It’s time to take back control of your desk. Paperwork not only clutters up your drawers and surfaces, but also drains a lot of mental energy and demands attention. Here are my suggestions for maintaining manageable levels of paperwork in your home.
One: reduce the amount of paper coming in.
The easiest way to deal with the build-up of paper is to stop it arriving in the first place. It’s great for your home, your state of mind and the environment. Here are three key things to do.
1. Go ‘paper free’ as far as you can.
Most banks, insurers, utilities and public authorities will give you the option to go paper free. It shouldn’t take long to set up and you’ll be more than compensated by the time you save opening and filing letters. Usually, you can opt in and out of different types of mail. So, for example, you could decide to still get statements but opt out of the terms and conditions and other letters they send all the time.
2. Block junk mail to declutter your doormat and intray
- Sign up to the mailing preference scheme and stop a lot of addressed junk mail
- Join Royal Mail’s opt-out scheme to block lots of the unaddressed mail they deliver.
- Put a sticker on your letterbox to discourage the takeaway menus and door to door flyposters
3. Stop mail to previous residents
People may redirect important mail when they move, but they rarely contact everyone and definitely not any junk mailing lists. The result, you’ll continue to get their junk as well as your own! Write ‘Not at this address – return to sender’ on any mail to previous residents or misaddressed letters and pop them in the post box. It’s a little extra work, but in the long run much easier than having to pick up, tut and recycle them every time they arrive.
Two: build a regular habit to clear your incoming paper
I strongly suggest you set aside a regular time each week or month to process your paperwork. Put it in your diary and stick to it. Here’s what I suggest and works for me.
- Go around the house and gather everything on paper into one place (this could be your desk, kitchen table or intray).
- Include letters, receipts, notes, magazines, catalogues and print outs.
- Empty your pockets, wallet or purse, work bag and handbag.
- Don’t do anything with the stuff yet, just collect in all up.
2. Ask ‘what is it?’
Start at the top of the pile and for each item ask one question: is it actionable? Do you need to do something?
If the answer is ‘no’, you have two options:
A Recycle, bin, or shred it. Create a pile each if these and add items to them as you go along.
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B If you want to keep it for future review or reference, put it into a ‘Read it’ or ‘File it’ pile
Be disciplined and try not to hold on to too much.
Are the Read it and File it piles getting taller than Recycle, Bin and Shred? If so, maybe you need to get tougher with your choices.
If the answer is yes, decide exactly what the next action is.
- If it will take less than 2 minutes, do it now
- If it will take longer, put it into an ‘Action it’ pile with a post-it note reminding you what you need to do.
If things belong to someone else, create a separate pile for each person you live with and delegate the responsibility to them.
Continue to sort and allocate things to piles, don’t get drawn into filing, reading or actioning yet.
When you reach the bottom of the pile congratulate yourself and take a tea break if you need it.
Three: the final steps
- Tackle the ‘File it’ pile, or set a time to do it. My blog Taming the paper monster looks at how to best file and organise what you choose to keep.
- Set aside time to read the ‘Read it’ pile. If things are still in the Read it pile during your next monthly clear out, maybe it’s time to file or bin it!
- Set a time to tackle the ‘Action it’ pile.
- Finally, schedule your next monthly clear out in your diary or calendar.