How To | Life | Organization

How To Deal With the Paper Clutter

February 15, 2013

In the February issue of All You, I found a lot of interesting articles, but one that stuck out to me was tips to keep your papers organized. The article broke down paper organization in such a way that it seemed like anyone could organize the paper clutter once and for all.

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I’m usually pretty good at keeping my papers organized and was happy to find that I utilize a lot of the tips in the article already. I enjoyed the article so much I thought I’d summarize its main tips for anyone who just might have missed it.

1. Clear the Clutter

I think this is a great tip. I’ve found that if I go through the mail as soon as I grab it from the box, I can eliminate a lot of unnecessary clutter. Goodbye junk mail! I also immediately categorize bills by payment due dates and file them on my desk where I can see them.

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In addition to junk mail and bills, I also try to deal with other incoming mail immediately. Anything that needs to be shredded is shredded. Anything that needs to be filed is filed or added to the top of the file box, so I’ll know to file it whenever I open it again. Any tax documents are placed in a folder with other important papers to be given to our accountant. Dealing with all of the incoming mail immediately really helps me stay on top of the paper clutter.

All You recommends opting out of catalogs, credit card offers and donation requests by visiting catalogchoice.org, a free site where you can report unwanted mail to opt out. Since we’re in a new house, we haven’t been receiving unwanted mail, but I’m definitely bookmarking this site to use in the future.

All You also recommends cleaning out junk mail from email inboxes by opening each junk email and clicking the unsubscribe link (usually found at the bottom of each email) for any unwanted emails. This is something I also try to stay on top of on a daily basis. Another great idea is to have an email account you use solely for “junk” email. I have one I use solely for coupons and companies I might want to occasionally receive email from. I don’t get this email on my phone or on my computer’s email program. However, I know I can log in anytime I want. If you do have a separate email for “junk,” make sure you update your password annually, or you’ll likely be spamming any contacts you have listed in that account.

2. Sort Documents

In addition to the methods mentioned above (file box, shredder, bill sorting), I also utilize a fireproof safe to secure sentimental documents. I have birthday cards, our marriage license and other sentimental or important documents in mine. However, I don’t keep anything worth value there. That’s what safety depots boxes are for.

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As far as what documents are discarded, I think that’s something each person should decide for themselves. All You has created a page to help you decide what to keep or toss if you’re not sure.

3. Maintain Your Inbox

All You recommends dedicating 10 minutes each day to sort through email messages. During this time, it’s recommended to delete the junk (unsubscribe if you haven’t already), respond to what needs immediate attention and designate everything else to folders, and star messages that need same-day action.

I think the above advice for dealing with inbox clutter is brilliant, but I’ve found it just doesn’t work for me on a daily basis. I like to immediately respond to emails that need immediate attention. If I’m in a super-productive mode where I’m not checking emails, I’ll respond to it when I’m done with my current task. I don’t use email folders (I know, I’m bad), because I know I can always search for the email I need. Maybe one day I’ll implement the folder system. As far as junk emails, I have a separate account where I receive 99% of my junk mail, so that handles itself.

4. Make a Plan

I think that following others’ tips and advice is all well and good, but what’s most important is finding a system that works for you. What works for me, might not be the best for you. What All You suggests might sounds great, but not actually work for your daily life. I certainly don’t follow All You‘s inbox plan.

All You recommends creating a streamlined flow for paperwork with landing spots for incoming paper so you don’t misplace papers you need. All You suggests dealing with incoming mail daily and putting it in separate folders according to when it needs your attention: immediately, next week, next month. I think something like this would be perfect if you wanted to use this system. I don’t personally find this to be the best system for me, but I’m willing to bet it will work for others quite well.

For me: my plan is to deal with paper immediately. I can’t stand piles of papers waiting to be dealt with. Bills are placed in my desk organizer with the due date written on the front, junk mail is recycled, papers to shred are shredded and papers that need to be filed are filed. That works for me, and I like it.

Tax Tips

Since tax season is upon us, All You also included some tax tips in the article. I found many of them very helpful. Here’s All You‘s helpful tax tips:

  • Check the mail for your W-2 or 1099s. If you’re missing these documents, call your employer(s) to request them. If you haven’t received them by February 14, contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
  • The IRS recommends keeping tax documents up to seven years since that’s the period you can be audited.
  • Some of the purchases you made in 2012 might be tax deductible. Compile receipts for each expense, and if you can’t find the receipt, you can print credit card statements. Click here to determine which items are deductible.
  • Click here to find an accredited tax preparer or adviser. If you’re preparing your taxes yourself, the basic edition of turbotax.intuit.com offers online support and does the math for you.

How do you handle the incoming paper clutter? I’d love to know.

All comments are encouraged and appreciated!