Paper clutter… Even in our digital society, it’s one of the toughest clutter foes to conquer, as rustling reinforcements are delivered to our homes daily: school permission slips, junk mail, magazines, bills, receipts, and more. I can hear the crunchy march of paper clutter as I type!
But fear not, dear readers. You can conquer paper clutter in your home. I’ve taught hundreds of students and private clients exactly how to tackle this rather large and crinkly subject, and today I’m sharing my secrets with you!
First things first, gather all the random, loose paper together.
I know this is scary, but we must assemble the enemy. Leave no kitchen counter unexplored! Summon every stray receipt, old catalog, and bill. The result will be a massive, towering, Mt. Fuji-like stack of paper. Don’t quiver at the size of your foe. (Clutter can smell fear.) Now that you know what you are up against, it is time to attack! (Put down the torch, though. As tempting as it may be to simply set fire to the whole thing, it’s much more productive to sort through it.)
To process your paper, use my 4-step RAFT method.
RAFT stands for Read, Action, File, Trash.
Hoo-boy, I know you’re excited, so let’s go through each one of these!
Readables are any type of paper that you just need to READ. This could be magazines, catalogues, or newsletters. They’re not urgent or actionable. Put all your readables into one separate area (I recommend a basket by a comfy couch or chair where you might want to read them) and leave it at that. Enjoy your reading! And make sure you regularly purge the old as new comes in to keep this basket tidy.
Actionable paper is anything that you need to DO something about. Think permission slips to sign, checks to deposit, invitations to which you must RSVP. I follow productivity guru David Allen’s Two-Minute Rule when it comes to actionable paper. Basically, the rule states that if the action required would take less than two minutes to complete, just do it!
What about all that other actionable paper that will take longer than two minutes? Delegate any of it that you can and whatever is left gets moved into an action basket (literally, just a basket with papers require your action). Then you work from your action basket to get your stuff done!
Tell the kids to earmuff it because yes, I said the F-word. Filing. This word alone is enough to strike fear into most of our hearts! But fret not, I have three simple questions for you to ask yourself before you commit to filing any piece of paper. I developed these questions because I found that most of my clients and students try to file waaaaay too much, creating unnecessary stress and maintenance for themselves. My goal is for you to file as little as humanly possible.
I call these questions “The 3 R’s” and they will save you from over-filing forever and ever, amen.
Rose’s 3 R’s of Filing:
- Are you Relevant?
- Are you Recent?
- Can I Replicate this information elsewhere?
We only want to file things that are actually RELEVANT to our lives. For example, if it’s car insurance info, it darn well better be for our current car with our current insurance company! We also want to make sure we are filing the most RECENT information we have. Is that insurance statement from two years ago and you have one from the past 6 months? Keep the newest version and ditch the old. Also, we are in a digital world, folks, so if you can REPLICATE that insurance info elsewhere, by say getting online and logging into your account (and you’re comfortable with that), you don’t need to keep that paper at all, my friend.
Hurrah, I saved the best for last! Trash is paper you simply don’t need. (Note: I consider shredding and recycling under the category of Trash.) This is the paper that you can toss out of your life (or shred carefully and dispose of properly) and raise your arms in paper pile free triumph!
Now that you have your RAFT skills, use them to process that big pile of random paper into four smaller ones. Start with whatever piece of paper is on top and work your way down. If your pile is very large, labeling boxes with the RAFT categories will help. (Also, I’ve found, drinking a favorite beverage while blasting some of your favorite tunes makes sorting paper more enjoyable!)
Take a break if you need a break. (Just make sure you come back.) Stretch it out over a few days if you need to. (Just make sure you come back.) The point is: you’ve got RAFT skills now and you can do this!
How to Maintain
Sure, you may be able to RAFT that initial pile, but what if the enemy tries to regroup? Imagine it’s post WW2. You are the Allied Forces and your paper is the Axis Powers. Don’t let them reassemble forces and they can’t try to take over the world again.
How do you do this, exactly? Ingrain “Read, Action, File, Trash” in your head and sort that paper immediately as it comes through your door. My friend Barbara Hemphill says that “Clutter is postponed decisions.” This is certainly true! If you decide where that paper goes as soon as it enters your home, you will never have paper piles in your house again. Freedom!
Now, you’ve got the skills… you know you’ve got the paper piles… put the two together and create paper pile freedom in your life!
Cheers to less paper clutter and more you!
PS: If you’re a busy working mom who wants to simplify your work-mom life, but aren’t sure where to start… join me for my FREE *live* masterclass: How to Organize Your Family’s Home Without Exhausting Yourself or Resorting to Threats. Click here to save your spot!