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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?