I hear it over and over again from just about everyone I talk to about getting organized. “Help me get rid of my paper clutter. Help me organize the papers I have so I can find them when I need them.” What I have found is that people think this is much harder to do than it actually is. Often they have such difficulty overcoming their inertia that they never even attempt to organize their papers. And once they add in the virtual clutter on their computers just the thought of organizing makes them reach for the aspirin.
Well, help has arrived. It really doesn’t have to be difficult and it all starts with two very important rules:
- Minimize the paper clutter you get
- Minimize the paper clutter you keep
The tips laid out below are divided into how to deal with real and virtual clutter. But they all begin with the notion that the fewer papers you accrue in the first place, and the fewer you hold on to, the easier it will be to organize what remains.
So, not to sound like I am lecturing, but, again, it all starts with collecting less paper clutter in the first place and then keeping less of what you've collected.
Five Ways to Tame Paper Clutter
- Trash it. Have a trash can in the room you open your mail in and in your home office. As paper comes in, consider whether you really need to keep it. Err on the side of tossing or shredding it, and move on. Keeping a trash can at arm's-length is key to making this happen.
- Active vs Inactive. Make two piles or folders: one for active items (bills, invitations), the other for inactive items (paid bills, receipts), as an initial way to sort papers. Papers you'll need to refer back to soon qualify as active. Papers you will or might need to refer to sometime in the future qualify as inactive.
- 10 Files. You need to develop a simple system to contain your active files. I recommend ONLY 10 files:
- Family Information
This may seem radical to many of you, but give it a try and see if it works.
4. Monthly Trash-it Time. Once a month (put it on the calendar), for 30 minutes, go through all of your files and piles and trash and shred what you do not need. Rule of thumb: If you haven’t needed it for three months, you probably never will.
5. YUNK. Create a YUNK box. "YUNK" stands for YoU Never Know and is a place to keep “you never know items” that you may need to save “just in case.” The YUNK box will help prevent you from throwing out something you might need.
Five Ways to Manage Digital Clutter
Trash it. Whether it's email or files, if you do not need to keep it on your computer delete it.
- Sync it. Get a system that can sync your critical items (calendar, contacts and email) so that they are up to date on your laptop, iPad or cell phone.
- File it. Set up a simple filing system in your email program and one for your files and stick to them. Much like paper filing systems, I think you should limit each of these systems to no more than 10 folders. Also, name your files in a way that makes them easy to find or search for.
- YUNK. You Never Know Files should be present for your email and regular files. Same principle applies here -- and don’t forget to periodically delete what you no longer need.
- Monthly Sort. Once a month (calendar it), sort through the most offending items -- for many this is the mail in your in-box. Delete, file and organize to keep things in control.
So you see, once you get into the habit of keeping only what you need, setting up a simple system to manage what you keep, and then regularly sorting it, you'll be able to keep your paper and virtual clutter in control with minimal effort. It does not have to be hard or painful! I promise. I would love to hear any other tips or tricks you have to add to the list above.