By contributing writer, Molly Madonna Kehrer
Junk mail. Bills. Reminders. Political mail. Coupons. Magazines. Credit card applications. Hand-written letters. Birthday cards.
No doubt this list could pile up just as easily as the mail does week to week. Of all of the above, the personal cards and notes get opened quickly at our house, and the rest is put aside for “later” in the day.
Sometimes I get to the mail pile, and sometimes, I don’t.
On busy weeks, it stacks up until the weekend, when I finally sort and prioritize and recycle.
And even when I do get to it all in a reasonable time frame, other paper comes into the house in miniature armies, always adding new things to file and more stacks to sort.
So how do we stay on top of the paper stream that never stops flowing?
Sure, we can switch to electronic billing and opt out of paper statements for banking and such.
But we can’t halt school communications, preschool art creations, church bulletins, work documents, receipts, or the like from making their way through the door.
In the case of a few of the above, we wouldn’t want to go without them, anyway. But then, how do we organize all of the paper in our households without going a little crazy trying to keep every last piece in good order? Reducing paper clutter takes a bit of effort, but can be done!
There are so many options—creative, practical, easy—nowadays, that we can really personalize our paper systems to the needs of our households.
Or, with a little more effort on the front end, we can nearly eliminate any paper floating around the house altogether.
Disclaimer: there are too many piles and/or files of paper in my home to date. But as we launch into 2016, I think it’s the perfect time to get this area of my life in order, and if you’re feeling a little bogged down by your own paper trail, you can join me in the exercise of eliminating the extra paper “weight.”
Where should we begin?
I’m going to tackle three time-saving, space-creating, sanity-preserving ideas here that I think you’ll agree are simple solutions to an otherwise daunting task.
1) To begin, let’s get a little sentimental.
Hi. My Name is Molly, and I Save Greeting Cards
Maybe you’re not like me, and you don’t have any trouble tossing a greeting card after you receive it. Especially with kids in the house, this habit can add up to one huge box of “probably never going to read this again, but I feel like I should keep it as a memory anyway” notes.
I might be an anomaly in that I do read cards over again after a while, but the fact of the matter is, I don’t need an original copy of every single one taking up storage space in the house.
What I do need is for my heart’s desire to meet my storage capacity, and the best way I can do this is by scanning or photographing cards I want to remember, and then using a program like Evernote to store and save said documents electronically.
A portable scanner paired with WiFi capabilities makes this task super simple: pass anything you want to save through this tiny machine and send it over the airwaves straight to your computer for easy filing.
Here’s one on amazon that gets excellent reviews.
Otherwise, the scanner feature on your printer will do the trick, too—it just might take a while longer than passing paper through an easy-feed portable device, which takes both small and larger docs a bit faster, with less effort.
Once you’ve scanned the documents you want to save, out of the house they go! Just be sure to discard of personal documents safely before they make it to your outdoor trash. Making friends with the paper shredder next will do the trick nicely.
2) Shred It and Forget It
A reasonably reliable cross-cut paper shredder will run you between $30 and $90 online nowadays. So for $50-$60, you can land a decent machine that will save you hours and literally tear your paper piles to shreds. Be sure to purchase one that will cut through old debit and credit cards, too, which can be a painstaking task with a pair of scissors. (Here’s a good one.)
Anything you’ve already scanned that doesn’t require a physical copy for legal reasons can now head over to the shredder.
Do save birth and marriage certificates, house deeds and mortgage documents, wills and living wills, IDs and passports, current insurance policies, Social Security cards, pension plan documents, vehicle titles and loan docs, and anything else related to state and federal matters.
Also keep the most recent copies of your retirement plan statements, and hang onto medical records and bank statements for at least one year.
I like to keep one file solely for receipts and warranty information, too, but you can clean out any pertaining to items you no longer possess.
I forget how much paper I could eliminate when I neglect to go through and clear it out this file (at least once a year)!
Of course, you’ll want to keep tax information for seven years, but that’s easily stored together in one individual file pertaining to each tax filing season. Once you get rid of the rest, you’ll be feeling light as a feather!
There’s nothing quite like sending bags of shredded paper to the recycling bin—it’s one of the most gratifying ways we can organize in our homes, and arguably one of the most important, too.
3) Photo Books for Kid Art
Now that we’ve tackled the mail pile and our file stash, let’s get to the papers we absolutely don’t want to forget…page after page of drawings, paintings and creativity made by little hands and blossoming artists.
There are a number of brightly colored files and boxes we can buy these days to store school artwork and home craft projects, but these, too, take up a good amount of room after a while.
Picture in your mind one file for each child for every school year, and the piles stack up quickly. These are also less accessible to our kiddos, when we’re not likely to store large folders or fan files of art projects on living room book shelves or coffee tables.
Instead, I love the option of creating photo books of artwork that can be rotated, easily stored, and easily enjoyed by everyone for years to come. Snap photos of treasured artwork and create large or small photo books on any number of the sites now available online.
Create a book when companies offer a free trial, or consider a subscription service that makes tiny books out of Instagram-type photos each time you have 30, 60, 100 images together. These also make great grandparent gifts for occasions year round.
Once you’ve received your book in the mail, original artwork can be recycled without a second thought—you’ve captured memories and milestones that will be more easily remembered as they get plucked off the shelf to be enjoyed time and again.
Paperless Equals Progress
As someone who appreciates paper in so many forms (cute notepads, personalized letterhead, darling thank you notes and perfectly inspired greeting cards are just the tip of the iceberg), I still have to say that my life and head are much better off without the paper of daily life piling up around me.
Our home feels better when it’s all in order, and my head does, too.
My paper organizing skills are less than perfect, but I’m working toward a mostly-paperless plan for our mail, file cabinets and kiddo creations because—as with so many areas of our lives—I think there’s benefit to paring it all down.