There is nothing that says “clutter” like the bales of paper that swamp the average home. With just a few simple steps, however, you too can finally get your head above water and rid yourself of the unsightly paper clutter that seems to be a by-product of modern life and free yourself some precious space. While these are by no means the only ways to go minimalist when it comes to paper, by following these five steps you’ll find yourself well on the way to controlling the paper clutter monster in your life.
If you struggle with clutter in general I highly recommend reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. It is the final chapter, the end all be all solution in my opinion. I own it on audio (no clutter) and I listen to it every couple months to stay inspired but in truth if you follow the method in the book, clutter just stops being a problem for you. I feel that every highschooler should be required to read it!
On to the tips…
Tip #1: Do Your Bills, Taxes, Investing, and Banking Online
One of the largest sources of paper clutter is financial paperwork. While there are still some individuals holding onto the idea of getting paper bills and bank statements in the mail, it is becoming far more common to do all of your financial work online. In fact, it is a rare business or bank that doesn’t offer its customers the opportunity to receive their monthly statements by email. I receive most of my bills via email too. I pay all my bills online via a business website or through direct online bank payment. I still have a book of checks but it will probably last me 5 years. When it comes to taxes, consider doing them online too. Scan receipts into digital photocopies so you don’t have to keep lots of little pieces of paper.
I track and make investments online and through my smartphone. I use an application called Acorns to round up debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and invest the change. I also use Betterment (love them!). They take a specified amount each month from my checking account and invest it for me. I have been pleased as punch with the results and it literally took me minutes to set up online. I track all activity online and access my tax records there too.
Once you have made the switch, you can then go through and purge your filing cabinets. Make sure that you shred any paperwork that contains your personal information. Any paperwork you have left over after the purge you can keep in neat, stackable boxes. Decorative video and photo storage boxes are great for this. You can also scan these items and keep them as a digital file. If you decide to go that route just make sure you backup your files daily.
Tip #2: Subscribe Online
With the advent of smartphones, iPads and tablet computers it won’t be long until hard copy newspapers, magazines and newsletters will be a thing of the past. Now you can enjoy your favorite periodicals right on the screen of your electronic gadgets. If you prefer the look and feel of ‘real’ magazines and newspapers make sure that you rid yourself of those you’ve read instead of leaving them sitting in dark corners where they tend to multiply exponentially. If you want to save a single article, or two, rip them out and keep in a binder.
Tip #3: Organize Your Memories
Another source of paper clutter are mementos, things like greeting cards, letters, homework papers, kids artwork, movie stubs and all manner of other interesting things. It is understandable that you don’t necessarily want to toss these things the way you would old bank statements and dog-eared magazines, there is a way to reduce the visual mess. Simply buy yourself a number of scrapbooks and start getting creative. Condense all of your paper mementos for one year into one book. You’ll be surprised at just how much you can fit in one scrapbook, and the scrapbooks look great lined up on a shelf in your living room.
Tip #4: Be Selective With Your Books
With e-Readers so readily available now, there really is no reason to keep stacks of paperbacks, most of which you’ll never read again. With so many reference materials online now there is also no real reason to keep space-eating dictionaries and reference manuals when they will probably just come out with a new edition next year anyway. Instead, choose the books you want in your home to reflect your tastes and aesthetics. Display them proudly, and don’t waste your precious space on books you don’t need or want.
Tip #5: Condense Your User Manuals
With so many gadgets and gizmos in our homes and lives, chances are you sometimes feel inundated by user manuals and warranty information. The first thing you might do after purchasing or receiving a product with a user manual is see if that same manual is available online. Many times it is. Then you can save it to your hard drive and recycle the paper copy. After you have established what you need to keep, you can use a three-ring binder and a couple folders to store the others. Put user manuals in one and warranties in another. After six months you may want to revisit the issue and see if in fact you do really need to keep the manual for your rice cooker or toaster…if not, let them go.
It is vastly important to see how we can avoid all the paper coming into our lives in the first place and these tips offer ideas on how we can do that. After you’ve tamed the paper beast you will have less clutter and more peace of mind.