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How to Organize Paperwork, Part 2

Domestic CEO reveals 6 tips for tackling and getting rid of paper and mail clutter forever!

By
Amanda Thomas
July 19, 2012
Episode #020

How to Organize Paperwork, Part 2

by Amanda Thomas

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“Do you have any tips for dealing with all the paper clutter that comes in the mail?”

This question was asked by Domestic CEO fan Michelle and is one I get a lot from my clients at Moxie Girl Household Assistants. I’ve worked with many families where mail becomes a source of stress. Piles and piles of mail line table tops, counters, and nearly any horizontal space in the house, and important things get lost in the clutter.

Last week in Part 1 of this series, I gave you the 4 steps to cleaning up any piles of mail and paperwork you currently have laying around your home. Now that you have the piles cleaned up and organized, this week’s Part 2 will focus on the daily and weekly habits you can institute to keep the piles from accumulating ever again. There is a concept that professional organizers live by: Touch it once. This concept is valuable for all areas of your home and life, but it is especially important for mail. When you touch the same piece of paper over and over again, you aren’t really doing anything with it. You are just moving it over and over again, which doesn’t accomplish anything except making a pile look different and waste your time.

By using these 6 tips, you’re going to keep those piles away for good:

Tip #1 – Decide WHY

Anytime you’re making a big change (and deciding to get rid of paper clutter is a big goal for most of us), you want to first identify your why. Are you just sick of the clutter? Are you wasting money by having to pay late fees on your bills? Have you had your utilities shut off because you lost the bills? Are small pets getting lost inside the piles?  Whatever your reason for wanting to deal with your paper clutter, own it. The pain you feel right now because of your clutter is what will keep you from going back to your old habits. Take a picture of how ugly your counters are with piles of paper all over them. Write out how much money you’ve lost last month because of late fees. Identify your pain points. Whenever that little thought of, “I’ll just deal with it later,” creeps into your head in the future (and it will), look at your why pictures and lists. These will provide the motivation to help you achieve your goals of total, permanent paper organization!

Tip #2 – Decide WHO

In one of my first Domestic CEO episodes, I gave tips for helping divide household chores. Dealing with the mail is one of the chores that should go on that list. Ideally, the same person will be responsible for picking the mail up from the mailbox, bringing it into the house, sorting it, paying any bills, and filing anything that needs to be filed away. This way, each piece of mail is only touched once. What happens in most homes is one person brings in mail and puts it in a pile until someone else decides to sort it. Then it sits in another pile until someone pays the bills. Then it sits in yet another pile until someone finally decides to file it (or not). You see the pattern here? Each piece of paper is getting touched at least 3 or 4 times, and there are at least 3 opportunities for clutter to accumulate in this scenario. If one person commits to bringing it in, opening it, sorting and paying bills, and filing, each piece is only touched once and it’s done.

Tip #3 – Decide WHEN

Taking care of the mail can be a big time suck. It’s easy to get distracted by the catalogs and coupons because they’re usually a lot more visually stimulating than your gas bill. To cut down on the risk of getting “lost” in the mail, only get it from the mailbox once a week. If you receive large envelopes or lots of catalogs on a regular basis, you may need to up that to twice a week, but only do this if your mailbox is getting too full with once a week pick-ups.

Getting your mail only once a week may seem scary if you are accustomed to grabbing it every day, but don’t worry about it. Bills typically have a Net15 or Net30 due date, which means from the time they are sent to you, to the day they are due, you have a minimum of 15 days to get the payment in. Taking care of your mail once a week is plenty of time to get the payment submitted.

Taking care of the mail responsibilities can eat upwards of 15 minutes each day. Multiply that by 6 days a week, and you could easily be spending an hour and a half just dealing with your mail. Instead, if you take care of it once a week, it will likely take you 30 minutes or less. Just by setting a new routine, you will have gained an extra hour in your week to do something more fun—like painting your house!

Tip #4 – Decide WHERE

Once you decide who is going to take care of the mail and when they are going to do it, it’s time to figure out where. Ideally you will want to open your mail in the same room where you can also pay the bills and file the paperwork. For most people, this would be the office, but others prefer to keep their mail station near the front door of the home. Set it up wherever it works for you. At your mail station, keep your checkbook, stamps, and envelopes so you can immediately pay and send the bills—or a computer where you can manage your online bill pay. Also, keep a trash or recycling bin nearby to immediately toss junk mail. The final necessity for the mail station is a shredder to destroy any paperwork that has account numbers or personal information on them. By keeping all these items together, you’ll be able to handle any type of mail that comes in.

Tip #5 – Decide HOW

Now that you know the who, when, and where, it just comes down to completing the task each week. When you get the mail, start by opening each envelope one at a time. Before you open another, deal with the contents of that envelope entirely. If it’s a bill, write the check, seal the envelope, and put a sticky note on the front with the date it needs to be mailed. Then put it in a designated “Outgoing Mail” basket. Make a small stack of all the bills that need to be filed (you can do them all together at the end of your mail session), toss the extra papers in the recycling bin, and move on to the next envelope. As you start to see what comes into your mail on an ongoing basis, you will be able to more easily identify the junk mail, so you can simply toss it into the recycling or shredder.

While it may be tempting to keep the packets of coupons you receive, they can create the majority of the paper clutter in a house. Only keep the ones that are for restaurants or businesses you use on a regular basis. Keep a small basket or file for these coupons, and toss the rest immediately. The same applies to credit card offers. If you aren’t in the market to get a new card right at this moment, shred them. Trust me, you will get more offers later. And even if you don’t, you can compare new cards online when you do need a new one.

Tip #6 – Decide WHAT

The final step in dealing with your paper clutter is to decrease the amount of it that comes into your house as much as you can. Set up your bills to be paid online with electronic statements. Call your favorite stores and ask to be removed from their mailing lists. Who needs a paper catalog when you can shop online anyways? And get yourself removed from the credit card mailing lists. By removing these 3 items from your mailbox, you’ll cut down significantly on your paper clutter.

Now that you have a routine, you can relax knowing that the mountain of papers is never going to return again. It’s boring, tedious, and no one really likes to do it, but dealing with the paper on a regular basis definitely beats the alternative! 

Do you have a great mail space that you want to show off? Or, do you have a question about anything in this episode? Post your questions, comment, or pictures on my Twitter feed or the Domestic CEO Facebook wall!

Until next time, I’m the Domestic CEO, helping you love your home.

 Exploding Mailbox and Girl Getting Mail image courtesy of Shutterstock

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