Inside: Although we live in a digital world, the amount of paper we bring into our homes is astronomical. Learn the techniques of how to digitize and organize your paper clutter to keep your home clutter-free.
You may not be aware of this, but aside from your kid’s toys lying all over the house, and playdough that seemingly has become hard, crusty, and almost impossible to remove from your carpet, piles of paper are not only known to be a stressor but is one of the main culprits of a messy home.
There’s nothing worse than drowning in a sea of paper.
Take a moment and look around your house. Where do you see the piles of paper? Are they piled in your home office hiding behind a closed door? (If you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist, right?).
Do you have a mammoth collection of unopened junk mail laying in a hap-hazard fashion on your dining room table? Are your receipts from the grocery store rolled up like balls in the bottom of your purse, or worse yet: in your junk drawer.
We’re not even going to discuss you having a junk drawer, tsk..tsk…
Is there a reason you brought the mail in the house, only to let it pile up on the dining room table? Was it to redact your name, address, and any other personal information that may be on the envelope itself or in the contents of the envelope?
If you’re still getting paper bills, do you put them aside to file them later, once you denote the check number, the credit card used, or the date paid on the paperwork?
Do you have numerous appliance manuals you haven’t looked at in over 15 years, but they’re still tucked away in a drawer?
After entering your grocery receipt into your checkbook, do you set the receipt aside in the rare instance you’re going to need to take something back from the grocery store?
The odds you’re going to need to reproduce your local grocery store receipt is pretty much slim to none, but most homemakers tend to have a pile of crumpled up recipes tucked away in their handbags or piled under a sea of mail and other assorted paper clutter wherever you pile your paper.
In today’s times, most homemakers no longer use clunky metal file cabinets to store their receipts for paid bills, taxes, and paycheck stubs, as most items are now produced digitally.
Although we live in a digital world, why do we retain so much paper clutter? Have you ever asked yourself, why you signed up to get text alerts and emails from your local power company when you’re still getting a paper bill?
Sure, possibly you forgot to go into your account and switch it off, or maybe you tend to forget to flag or review your email or the text message gets lost in the sea of other messages. Regardless, of your reasons, if you continue to get paper bills or other documents in the mail, I have a solution for you to not only clear up those piles of paper that were mentioned above but a sure-fire way to keep all your documents readily accessible when and if you ever need to find them again.
Setting up a centralized and systematic approach to organizing paper clutter
Before you can tackle any organizing job you must always have a plan of action. Before I share how to organize your paper clutter, you’re going to have to set up a centralized method.
- Grab a few boxes (it’s time to make use of all those Amazon boxes you have laying around in your garage), a basket, or a big plastic tub, and locate all the paper clutter you have laying around your home. This includes all the paper that’s tucked in your purse, wallet, pants pockets, etc…
- Label one box, “to file”, and the other, “to shred”.
This is where the tough part comes into play. It’s at this point you’re going to have to decide if it’s a piece of paper you’re truly going to need.
This is not the time for you to go all mamby-pamby with the constant internal dialogue, “well, maybe I’ll need it”.
Peachy Tip: When it comes time to decide if the paper needs to stay or go, you’ll want to go with your first instinct. Your gut instinct is always 99.9% correct. If your gut tells you to toss it, and that annoying little clutter demon is perched on your shoulder telling you to keep it; do yourself a favor and bitch slap the clutter demon and send his sorry ass packing!
Once you’ve determined what paper you’ll be keeping and what you’ll be discarding, it’s time to put your plan into action.
For the time being, you’ll want to hold on to the paper clutter you’re planning on shredding because, once you start to digitize your papers, you’re going to have to get rid of it.
Digitize your paper clutter that’s marked, “to file”
This part may seem a little daunting, but I promise you, it will be worth it in the long run.
- Find a location to save your paperwork. There are many different options available; some are free and for others, you may have to pay a small monthly fee depending on the size of your documents.
- Do you want to keep your paperwork local or would you like to retrieve it from any device?
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If you want to keep all your important papers at a local level, you’ll want to make sure you have adequate space on your computer, or you invest in an external hard drive. If you go with the option of an external hard drive, the recommendation would be to get one that holds a minimum of 1TB.
If you don’t own a personal copier/printer/scanner, you can either go out and buy one relatively cheap, or you can use any scanner app that’s available either in the Google Play or App Store.
The easy, yet unethical way to scan your paper clutter
I wouldn’t recommend this option if you work for a company, because using company resources for your personal business more than likely violates your company’s code of conduct; however, if you own a printer/copier/scanner, this option will work amazingly well.
If you’re the type of person who doesn’t care about using company resources (no judgment here), and you have a direct link from the copier/scanner to your email address, you can always do the following using your company’s copier/scanner.
If you like to live life on the edge, this recommendation is a tad unethical. It’s effective, but it can get you fired if you get busted, or if your boss is a real hard-ass.
Disclaimer: Although, I wouldn’t recommend this option if you work for a company, because using company resources for your personal business more than likely violates your company’s code of conduct; however, if you own a printer/copier/scanner, this option will work amazingly well.
If you don’t like living on the edge, and you have a copier/printer/scanner, just scan your paper clutter into the printer/copier/scanner and have it automatically saved to a designated folder on your personal computer.
Scan your “to be filed” paper clutter, and store it on your external hard drive
The hard way to digitize your paper clutter is to take a picture of it and upload it to an app on your phone or transfer the image from your phone to the computer.
If your computer isn’t equipped with a lot of storage, you can upload your files to Google Drive, Airtable, Evernote, OneDrive, Trello, or any other cloud-based service.
If you’re leaning on the cautious side and don’t want your personal business stored in the cloud, then the next suggestion would be to purchase an external hard drive with around 1TB of storage and upload your files there.
Cloud-based applications that are perfect for storing paper clutter
If you’re a spreadsheet junkie who likes to see thumbnails of your images, Airtable is perfect for you. Airtable is a spreadsheet on crack. It’s free; however, it does have some limitations such as the number of files you can store in each base. In Airtable lingo, a base is just a fancy-schmancy name for a folder. You can make as many bases as you’d like, but each one is limited to 2,500 records.
Airtable also offers templates to use as a starting point, which may make it easier for you to get started.
Evernote is by far one of the most amazing tools out on the market today. Not only can you make a ton of notebooks to store all your important papers, but you scan documents by using Scannable (which is an Evernote product, and completely free). There is also a bevy of other great features, which we will discuss at a later time.
Scannable is pretty awesome because it will automatically file your new scanned image into your Evernote account.
Evernote is free to use and although they have a premium plan, you can do so much with the free version.
If you don’t mind Google poking into your business (I don’t know if they do that, but it’s their platform and they can do whatever they want with their products). Google Drive is a great place to store your digital papers. If you have a Gmail account you automatically get a Google Drive account. It’s free to use; however, if you exceed 15GB, you’ll have to upgrade. Mind you, the total GB includes all the emails and pictures you save in Gmail and Google Photos.
I do recommend you use Google Drive for things you want to save, but I wouldn’t put anything overly personal in there.
OneNote and Microsoft OneDrive
If you’re working in the Windows environment, Microsoft OneNote is an option you can use to store your documents. Although it’s not that user-friendly, another option would be to utilize Microsoft OneDrive to store your documents, photos, and everything else you’re getting ready to digitize.
Although Trello isn’t designed to store your paper clutter, it does work well at doing so. You can take pictures and have them uploaded instantly to Trello without having to take a picture on your phone and then upload it. It’s a real-time-saver.
There are many different options to shred paper.
- The easiest way to shred paper is to purchase a paper shredder. You can find them at your local big box stores, or from online retailers, like Amazon.
- Check your local municipalities for free shredding days.
- Drop it in a shredder bin at work. Once again, that’s using company resources for your personal business. I’d recommend you ask your boss if you can do that before doing so.
- Take it to the UPS store. For a reasonable fee of $1 for each pound of paper, a minimum of 3lbs, you can discard your paper clutter in a shredder bin at your local UPS store. Heck, what services don’t they offer? I would recommend you check the UPS store website for more information to see if your local store participates in the shredding program and its pricing, as it may vary from area to area.
Once you’ve gotten your paper clutter under control, it’s time for you to start your systematic filing system.
How to set up a systematic filing system to reduce your paper clutter
It’s never too late to start a systematic filing system, and to be honest, the best time to do this is when you’re in the midst of cleaning up your paper clutter. The best way to systematize your clutter is to stay on top of all the paper you come in contact with daily.
- Place all junk mail, typically anything that starts with, occupant, resident, our neighbor, etc..immediately into the trash can or recycle bucket. Don’t even bring it in the house.
- Shred junk mail that has your personal information on it. You don’t have to shred the entire article of mail, just remove anything that contains personal information.
- Place all paper bills you receive in the mail in a specific folder, bill paying book, or specific location to find them as needed. Once you pay the bill, scan the bill, then shred it.
- Throw out all grocery receipts and all other receipts you don’t need to save for tax purposes.
- Scan all receipts you need for tax purposes, then file the hard copy away in a designated spot for easy retrieval when tax time rolls around.
It’s always best to scan receipts you’ll need to reference during tax time, in the rare case you forgot where you put the originals – or if you forgot to file them away.
Regardless if you digitize your paper files, it’s important to keep the hard copies of the following documents stored in a secure location. Typically the best place would be in an air-tight, dark-colored plastic container. The best place to store these items would be in a closet, attic, or garage.
- Auto records – save for as long as you have that vehicle
- Insurance policies – save for as long as that policy is active
- Warranties – save for as long as you have that item
- Contracts – save for as long as you’re doing business with that entity
- Birth certificates – save them indefinitely
- Marriage certificates – save them indefinitely
- Death certificates – save them indefinitely
- Divorce certificates – save them indefinitely
- Social Security cards – save them indefinitely
- Passports – save them indefinitely
- House-related records – save for as long as you’re living in your home
- Homeowners Association Bylaws – save for as long as you’re living in your home
- Paycheck stubs – if you still get paper checks save them for a minimum of 1 year
- Credit card statements – save these for a minimum of 7 years
- Bank statements – save these for a minimum of 7 years
- Tax returns – save these for a minimum of 7 years
- Paid collection notices – save them indefinitely
No one said cleaning paper clutter would be easy. For some, picking everything up and throwing it away is an option. If you’re not planning on going that route, take an hour or so a day, and sort through your paper clutter a little at a time.
Doing it all in one day will not only overwhelm you, but you will give up. Take it slow, doing a little at a time.
Just remember, all that paper clutter didn’t all show up in one day. Decluttering is not a race. It’s a slow journey to finding your inner peace, an uncluttered environment, and a happy soul.
How do you tackle paper clutter?
Everyone handles paper clutter differently. Some prefer to store it digitally while others like the old-school way of keeping things filed. Which team are you, digital or paper? Share in a comment.