For many of us, spring is the time when a certain activity comes to mind – the annual clearing out of clutter that collects in our homes and offices. While it’s easy to focus on getting rid of “stuff” clutter – actual physical things – it’s important to look for ways to clear out the other types of clutter in our lives that can also get in our way. One of the big ones that I help clients get rid of is paper – we all have it, we all need to deal with it, and wouldn’t it be nice if we had less of it? Here’s how:
Get rid of what you don’t need. In my experience, people I work with usually have been keeping far, far more documents than they need, or could ever find useful. Paper can take up a lot of space, can get messy really quickly, and can feel overwhelming when it’s stacked and piled all around you. A great way to start reducing your existing paper is by setting some retention guidelines for what you want to keep and for how long. Do you really need your junior-high reports? Probably not. Last year’s medical records? Quite possibly. The government’s information site has some helpful retention guidelines (online at http://www.pueblo.gsa.gov/cic_text/money/keeprecords/keeprecords.htm). You can customize these guidelines for what fits your life and your retention needs.
Go electronic. So much paper comes into our lives that may be available in electronic form. For instance, a little-used feature on most computers is the ability to send and receive faxes on-screen, without even printing out a document (check your computer’s instructions for how to do this). If there are documents you want the information from but don’t need the paper version of, try scanning them using a tool like the Neat family of scanners (www.neatco.com).
Do you really need those bills? I’m thinking bills from cable or satellite TV, your cell phone, garbage bill, and the like. Most vendors are happy to help you go paperless – just visit the website for each vendor and sign up for paperless billing. When your bill comes due, you’ll receive an email instead of a paper notice. You’ll be able to pay online if you so choose, saving you stamps and checks. Less paper all around!
Stop the influx. If you’re receiving a lot of junk mail, use a service like Tonic Mailstopper (http://mailstopper.tonic.com) to do the work of getting you off junk mail lists. If you get catalogs, judiciously choose which ones to receive, and which ones will get the boot. Call the numbers on each catalog that you no longer want, and ask to be taken off their list and the lists of their partners.
Once you’re done discarding your paper, make sure to dispose of it securely and responsibly, by shredding and/or recycling as appropriate.
What are your strategies for getting rid of your paper clutter?