The number one cause of clutter is paper. It’s understandable; every day paper arrives at your home in the form of mail, notes from school, kid’s artwork, etc. If you don’t have a system in place for dealing with these items immediately, they will quickly pile up and in a very short time, become overwhelming.
If you have endless piles of paper, try tackling one pile at a time. Oftentimes you have to read through, even briefly, the piece of paper before you can decide what to do with it. Commit to one hour at a time so that the task feels more manageable.
Simply follow this 10 step guide to clear your home of all that clutter!
Helpful Tools: Label maker or labeling system; shredder; file folders and filing cabinet; archival sleeves; digital scanner
1. Analyze – If you have been following my organizing guides this month, you know by now that my first step is always “analyze.” It’s impossible to create and implement an organizing system without clear goals in mind of what you wish to achieve.
Are bills piling up? Are you children wonderful artists, but you’re running out of places to store their drawings? Is your filing cabinet so full that you can’t even close the drawers? Think about what it is you wish to achieve and make note of these goals.
2. Categorize – When organizing documents, there are typically 4 categories:
Archival, Permanent – Documents that are permanently archived are items that you must keep forever, but most likely will not need to access regularly, such as your birth certificate, deed to your house, or a death certificate of a family member. These items should be stored properly, in archival sleeves in a fireproof lock box.
Archival, Temporary – These are items that must be kept for a certain period of time, and once that period has passed, they can be trashed or shredded. This is going to consist of mainly your tax documents. Always consult your account or attorney for the length of time temporary archival documents should be kept.
Actionable – Actionable papers are those items which must be dealt with immediately. This includes bills, party invitations, and permission slips. If you have a large amount of paper to sort through, actionable items should be the first thing you tackle. Actionable items can also include magazines that have articles you want to read but haven’t gotten to yet. Basically any material that will require an action within the next month goes into this category.
Trash – Trash is an easy one. Any item that doesn’t fit into the above categories is trash and should be removed from the home ASAP. Things like junk mail, temporary archival items that you no longer need to hold onto, used envelopes, and old newspapers or magazines.
3. Empty – Now that you know your categories, empty that overflowing file cabinet or inbox or whatever area it is you are currently using as your paper catchall. It’s important to empty it completely so that when it’s time to re-file everything, you aren’t mixing organized papers in with clutter.
4. Sort – As you empty, sort each item into a new pile under one of the above categories. If you sort as you empty, the organizing process will go much faster.
Try not to completely read every item. Just skim through until you know what it is. For example, when you come across your child’s birth certificate, it might be tempting to read the entire thing, reminiscing on such a special day. However, imagine if you did this with every piece of paper you come across? It would take you all year to get organized! Move quickly through the items to get them sorted efficiently.
5. Decide – This might seem like an easy step, but it’s the one that most people struggle with. Your home has a limited amount of space for storing important documents. So when you must make decisions on things like your child’s artwork, it can be hard to let go. Especially if you know you just don’t have the room to keep everything.
Luckily there is a wonderful website that lets you save the artwork in one easy place: plumprint.com. Plum Print creates books from your child’s artwork, allowing you to keep it all in the bookcase, instead of packed away in a box.
For other items such as tax documents, consult your accountant or attorney.
6. Store – Once you have (finally!) finished sorting through all of your papers, decide which system of storage you want to use.
Many people are switching to digital storage as an easy way to keep needed documents without taking up any space in your home. Keep in mind that for some items, such as birth certificates, you must hold on to the original documents. For these items, invest in acid-free archival sleeves and a fireproof, waterproof lock box.
7. Organize – After you have selected the right storage solution for you, begin to organize your documents. If using a file cabinet, keep actionable items in the top drawer, where they are easy to access. Temporary archival items can go in the bottom drawer, along with other items like your lock box and label maker.
8. Label – Be sure to clearly label all of your folders (physical or digital). Use a consistent system so that you will be able to quickly locate what you need. For example: tax documents for 2014 would go into folder: “Temporary – Taxes – 2014.” This system of labeling is “category – type – year.” Create a system that works for you and that you will stick with.
9. Shred – This is probably the most satisfying step of all the organizing processes. You get to destroy that clutter called the “trash” pile!
What goes into the trash pile? ANYTHING with your name on it, even junk mail, which you are 100% sure you do not need. In this day and age of cyber-crimes and stolen identity, it is very important that you shred items instead of just throwing them into the trash.
I strongly recommend investing in a shredder of your own. You will never have to deal with the clutter of a discard pile if those items are getting shredded on a daily basis.
If you don’t already own a shredder, and don’t want to invest in one for the home, keep in mind that most communities have a shredding day. Check with your town to see when this is. In some areas shred day happens once a month, but for others it may only be once a year.
10. Analyze… Again – Once you have organized all of your paper, create a daily system for tackling any new paper that comes into the home.
The idea with preventing clutter is to only handle it once (the OHIO rule). When you bring in the mail, sort it immediately into actionable, archival, or trash. This way the clutter won’t have a chance to build up again.
After one month, analyze the system. Are you sorting items into the actionable pile but never getting to it? Is your “to shred” trash pile starting to build up? Make adjustments to the system as needed so that it works for you and your family.
The most important thing to remember is that your home will only stay organized if you are using a system that work for YOU. Don’t follow the latest craze just because it is claiming to be “THE” solution to getting organized. If a system isn’t working for you, change it until it does!