I personally believe that the most common source of clutter in the home is PAPER. We can't avoid it, but we can control it so it doesn't take over our home. How can you reduce the paper clutter that so easily accumulates in your home?
THE DAILY BARRAGE
First, there's the MAIL. The mail comes through the door almost every day, and if you don't sort through it, it usually gets thrown in a pile somewhere and before you know it, the pile gets bigger and bigger and bigger until it becomes clutter. Sound familiar? When you bring in the mail every day, go through it and immediately throw away the JUNK -- for example, those annoying credit card offers, ads for places you never shop at and any other solicitations which you know right away you are not interested in.
And use a paper SHREDDER. I cannot stress this enough. With identity theft being so prominent nowadays, you must use a paper shredder. This includes anything with your personal information on it, including your name and address on the back of catalogs. Just rip off the back page of the catalog and shred it.
SPREADING IT AROUND
Next, put any mail addressed to other family members aside for them. They will also need to manage their own mail, so it does not become clutter. Creating a DROP-BOX for them will help. On a daily basis, their mail is placed in one spot for them to collect.
Open the BILLS up right away. Throw away the outer envelopes and the junk inserts you receive with your bills. You only need the bill itself and the return envelope if you will be mailing back the payment. If you do on-line bill paying, just keep the bill itself.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE REST
The next step is to take the remaining mail and SORT it into four categories -- creating a system for organizing your mail on a daily basis. Use either stackable letter size trays, labeled hanging folders stored in a decorative container, or magnetic/wall mounted bins so you can easily see the paper in the particular category. With bins you can't hide the paper away and forget about it. You are forced to work on it to keep the bins under control. Whatever your choice, it should be placed in a designated location. For example, you can use a kitchen counter top or a desk in your home office. Select a location that, out of HABIT, you will visit every day. This sorting system breaks down what function needs to be performed with all of the in-coming mail.
SORTING THE MAIL
On a daily basis, when the mail has been opened, "put it DIRECTLY in the right file" -- "Pay", "Do", "Read", "File" on the labels and then just toss the paper into them. You must then go through these bins or files on a weekly basis to keep them under control. Schedule some time each week to do this.
The first category is for all those bills. Take a highlighter and quickly highlight the DUE date on the bill. You will be able to quickly see when the bills needs to be paid by doing this. I suggest paying your bills at least 5 to 10 days prior to their due date to avoid late fees. The easiest way to make sure this gets done is to schedule time each week to pay those upcoming bills. When the bills are paid, take a moment to indicate the date paid and the account and check number directly on the front of the bill. Then file them away in a filing cabinet.
The second category is for things you need to RESPOND to: invitations, offers from the phone company, cable company that you need to call on; reminders for appointments to check against your calendar; anything that you need to follow up on.
The third category includes catalogs, magazines, investment prospectus, store ads, etc. Anything you need to take some time to LOOK through. Just a note about bank statements and credit card statements. Read them! Don't just trust that they are correct. Be sure that everything that is listed is accurate. Review your credit card statements to make sure your last payment was credited properly and that the new charges that appear are accurate. Mistakes are made and it's your responsibility to be diligent. Since the "read" pile is so big, let's take a minute to break out some of the other types of reading material.
Without exception, newspapers should be read IMMEDIATELY and tossed or recycled. Stacks of newspapers make a perfect home for bugs and are a fire hazard. Besides, the day after the newspaper arrives, it's no longer news! Just like the mail, take time that day to go through it and take out the food coupons and anything else of interest and recycle the rest.
Magazines can easily get out of hand. They tend to come into the home faster than we can read them and then they just pile up. I recommend that you chose two of your FAVORITE subscriptions. If the other subscriptions are about to run out, don't renew them. For those magazines that are used for business, keep them in a magazine box which can be placed on a bookshelf in your home office and kept neat. Remember to review them regularly and keep no more than 12 issues at a time (after a year, most business information gets outdated). If there is relevant information in an ARTICLE, you can tear it out and create either a folder or a binder to use them for future reference and inspiration -- then throw away the rest of the magazine. Basic leisure magazines can be read and thrown away or donated. If there is a great recipe you want to keep, tear it out and put it in either an expandable file or a binder, keeping it together with your other recipe books.
Look through the catalog and make a DECISION right then and there about any purchases you intend to make. If you don't see any desired items the first time you look through the catalog, throw it away! You can rest assured that another catalog from the same company will come through the mail again shortly. Another option is to request that company to stop sending you catalogs in the mail and just shop online. If you plan to make the purchase down the road, tear out the PAGE or just write down the catalog name, telephone number or website, the page and the item number of the desired item(s). Put them in a file labeled "to buy" or onto the computer. Then you can recycle the catalog immediately.
The last major category is for the paperwork that needs to be STORED away in your filing cabinet. For example, confirmation of charitable contributions used for tax purposes, credit card agreement changes, pay stubs, bank statements after they are reviewed, bills after they have been paid, etc.
IT'S EASY ONCE YOU START
Keep in mind that paper management requires daily and weekly MAINTENANCE. You need less than 5 or 10 minutes every day to sort the mail. Besides that, you need about one hour or less per week to deal with the categories you created.
The absolute best way to deal with note clutter is to gather it up, go through it, TRANSFER it and throw it away. Gather all those notes that you have laying around the house, stuck on the refrigerator, and don't forget those in your pocketbook! Sit down and review all your notes. Transfer the important information either into a spiral notebook or looseleaf binder which can be divided into CATEGORIES that meet your specific needs.
Audrey Cupo is a Professional Organizer with A BETTER SPACE. You may contact her at , 215-491-5193, or www.4abetterspace.com.
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