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5 ways to get your paper clutter under control

Whether your home has heaps of mail or an overload in the office, our top tips will finally tidy that paper mess.

Updated

It's the bane of the hallway, the home office and even the dining table. Our ultimate guide to paper organisation will clear that pile once and for all.

1. Deal with the post

Number one on your paper clutter management list is to have a system in place so that the mail doesn’t pile up in the hallway or on the kitchen counter. There are two ways to go about this: firstly, deal with it immediately. This requires organisation – at its very basic simple ‘in’ and ‘out’ trays will do (but see below for alternatives). The second option is to put post in a holding pen to be sorted later. Then once a week (make it the same day for consistency), sort through it, taking action as required. To find out more about reducing paper usage, see our guide here on how to be eco-friendly at home.

2. Create some mail sorters

It will really help your paper organisation if you have a place to put the post. There are loads of ideas online for how to make mail bins constructed from fabric or cardboard. Make sure you have a number of pockets, each one for a different step, such as ‘to be filed’, ‘to be paid’, and ‘action required’. One of the easiest methods is to use bulldog clips that are labelled with each category – then simply clip the mail to the relevant one and hang from a hook.

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3. Purge your existing paper clutter

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Next, declutter the paperwork you already have. Collect all those piles laying around the house and stuffed in drawers. Then go through each bit of paper and decide whether you are going to keep it or bin/recycle it. If keeping it you can either put it in your filing system or scan it if you're going paperless. You don’t even need an actual scanner – there are phone apps that will do that, and some can even ‘read’ the document so you can search within the text to find a specific phrase or item (more below on going paperless). You’ll want to shred anything with personal information on it. Be ruthless!

4. Create a filing system

When figuring how to declutter paper piles, a good filing method is crucial. Most household paperwork is for reference – there isn’t much you need day-to-day. Paid bills, warranties, bank/mortgage/insurance information and statements can all be filed away until needed. You don’t need an actual filing cabinet – a portable box file that uses hanging folders works just as well, or you might prefer to use lever arch files. In either case, the secret is to label everything clearly so you know what goes where at a glance. Documents that you may never need again but still have to keep (like tax returns) can be packed away in a box and stored out of the way (under the stairs or the bed). Again, label the box so you know what is in it.

5. Go paperless

One way to deal with paper clutter is to not have any. You can make a start by signing up for online banking and opt to receive your bills via email. Cut down on junk mail by signing up to Royal Mail’s opt-out programme, and register with the Mailing Preference Service (mpsonline.org.uk) and Direct Marketing Association (dma.org.uk) to forgo junk mail entirely. If you run a small business and need to keep expense records, scan your receipts (or even taking a photo of them works) and keep your invoices as digital files. Make notes on your phone rather than on a pad (bonus – you’ll always have them with you), and why bother printing out recipes when you can store them online? There are two important caveats here – you must save, file and label your documents accurately so you can find them when you need them. And make sure you have everything backed up, ideally on a hard drive as well as off-site (use a cloud service such as Dropbox or OneDrive). Going paperless may seem weird at first, but in time you’ll wonder why you ever had paper cluttering up the house to begin with. Now that you’ve conquered the paper pile, maybe it’s time to declutter the rest of your home.

Originally published