Ask the Experts

Eliminating Paper Clutter: What to Keep, What to Toss

Paper clutter has a sneaky way of piling up for adults with ADHD. When one spouse is fed up with all the mess, try this tactic to pare down piles.

Q: “My husband suggested that we eliminate some of the paper clutter that’s piled up in our house, but I’m not sure where to start. Other than recycling, do you have any tips for getting our flood of papers under control?”

Safely eliminating paper clutter starts with deciding what you need to keep. The ADHD brain does better with “yes/no” decisions than with the “what shall I do with it” kind. I suggest making a first pass through everything and ask, “Is this item trash?” If the answer is “yes,” put it in a trash pile. Then go through that pile and shred anything with personal information. The rest can be recycled.

Next, go through the remaining papers and ask, “Will I ever need this?” Put necessary papers aside to be filed (which is a separate challenge). Now look for papers that represent tasks (something you have to act on). Put the tasks on a to-do list, so you can get rid of the paper. At this point, you should be left with papers that you have trouble parting with for one reason or another. Try to get to the root of your reluctance and go from there.