Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: Should I Just Purge All of This Paper?

Feeling the urge to burn it all down (your clutter, that is) and start fresh? But there has to be a better way to organize and deal with paper. Follow these rules.

Q: “Is it OK to throw out several boxes of papers that I have been meaning to sort through but have never actually touched for a year?” — Harmonia

Hi Harmonia:

I have to applaud you for wanting to tackle your paper piles and get organized. It’s never easy! That being said, my answer is… maybe. And here’s why.

I’m not sure what’s in those piles, so to advise you to throw them all away would be reckless. Instead, I will offer you a few tips to organize paper clutter now, and to stay on top of it throughout the year.

The first step to any organizing project is to take inventory. So gather those boxes and SORT! Natural categories will appear as you go through the process, making it easier to make decisions. Make sure to have a recycling bin and a shredder close at hand.

[Eliminating Paper Clutter: What to Keep, What to Toss]

And a few tips to remember:

When in doubt, throw it out. I’m a little cold hearted when it comes to this. But before ANY paper gets in to my house, it is sorted over the recycling bin or the shredder. Most paper isn’t personal, so don’t treat it as such. Make hard cuts and get rid of what you don’t need before it takes up space in your home.

Go paperless as much as you can. Pay your bills online, scan receipts, and sign up for a mobile application program that will store all your medical records. Create folders on your computer the same way you would your file cabinet. Any way you can think to reduce the paper coming in will reduce stress and overwhelm.

One in, one out. This rule applies to EVERYTHING we own (yes, even paper). Once we designate homes for all our stuff, maintaining our organizing systems naturally follow.

[Q: How Can I Stop Life from Piling Up Around Me?]

Once you pare down those piles, find ONE place in your home to access your active papers. Having a hard time making that decision? Think of it this way: Silverware lives in the kitchen, clothing in your bedroom. So where is the most natural and easiest accessible place for you to have your papers?

Now, the key to STAYING on top of paper clutter is to create easy and efficient systems that work for YOU. How do you know what works? Get started by asking yourself the following questions.

  • Am I a filer or piler?
  • Do I need to see things to remember they exist?
  • Do I like things color-coded?
  • Where do I have ample space to store files and papers?
  • Do others need access to these papers?

By asking these questions, paper systems will naturally form. For example, if you tend to pile instead of file, choose open baskets or inboxes as part of your system instead of folders hidden inside a file cabinet. The best method to organize paper clutter is one that you can comfortably set up, maintain and access.

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The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.