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A Clutter Queen Tackles Paper Clutter

by Gip Plaster on February 25th, 2011

pile up by Lacey_and_Cielle, on Flickr

No, I’m not a clutter queen — although I’ve been called things involving both words. This is a guest post from Marianne Yates of A Life Set Free.

My fiancé affectionately (or maybe not so affectionately) calls me the Clutter Queen. In reality, I really do hate clutter as it makes me feel very uncomfortable. Yet somehow, just days after the house has been cleaned, piles of paper and stuff just magically appear everywhere.

Paper is my biggest enemy. It seems to consume my life the most. I am also the biggest procrastinator and that is what kills me. My home office is one level down from my front door. I used to open my mail as soon as I walked in the door but since all I wanted to do at that point was relax, I would separate the mail into different piles: piles of paper to deal with later, piles that are important and should be dealt with sooner, piles of receipts, piles of stuff to be filed, and piles to be thrown into the shredder. And then weeks later the piles would still be there, starting to tip over and melt into one big huge pile needing to be re-separated.

Does this sound familiar?

So how does a Clutter Queen battle the never ending pile of paper??
I admit, the problem hasn’t been completely tackled yet, however I’ll tell you a little about the methods I have started using that are starting to make a difference in my life.

The key isn’t about going out to buy organizers to organize your paperwork. The key is about getting rid of the paper altogether.

Mail

Mail seems to be one of the largest battles for most people, myself included. The following tactics have been extremely helpful in my war on paper clutter:

Junk Mail

  • Stop the junk mail monster. Check out this extremely useful site! It’ll tell you how to decline credit card offers, catalogs, magazine offers and other mail offerings right from their website.
  • If you have open credit card accounts, call and ask your card companies to stop sending you those cash advance checks in the mail.
  • Ask anyone who asks for your mailing address how they will be using it before you give it to them. By the way, most credit card companies share your information with many partners. You should be able to write them a letter and ask them to stop sharing your information.

Magazines

  • Do you have piles of magazines that you are going to read someday? Re-evaluate your subscriptions. Maybe you don’t need to get that magazine every month. Or donate it to the waiting room at your doctor or hairdresser next time you go in for a visit.
  • If you’re like me, you like to keep articles and clippings from magazines for future reference. Start scanning these articles and organizing them into your computer or use an awesome tool called Evernote. Evernote is awesome because you can organize any image, website screenshot, or text note using tags so they are easily searchable. You can access Evernote from any online computer or Smartphone.

Bills

  • If you haven’t done so already, create online accounts for all your monthly bills (credit cards, utilities, etc.) and then opt-in to receive only electronic bills. If you wish to keep your statements for records, make sure to download them because they usually only keep the last 6 – 12 months of statements available for download.
  • Consolidate bank accounts, investments, credit cards, etc. to reduce the number of statements you have to deal with each month.
  • What do you do with things like medical, parking, and miscellaneous bills that you receive in the mail? According to Jo at SimplyBeingMum’s Blog
    and a tip from Gip on her site, scan things and then toss the originals. File them into folders on your computer or in the cloud. I use Dropbox and can’t recommend them enough because you get 2GB free and it’s really simple to use. Use this Dropbox referral link and we’ll both get an additional 0.25GB free.

Receipts

Another thing I have piles of are receipts. Did you know that you don’t have to keep all of your receipts? I used to think I had to keep every single receipt around for 7 years in case… you know, in case… well I guess for the IRS!

If you think about it, the IRS doesn’t care about most of your receipts. The only receipts you should have to keep around are for tax-deductible purchases, warranty purchases, and items you may need to return at some point. Check out this article at Stepcase Lifehack for a list of receipts that you can safely get rid of once you’ve logged them and then checked them against your bank statements. (Make sure to actually check them because I have had unscrupulous bartenders and servers pad the receipts on their end knowing most people never check this).

This year, I finally decided to get my finances in order once and for all and that means I enter every receipt into Quicken. Almost 8 weeks into the new year and I’m still going strong! The cool thing about Quicken is that you can scan your receipts and attach them to the transaction lines right in the program. How cool is that? Now you can get rid of all those loads of receipts! Remember the miscellaneous bills from above? You can attach those to Quicken transactions too if you wish so they are all in one place.

Tip: Now the problem with scanning your receipts and bills is that you actually have to take the time to do this. Plan to have one day every other week to scan them all in. It’ll be a lot of work, especially at the beginning, but just think how good it will feel when our desks and offices are clear of all this paper!

Photographs

Remember when we actually had to wait for photos to be printed? Time to break out those old boxes, scan your photos and get rid of the print ones once and for all (or put some into frames). Now you can add those old photos to Facebook! Won’t your old high school friends be pleased? ;)

Rather than take up all the disk space on my laptop, I’ll be trying out the cloud. We all have different needs so I won’t go into recommending one over the other, but take a look at the following sites: Flickr, Shutterfly, Photobucket, or Picasa.

Now what are you going to do with all that paper you’re ready to throw away?

You’re going to recycle it of course!! A good minimalist is also conscious of the damage we are doing to the environment and takes precautions to properly dispose of things instead of tossing everything into the landfills.

Moving forward

To keep on top of your paper clutter in the future, be more aware of where your paper comes from:

  • Be wary of adding your address to sweepstakes and mailing lists.
  • Always opt-in for paperless statements right away.
  • Don’t be so quick to grab free magazines, brochures, flyers, and business cards unless you really need them.
  • Rather than ripping out an ad or a spotlight in a magazine or newspaper, take a picture of it with your cell phone and then organize these clippings using Evernote.

What other ways can you tackle the paper monster? Please share your thoughts below.

Marianne Yates is a web designer, cat lover, and aspiring minimalist. She writes at A Life Set Free about creating a life around your own personal set of values and setting yourself free from debt, stuff, location and the status quo.

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34 Comments
  1. I hate clutter as well. Oh, my…..piles of receipts – their always seems to be a huge one on my dresser just waiting for me to do **something** with them. I definitely need some motivation to do better with it – your post may just give me that push. Thanks Gip!
    Travis @DebtChronicles recently posted Forum Post- Re- discouraged

    • Congratulations and getting in with the first comment, Travis. I’m glad to have you here.

      Marianne wrote a great post. I always have receipts by my billfold. When they’re for tea at McDonald’s paid for with cash, I wonder why I kept them in the first place.
      Gip

      • I keep all those unnecessary receipts too Gip! Why do we keep receipts for all those things we can never return?

        Travis, glad i could light a little fire under you to finally do something with those receipts!
        marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted 25 Easy Ways to Make a Difference Today

        • Yay! Some of our favorite people all in one spot! We finally beat the useless receipt thing; we tell them we don’t want it, we practically run from them now, if we ever go anywhere fast food or convenience oriented we simply refuse. Took awhile to get used to that though. We also got a receipt scanner a slim device that made the cut when deciding what to pack to bring back to the island. We love it, I scan documents to and use it for our fax to email service thereby eliminating most paper faxes etc. Before that I felt like paper was the bane of our existence! Great post Marianney!! :)

  2. Hi Marianne! Hi Gip!

    Magazine clutter is horrible on two levels – first, you’ve got magazines that are clutter (usually meaning you don’t read them – otherwise they’d probably be filed or otherwise taken care of). Second, much of the time you’ve paid a subscription fee to receive that magazine!

    There’s nothing quite like paying extra to have clutter delivered to your home every month. :D

    Now if I could just get the post office to not deliver those local advertising circulars….

    Great post Marianne!
    Robert Wall recently posted Foodie Friday- Diets That Don’t Work

    • The ad circulars we get are often for the wrong neighborhood anyway. I get circulars for communities 40 or 50 miles away most weeks, wasting everyone’s time and money.

      Some people spend a significant percentage of their income on subscriptions, meaning they could have a 10 to 30 percent raise if they would cancel all their junk.

      Gip

    • Gosh that is a lot of money on subscriptions! I have had one subscription myself for the last few years, but now that I can no longer keep up with it, I did not renew it this year. Save me a little cash and guilt!

      I forgot about those ad circulars! Every weds from the grocery stores, etc. I recycle those right away so what a waste!
      marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted 25 Easy Ways to Make a Difference Today

  3. Great tips, Marianne! One thing: Don’t forget to SHRED all the papers you’re getting rid of that contain sensitive personal information.

    Another tip to conquer paper clutter: move abroad! ;) I do all my banking online and get hardly any mail here, and absolutely no junk mail whatsoever: we only get utility bills (mostly bimonthly), my fiancé’s bank statement, and occasionally a letter or card from the U.S.

    • Thanks for joining the discussion here, Amy.

      I suppose if you move often enough, you can outrun your mail… so that’s another option.

      Gip

    • haha i like that method: moving out of the country! that’s good to know that it cuts it back quite a bit. one more reason to look forward to going to Costa Rica in 2014!

      thanks for bringing up the shredder! i completely forgot about mentioning that! i don’t have a shredder at home, but periodically i bring all my shreddables to work and throw them in the one there.
      marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted 25 Easy Ways to Make a Difference Today

  4. Upon discovering some lovely storage boxes I text a friend and told her about them. My friend – a born-minimalist, text back with simply “Don’t store – Chuck!”
    I like you Marianne have paper issues, they accumulate. I have to be ruthless with not bringing anything home and reduces what gets brought into the house. Currently I am fighting a battle with 6 years worth – and currently I’m the underdog. I’ll re-read the post and see if i get in the groove, it’s just soooo time consuming all of it! Paper should be banned! Jo
    Jo@simplybeingmum recently posted To Be Or Not To Be Selfish That Is The Question

    • My yearlong decluttering did a lot to get rid of the paper in our house, but it comes back in every day. I try to throw away anything useless that finds its way into the house, but there’s always something that stays around for a while.

      You’re right. Banning paper is fine with me!
      Gip

      • Wouldn’t that be a blessing!? That and plastic bags from the stores! Why won’t they ban those things??

        Jo, I so hear you the paper stuff obviously. It’s seems to be endless! Your Piles of Procrastination post really triggered this post and my own battle with paper. Let’s keep each other in check!

        It’s funny because I have a little mini-magazine from Martha Stewart magazine that is titled 150 Solutions for a Clean and Clutter-free home. But I noticed that all the suggestions were for buying and making things that organize all your junk. There wasn’t a single suggestion to actually get rid of any of it! That’s when I realized I needed to write this post.
        marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted 25 Easy Ways to Make a Difference Today

        • Someone drop your Martha a line and tell her ‘Don’t Store – Chuck’. :-)
          We don’t have a Martha over here! She keeps getting mentioned, I’ll have to google and see what it’s all about….
          * definitely keep each other in check Hun! I’m off to do a speed declutter. 50 items in 30 mins to be chucked.
          Jo@simplybeingmum recently posted To Be Or Not To Be Selfish That Is The Question

          • Fortunately, Martha Stewart’s career is in decline now — although she’s made billions (literally) on selling products and hosting shows. She’s not far behind Oprah on any list of way-too-rich people.
            Gip

  5. These are all fantastic ideas Marianne!

    Another source of paper clutter we deal with in our house is with the art work our son brings home from school. There is a newer Website called http://www.littledavinci.com that was developed as a storage database (they call it an online gallery) for children’s artwork to forever remained preserved. We haven’t opened a free account yet, but I definitely like this idea.
    Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted When Your Child is a Packrat

  6. Jo H. permalink

    Paper is very much one of our major re-clutterers. Our son keeps telling us that everything is available on the internet. But when the internet goes down, NOTHING is available. And as media and technology change, it is time-consuming and costly to make sure that stored files are kept up to date for possible future needs. We also find that reading from a computer screen is hard on the eyes, so we prefer to keep our hard-copy newspapers and magazine subscriptions. The only solution I have found, if we must have constantly incoming paper, is to make sure it keeps moving and becomes outgoing as much as possible, or has dedicated storage (eg. paid bills, tax paperwork) and is put there immediately.

    • Clutter is just like a running faucet. There’s two ways to keep it from overflowing your sink – stop it at the source (turn the faucet off), or empty it as fast or faster than it comes in (open the drain). Either option is a valid way to go; you’ve just got do so something!
      Robert Wall recently posted Foodie Friday- Diets That Don’t Work

      • Jo H. permalink

        This is a great analogy, and a very useful visual for me to use to approach my husband about his wish to keep all magazines and books – thanks for mentioning it.

        • Jo, i understand your reasons for still using paper and i know that we can’t eliminate it completely. sometimes i have to print things out at work, just so i can check things off physically with a pen, or do comparisons between lists.

          it’s a necessary evil, but like robert says, we can be more mindful about what paper we do use and where it comes in from and what we do with it afterwards.

          thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!
          marianney | A Life Set Free recently posted 25 Easy Ways to Make a Difference Today

  7. More about the silliness of paper coming in my post Tuesday. Then… We’ll move onto something else for a while. This is an important topic, though, and I think it deserves another post before we move on!

    Gip

  8. jenny smythe permalink

    Awesome post Marianne!
    I can totally relate to the ‘paper monster’. When it comes to decluttering everything else I’m pretty good. But, when it comes to paper, I get so easily overwhelmed!

    Thanks for sharing your tips. Some of them I have not even implemented myself. I hate paper clutter so much because it seems that when I throw a pile out. Another pile of junk mail is waiting for me in the mailbox! argh!
    jenny smythe recently posted I’m back from my Digital Sabbatical

  9. William Tha Great permalink

    Hey Marianney,

    Thanks for the totally awesome article!

    I have a major paper clutter problem. So paper clutter is good though as I keep all my articles that I write. I have never thrown on away. Then there is bad clutter like I keep all my receipts which is okay, but I keep them for way too long. These are awesome ways to take that annoying clutter. Sometime too much clutter prohibits you from thinking clearly. If you get rid of some of the clutter you will feel more spacious.

    God bless,
    William Veasley
    William Tha Great recently posted To Have It All You Must Let Go of a Lot

  10. Marianne,
    Receipts are also my biggest challenge w.r.t clutter. They seem to multiply exponentially if not kept in check. Will have to read the article you refer to.
    Anne Sales recently posted Coolhandle

  11. great post! your magazine cut-out suggestion strikes a chord with me. I have recently decided that I will NOT copy another recipe without also cooking one already in my file that has never been made before. This is just one of those little areas of creeping clutter!
    Dmarie recently posted Win some- lose some- Fabric adventures

    • You’re absolutely right! Thanks, Dmarie, for joining the conversation here on So Much More Life. I hope to hear more from you.
      Gip

  12. Katie permalink

    The best tip I have heard about dealing with paper: only touch each piece of paper ONCE. File, shred, scan, recycle…whatever you are going to do with it, do it immediately. That way you won’t get overwhelmed by a huge pile of paper.

    • Yes, that’s a great tip. I try to do that as often as possible, although there’s always something that needs reading a second time or some other kind of attention.

      Thanks for commenting, Katie. I’m glad to have you here.
      Gip

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