount each month (ie. mortgage, insurance, some utilities) I have set up on auto-pay. For bills/utilities that amounts fluctuate each month, I have via bill-pay through my bank.

    A couple of my husbands’ “hobbies” actually helps me with this. Let me explain….we have worms and backyard chickens! I also bought a criss-cross shredder from someone on Craigslist for $20 (it was still brand-new in box!). Whenever I go through the mail I create two piles – 1st “to do” pile, and 2nd “junk mail” pile. I remove all the plastic windows from envelopes. Only plastic windows & high gloss ads now go in the trash, everything else gets shredded. My shredder is located in the garage right next to my worm compost bin, and we have an extra box for overflow shredded paper we use for worm food & bedding materials for our chickens! I then go through “to do” pile right away, pay any bills via bill-pay (I can even select a date in the future to “pay”), and shred any remaining mail. I used to dread going through the mountains of mail, and I now actually look forward to it. I made it fun and easy!

    I also don’t have a “home office”. I use a laptop inside and have a file cabinet located in the garage. We have a wireless printer set up on the lateral file cabinet as well as a box for “the office” which includes items such as hole-punch, stapler, printer paper, file folders, etc. For my rental properties, I created an Access database I enter all maint. & repair items. I try to enter items as they come up, but I also have a box on our file cabinets for “rental receipts needing to be processed”. I also have a yearly file folder just for tax receipts (ie. W2’s, year-end mortgage statements, donation receipts, and other receipts used for deductions). It makes it much easier to just grab the “2010 taxes” folder.

    So, this week I will focus on a couple items: trying to eliminate even more junk mail (good tips suggested above), go through the minimal paper clutter from this past week as I focused on the closet decluttering, and getting our taxes done.

  82. AUSTRALIANS: To stop the junk mail, simply buy a No Junk Mail Sticker at Bunnings, Mitre10 or your local hardware store and you are done 🙂

    I actually sat down and looked at catalouges at my parents place last night and could feel the Have Mores coming on straight away!!

    Can’t wait to get started on my paper junk tonight 🙂

  83. Glad to hear this week’s hot spot may be of help to lots of you! I’m so ready to roll up my sleeves and get started on this. A few side thoughts:

    • If this feels too overwhelming, just do a little at a time. It makes more sense to tackle a medium-sized stack of papers, one at a time, than to have one ginormous stack from the entire house, and then only get halfway done.

    • If you’re unsure about papers, ask yourself — “How often do I tear the house upside down in search of it?” If it’s a type of item you find yourself looking for over and over, then yes, perhaps you need it, and just need to find a workable solution for keeping it accessible. If you lose it and then forget it even exists, only to be reminded once you go through your paper pile, then perhaps you don’t need it in the first place. I know this isn’t the case for absolutely everything, but it could be a possibility for some.

    • If you’ve already tackled your paper clutter and decide to do another of your hot spots, don’t forget to take before-and-after photos anyway. You never know if it might be next week’s hot spot, and even if we don’t cover it, it’s always inspiring to see those photos of yours. It keeps you motivated.

  84. I actually implemented some systems to tackle paper clutter a little over a year ago (many of the suggestions you mentioned above actually!).

    90% of my bills are set up as ebill and/or autopay through my bank. This eliminates a lot of paper & saves time from having to write checks for everything (and everything gets paid on time too – no more late payments!). Payments that are time sensitive and the save amount each month (ie. mortgage, insurance, some utilities) I have set up on auto-pay. For bills/utilities that amounts fluctuate each month, I have via bill-pay through my bank.

    A couple of my husbands’ “hobbies” actually helps me with this. Let me explain….we have worms and backyard chickens! I also bought a criss-cross shredder from someone on Craigslist for $20 (it was still brand-new in box!). Whenever I go through the mail I create two piles – 1st “to do” pile, and 2nd “junk mail” pile. I remove all the plastic windows from envelopes. Only plastic windows & high gloss ads now go in the trash, everything else gets shredded. My shredder is located in the garage right next to my worm compost bin, and we have an extra box for overflow shredded paper we use for worm food & bedding materials for our chickens! I then go through “to do” pile right away, pay any bills via bill-pay (I can even select a date in the future to “pay”), and shred any remaining mail. I used to dread going through the mountains of mail, and I now actually look forward to it. I made it fun and easy!

  85. My current biggest paper problem is what my kindergartener brings home and what my three kids draw/color at home. What I want to do is save just a few papers per year/developmental stage for each child. I’ve resorted to sorting and throwing out or stashing bagfuls of paper when the kids weren’t looking. This week I’ll try to start a box for the few pieces I want to save and collecting them there (from the current four locations) and toss the rest … or “send” them to grandma!

  86. YESSSSSSS!!!! I am pumped about this one. This has been on my to-do list for months and with your encouragement and a few days off from work, I’m going to make it my reality!

  87. This has been on my to-do list for a long time I’m sad to say. But this will definitely be a challenge.
    In order to master the paper piles I will have to get my husband involved as we have a lot of papers from school and the military that he’ll have to help me determine what has to stay, what can go, and what he’d like to hold on to for a little while. I think the military papers will be the hardest as we never know what papers he will or will not need when… O the joys of the Army 🙂

  88. We’ve been working on this for a bit, since we chose to move our home office to an unused bedroom in our house and turned our never used formal dining room/home office space into a playroom/family area off of our kitchen.

    I got ideas of how to organize from a show called NEAT on the discovery Fitness channel(don’t watch it anymore…got rid of cable..woohoo!). The host Helen Budegig(sp?) always talked about fitting the organizational tool to the personality or way of thinking. So, as an example, if you tend to be creative, filing is usually not your thing(also true for stackers). She suggested using mailslot style cubbies(like in mailrooms). You just stack in the appropriate “file”. It has been great in helping us through the sorting as well as the keeping up with process.

  89. Oh my gosh – paper clutter is one of my pet peeves so this post is most helpful! This is one of the things that really has to be tackled and kept up on! Thanks so much for the wonderful suggestions and inspiration! 🙂

  90. Anna Mango says:

    I am having so much fun with this… I just shredded some old love letters…. feels SO good!!!

  91. This is so weird. Last week I thought the assignment was really timely because I had just taken a brutal hand to my clothes/closet and donated a ton. It’s all organized and pretty (I didn’t post because I had no before/after photos). Then this week…paperwork. Which is EXACTLY what I’ve been doing yesterday and today. I’m almost done…and…no photos. 🙂 It’s like you’re in my brain! Maybe one of these weeks I’ll actually post and play along, if I haven’t started it right before the assignment!

    I think this is such a fun project, I’m really enjoying reading and following along. Your blog is great!

  92. Artwork! I have a two and four year old and see no end in sight for artwork. I’m very good about displaying then recycling. I also rotate framed art and take photos of some of it, file away a few here and there, and like I said, RECYCLE! But my secret weapon is to use small pieces of artwork for the paper that I use to write my Note Jar notes on! (I was introduced to the Note Jar by a friend who saw it at inchmark, I think you’ve mentioned it here too). Just today I cut out a drawing that my four year old made of her Papa. It’s about 4X4 and I’ve tucked it away to write a note for the Note Jar on in the near future. I also jotted down her name, the date, and what the picture is. I didn’t have to keep the entire picture (which was giant) and now I have a purpose for it! Double love, because someday I can look back at this drawing and some other smart, adorable, funny thing she says. ♥

  93. Okay, I SO need to go thru this one! I have paper piles everywhere! I will be on it tomorrow for sure!

  94. This one is the bane of my existence. It’s a battle I can’t seem to win!

  95. I am going to take part, but being Canadian, not so sure how the prize would work for me??

    First step today, I completely sorted through every single one of my childrens’ books. We have two good size bins to donate. My kids love books, so you can only imagine what the 3 bookcases looked like.

    My hubby has given me a green light to sort through the papers, so that is my next spot to tackle.

  96. I’m terrified of this challenge, but excited at the same time, because we will be moving soon and I DO NOT want to take all this with me!!
    One tip for kids’ artwork- I have a friend who scans any and all good things worth keeping (basically what you’ll feel bad throwing away, which really does show your child’s artistic or writing abilities). She creates starts a photo album over them and just saves it as she goes, constantly adding to it, until she feels it is big enough to have published. Usually she gets about 2 yrs of work in to one book. I plan on copying this idea, and have already gotten started!

  97. Katherine says:

    Oh my goodness I’m so excited about this one! It’s been on my to-do list since *ahem* January? I think? Probably before that. And I’ve made baby steps – got rid of a large stack of magazines last week, actually. And most of our bills were already paperless, except rent and electric, which we can’t switch, and my cell phone, whose website keeps giving me an error message when I try to switch it. Will have to work on that…

    But I do have a large stack of papers to shred. Any advice on how to do that when your toddler is deathly terrified of the shredder? It’s too noisy to do when he’s sleeping.

    Mostly I’m excited because I’m 37 weeks pregnant, so I ignored last week’s challenge, because I’m wearing the same 3 shirts and 2 pairs of pants over and over again anyways, but I’m in the nesting mood, so I really want to declutter and organize. I love this Project Simplify thing!

  98. I love this one! I admit, the last one was a little easy for me and I was feeling a little, what’s the word, organized? But this one brought me back to reality! I’ve posted my before on my blog to shame myself into making it right! It’s really the worst spot in the house. Especially since I can just shut the door. not good. I need a desk in a public place in the next house! Excellent challenge!

  99. Thank you for these wonderful posts Tsh.
    I wanted to share an idea I have found helpful when sorting through our children’s art and drawings. I photograph those pieces that are most precious to all of us (children’s eyes often see differently to those of an adult!). I then collate a photo book each year of each child’s favourite artwork. You can also include favourite photos, memories, scriptures or stories they wrote. These books are reasonably priced to print (I live outside the US) but their value to our family is priceless. Children love looking through the books ‘they made’. It also takes some of the sting out of throwing away artwork. It sounds like a lot of work but, if you collate it little by little throughout the year, it really isn’t.

  100. Yes! Count me in.. I’ve stopped buying magazines and read them online instead, have signed up for online payments and statements, recycle the newspapers regularly and still, have tons of paper floating around. So, I’m in.

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