Decluttering is my goal for 2015 and since the begging of the year I have reserved Thursday posts for the update on my efforts. Well, I haven't given up, don't worry. Last weekend I was mostly dealing with...you guessed!...paperwork.
And so today I decided to make an exception to the usual posts to talk about strategies to deal with paper & paperwork. Paperwork does not have to be a monster in your closet and you don't need to feel you are drowning in it before you take action.
Here are 5 tips to help you reduce the amount of paper and paperwork in your house, decide what you really need to save and file it in a way that keeps documents ordered but accessible when you need them. They are part of a system I have been gradually implementing since January and that has been a huge help in decluttering.
This should be your first goal. The less you take home, the less you'll have to deal with later. Obviously there is paperwork that you must save, but...for example, have you ever opened your mailbox and found it full of advertising leaflets and spam mail? That's clutter you don't need to take home. Just find the nearest trash can or recycling bin and throw it away immediately.
Cancel subscriptions from magazines no one really reads at your house, or switch to digital subscriptions (more on that below) and you'll be reducing paper clutter AND saving money at the same time.
Piles are the worst kind of clutter there is, because after a while you can't remember what is at the bottom or why you started the pile in the first place. Storing paperwork in shelves or drawers without a filing system may keep the papers out of sight but is the same as keeping piles on top of furniture. Not to mention those bills that you needed to pay and that are forever lost in the mess...
So make sure you reserve time to deal with paperwork on a regular basis. If you have a lot of it accumulated, it will take you longer in the beginning, but once you've managed to tame the worst of it, half and hour a week should be enough to keep up with paperwork. Since I work full time during the week, I usually do this on Saturday mornings, though I've been trying make an effort to file away most of the need-to-save-at-least-for now papers as they come home, to avoid having a large pile to deal with during the weekend.
This is one of the most important aspects of keeping up with paperwork and is, in itself, worthy of a separate post, but it also something I believe is very personal, so what works for me may not work for you at all. In my case, I keep a series of separate files:
- house documents (mortgages, insurance, taxes...)
- house invoices & payments (utilities, cable TV, condominium costs,...)
- work & health
My husband has his own file and the kids also have a separate file for each (where I keep everything related to them, including school reports and medical exams).
Every country is different, but usually there is a minimum period of time during which you need to keep certain documents (taxes, for example). After that period, any claims are invalid and therefore you no longer need to save all that paper.
Check the legal requirements in place where you live and get rid of everything that is past the minimum legal term. Or, if you're really picky about this, at least scan the documents and save them in your computer.
There are several parts to this tip.
First, you can stop buying newspapers, magazines and even books if you can read them online. It takes a while to get used to (at least in my case it did), but in the end it pays off. I have been doing this with books and I couldn't be happier. I read a lot and my bookshelves were so crammed I couldn't even find the book I was looking for most of the times. Since the beginning of 2015 I'm fully digital, meaning that I have not bought a single physical book and I'm slowly replacing my physical library with a digital one (and getting rid of the old books). With cloud storage you don't even need to worry about backups and your content is always accessible wherever you go. And it's much cheaper too.
Then you can scan all documents, invoices and other stuff you don't really need to keep in paper format. Save them to your computer, back them up if you want, but get rid of the paper. Even better, check if your service providers have electronic invoicing available and sign up for it, so you can bypass paper altogether.
And finally, if you are a crafter (or have any other kind of hobby, really), I'm betting you have lots of crafts magazines and patterns around. That's me. Guilty as charged.
But really, how many magazines have you saved because they have that one idea that you want to make some day? How many patterns have you got that were never used and probably are never going to be? I have lots of patterns for baby clothes that, now that my kids are seven and four, are just not needed any more. Scan that one particular page or pattern and save it in digital format. You can even pin it on a Pinterest board and it will always there when you need it. And if you ever want to use it, you can always print it back. But until then, there will be a lot less paper in your house.
Was this useful to you? Do you have any other tips? I'm waging war on clutter this year, so any suggestions are welcome. Here is to an (almost) paperless 2015!