How to Handle All the Paper in Your Life

in Organizing   |   posted by Pat

Paper is part of our lives, even if we are diligent about going digital with documents.  Somehow paper finds its way into our homes.

So how does paper settle in your home?   Is it all over the place or do you have a neat corner where you put everything?

Paper comes through the front door, and you get to decide how you want to process it.   Your decisions around paper make your home organized or cluttered with paper everywhere…it is your decision.

If you keep all the paper that comes through your door, you are hoarding and have a hard time letting go of paper.

Do you want to let go of the paper clutter?   Depending on how much paper you have in your life, it can be a straightforward action plan to clear it, or it can feel overwhelming because there is too much.

Why do we clutter?

Clutter comes about because of fear.  What do I mean by fear?   Have you ever heard yourself or someone else says “you never know when you will need it?”    The statement is worry thinking and how often do the things you worry about actually happen and how often do you need the documents you hold onto in your home.

Organizing paper is not the same as decluttering the paper in your life.    Organizing comes after you decide what documents you need to keep.   If you start organizing first, before decluttering, then you will energetically block yourself because your home will be organized but still cluttered with paper.

Different Types of Paper

Paper comes in various forms; for example:

  • Bills
  • Books
  • Coupons
  • Junk mail
  • Keepsakes
  • Letters and cards
  • Magazines/Newspapers
  • Paper bags
  • Photographs

So, what do you do with all these various forms of paper?    Step back and look at your paper and ask yourself:

  • Am I using it?
  • Have I read it and if not, why not?
  • Do I need to keep it? A lot of paper does not need to be saved.
  • Can I give it to someone else who could use it? An excellent question for magazine and books.

There are some attitude changes you need to make to reduce paper in your life.

  • You need to change your belief that you can’t control your paper.
  • No more “I’ll do it later,” instead, commit to handling paper as it comes into your home.
  • Come up with an action plan to not allow the paper to come in at all. There are many solutions to help you break your attachment to paper.
  • Decide you don’t have to keep every piece of paper

Pay Bills Online

In spite of our beliefs, paying online at a reputable bank or company is safer than handing over your credit card to a waiter in the restaurant.    Online bill pay services are usually back by a bank which has excellent security built into the site.

I have my utility, rent and other bills set up for bank alerts, and these vendors accept my payment digitally.    I don’t make automatic payments as I want control over the money leaving my cash account.   Well, that is not entirely true; my cable/internet/telephone bill is paid automatically with my credit card.   I do love getting cash back on my credit card.

Online bill paying use to cost money and I didn’t do it then because I wanted to save money.   Now it’s free so why not make my life easier.

Books

I am a book junkie, and over the years I’ve worked hard to donate many of the books I was holding on to and knew I would never read again.   The libraries in New York and North Carolina have benefited from my efforts.

I try to download more books to my Kindle, so I’m not using up physical space, yet I also like to hold onto a book, so I still buy paperback books.   Though I’m not as impulsive in purchasing the books and when the book comes in, I decide when I will read it.  Otherwise, I add to the clutter and not to any additional learning.

Take out all your books and be honest to either keep or discard.   If you are not going to read the book, let someone else have the benefit of enjoying the book.

Coupons

Don’t you love to save money?    Well, coupons are great incentives for saving money when you shop for food or household items.   Keep in mind that it takes time to cut and organize coupons and your time is important as well.   For some, clipping coupons is fun, and they are eager to see how much they can save.

I have cut coupons in the past and had a particular folder, organized under different headings where I filed the coupons.    It was hit or miss when I would use them and a lot of times; I was holding on to outdated coupons.    If you are a coupon cutting person, organize them, and only clip the coupons on the products you buy.    You can share coupons, but don’t hold on to any that you will not use or are outdated.

Most people can get coupons online now, and you don’t need to cut or carry coupons to your favorite store

Junk Mail

I don’t get a lot of junk mail, but when I do, I cut off my address and shred that information and then put the rest into the recycle bin.  If you get a lot, sign up to receiving no junk mail.

To opt out for five years: Call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com. The major consumer reporting companies operate the phone number and website.

Keepsakes

Keepsakes are reminders of fun and important times in our lives, and it has meaning for us.    Many of us have them tucked in boxes, scrapbooks, basement or file cabinets.   We kept them at a time that the memory was fresh and now when we look back at it, we think why did I keep this?   Maybe the memory is still strong, and we want to keep the reminder.

You may be tempted to think, you need to organize them, yet that isn’t your first choice.  The first decision is what do you need to keep.  Don’t hold stuff that has limited value; only organize things that add joy and value to your life.    Quickly sort all items to save or discard and don’t overthink about it.   We know when an object generates our interest, so let go fast of things that are lukewarm or cold in your memories.

I love my grandchildren’s artwork.    Since little children love to create art, there is always an abundance of work they share with me.   Since I have two grandchildren, I keep two pieces, date it, and then take a picture of it to upload to my PC.   Once a week, I’m changing out the pictures on my refrigerator, and shred them because I’ve already captured an image of the artwork.

Other keepsakes seem to clutter up our lives; such as old mementos of experiences from the past, like ticket stubs, report cards, awards, etc.   These can all be scanned.   The memory doesn’t go away; what goes away is the clutter sitting in your closet or under the bed.

Letters & Cards

I’m a bit sentimental about letters & cards.   It’s hard to scan cards I’ve received from family and dear friends, and I love them, so I keep them.

If you are keeping them because you haven’t thrown them out, so now is the time to let them go.

Magazines/Newspapers

I like magazines, though never buy them because I can go to Barnes & Noble and over a cup of tea, read the magazines that interest me.    I also can get a lot of information online about any topic.

I get all my news online so never purchase a newspaper though one can also get the popular newspapers online.   I know some people want to hold the paper in their hands and enjoy reading it.   That’s what makes life special for each of us as we get to indulge in what gives us pleasure.   However, you still need to recycle the newspaper before the next one comes into your home.

If you must have a magazine because you love to read it in your home over your favorite drink, then enjoy it.  We don’t usually read the entire magazine in one sitting, so you need to be diligent about reading the articles you are interested in and then letting the magazine go.  One way is to recycle it either by donating to a local center, library or recycling it in the trash.  You can also trade magazines with friends who also enjoy reading them. You must let each magazine go and do it before the next month’s magazine enters your home.

Sometimes an article in a magazine or newspaper speaks to you, and you want to keep it. If you’re going to read it later when you have more time – great and have a folder that you can put the article in, date it.   In 30 days look at this folder and decide if you are still interested in what you saved.   Lots of time, we are impulsive, think we must keep something, only to realize that in a short period, we lost interest.

No exact science fits each person’s need around information or learning.  Each person gets to decide what is important to them.    We also know when we are not clear about what we keep and hold on to stuff “just in case.”

Paper / Plastic Bags

You are not scanning this type of paper, yet many people hold on to many shopping bags.   I keep only the brown recycle bags and use them to gather my recyclables.   Then I put the bag and recyclables into the main bin in the complex.

I work hard not to bring plastic bags into my home.   I carry my bags to do food shopping and even have small washable bags to put fruit and produce into.  I do occasionally use a plastic bag, though I then take it to my grandson’s preschool as kids have accidents and they need the bags.

A friend found recyclable plastic bags to use for the kitty litter.  This type of plastic breaks down, which is better for the environment.

How to Handle Photographs

Photographs are also paper, though that is usually a major project to tackle.  Again, you can scan photos.   If you love a series of pictures from a particular experience or person, you can go up on Spotify and create a book out of it and then scan the image.    We no longer need hard copies of our memories because technology allows us to keep the memory without the physical reminder.

First, go through all of your pictures and delete the duplicates, so-so photos and keep removing until you have a manageable stack.   If you have a lot of them still, take them to Staples to see how much it would cost to scan them onto a CD.   Or you can take your time and scan them.

Suggestion:  For the images, you want to keep, organize them, so the people and memories are together.

What Papers Do You Need to Keep?

There are important documents you need to keep, though for how long?   Tax documents and supporting papers need to be held for seven years, though you can scan them both.    I ask my accountant to send my completed taxes in digital format, so I don’t need to scan them.   I already have a copy of the supporting documents on my PC, so they are shredded.  There are other documents you need for 1-7 years, though you can get them online.

Documents You Can Get Online

You can download the following documents right to your PC and never have the paper come through your front door.

  • Bank Statements – banks no longer return checks, so you don’t need a hard copy of your check. Go up to your bank and elect not to receive paper statements anymore and request an email reminder that your statement is available, go up and download it to your PC and then you can reconcile your bank account.   You only have to keep bank statements for one year.   If you have a tax deduction on one statement that you include in your year-end taxes, then you need to keep that statement for seven years.   Put it into your Tax Folder on your PC for that particular year, and it’s available when you need it.
  • Investment Accounts – most companies are more than happy to send emails notifying you that your statement is available.
  • Credit Cards – I never get a credit card statement; instead I go online, download not only my transactions into my software, but I also download my statement. Some people don’t bother even cluttering up their PC with statements as they can go up to the credit card company and get the statement.

Papers That Need to Be Stored Safely

The following documents need to be in their original form and kept permanently.   If you don’t use a safety deposit box at a bank, make sure the storage box is water and fireproof.  Also, let someone in your family know where these important documents are or provide them with a copy.

  • Adoption papers
  • Any stock/bond or savings bonds
  • Car titles – because you need original documents
  • Citizenship papers
  • Collectibles that you want to protect
  • Custody and divorce agreements
  • Home Insurance Inventory – of all the furniture and other stuff in your home. You don’t need to put this in Safety box as you can create a list and post to your PC.
  • Immunizations
  • Last will and testament
  • Legal contracts
  • Marriage & death certificates
  • A medical power of attorney
  • Original birth certificates
  • Passports
  • Property paperwork – deeds and title, property survey
  • Social security card

What Papers Can You Scan?

Maybe you don’t have a scanner, though most office printers have a scanner feature included in it.   I would recommend you get a scanner to reduce paper in your physical space.

You can scan any document that you need to keep for proof.  You can also scan photos, kid’s artwork as well as tax documents.  You can scan original documents but DO NOT shred documents that need to be in their original form.  Instead find a safe place to house original documents.

Steps to Reducing Paper Clutter

Create three piles for your paper:   Discard, Keep (scan & shred) and Organize

  • Discard – are those documents, using the guidelines above for how long to keep it, and it is past the date. For example, bank statements hold for one year, unless it includes a tax deduction and in that case, keep for seven
  • Keep – all original documents in a safe place. Scan all other documents that don’t require the original
  • Organize – for the documents that you are keeping; you are either organizing them on your computer or in a safety box.

Tools to Manage Paper

If you have a paper that you need to keep, and you want to remove the physical copy, you need the following:

  • Scanner
  • Shredder

I use them both regularly.  I try to minimize hard copy paper so scan the documents onto my PC and then shred it.    For most documents that I want to keep, this is a perfect combo of tools to reduce paper

Shredding Choices

Check your local UPS Store to see if they have shredding capabilities and, yes it will cost you, but they can shred large amounts of paper quickly.

I have a shredder, large enough to handle significant papers, but not a cabinet amount at one time.

Some communities have a shredding day where they have a place you go to shred your documents.

Final Thoughts

Is paper overwhelming you?   If you have a lot of paper, get help from a friend or a high school person to help discard, or scan/shred.

Your Thoughts  

If you have ideas on how to handle paper, feel free to share, as this article can miss something that may be helpful to someone else.

Women’s Group Topics

Clutter bothers many people, so why not help each other start eliminating the paper in each of your lives.

Be well,

Pat

“To fully enjoy the ‘richness’ of our lives, we need to stop long enough to visit with ourselves.”
(Pat Brill)

 

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