Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ Are You Hanging on to Too Many Papers?

Cindy

According to a survey I saw recently, 67% of people said that paper clutter is their hardest area to deal with. Who knows if this is truly accurate, but I’m going to assume that it means that a lot of people, possibly including you, are having trouble dealing with paper.

I think there are a couple of fundamental mistakes that people make regarding paper:

  1. Believing that every piece of paper is important or has the potential to be important
  2. Believing that if a piece of paper was important at one time, it’s important forever
  3. Not intentionally minimizing the amount of paper that enters your life, and
  4. Leaving paper for another day

Let’s deal with these one by one.

1. Every piece of paper is not important. You do not have to read sale ads for shops where you do not shop. You don’t even have to read the sale ads for where you do shop. Bills, once paid, do not need to be kept. Magazine that have been sitting by your chair for six months are clutter, not a treasure. Newspapers more than one or two days old are recycling. Another one is coming today, I promise.

2. Just because a piece of paper was once important doesn’t mean that it continues to be important. I’ll confess, sometimes my desk backs up, just like everyone else’s. It amazes me how many of those once important papers are no longer important once I get around to sorting them: coupons are now invalid, a new bill has come to supplant this one, a receipt for a shirt you thought you might return but have now worn twice, an announcement for a talent show that occurred last month: none of these are important any more. Even papers related to buying a house can be shredded once you’ve refinanced the loan or purchased another house. Your tax papers only need to be kept for 7 years, at the longest. (You can get more specifics at the IRS website.) Every year, you can shred one more year’s worth of tax forms (in the U.S. only; I don’t know about other countries).

3. I’m sure there are more junk mail and more school papers floating around now than there were a dozen years ago. You need to do your very best to stem the tide before it reaches your home.

  1. Aggressively take your name off mailing lists for catalogs and other regular mailings that you do not care to get. All catalogs contain an 800 number; call them. You will not hurt the feelings of the operator for asking to have your name taken off their mailing list.
  2. You can return a charity solicitation in the envelope they send you after you write “please take my name off your mailing list” on the solicitation form. If you feel bad about doing this, put your own stamp on the envelope. I donate annually to two charities through my church. I will donate to them every year, and I know that I will not donate to them at any other time. Every year when I write my check, I write “Please do not add my name to your mailing list.” Why should they waste their time soliciting me when I know I’m not going to give? This helps both of us.
  3. Stop receiving pre-approved credit card offers by using this free service, which was established under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (U.S. only).
  4. The Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service (MPS) lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies for five years (U.S. only).
  5. This  privacy website has more information on more specialized cases, such a the ValPak you may be getting weekly (Again, U.S. only).
  6. To get off the mailing list of small local companies, like the real estate agent you met last week, you’ll have to email or snail mail them directly. Clip the label off the mailing and include it if you contact them by snail mail. Extra postcards you own are good for this type of correspondence.
  7. Politely refuse business cards, fliers, and appointment cards that are offered to you. Write important information directly into your appointment book, address book, or smart phone, and bypass the paper all together.
  8. Enter the relevant information for important announcements for work or school directly into the same locations (appointment book, smart phone, etc.) so you’re never searching your desk for a vital piece of information on an un-vital piece of paper.
  9. Switch as many bills as possible over to email delivery. There’s no need for you to receive paper bills any more, and they’re easier to track on your computer anyway.
  10. Really consider the mailings you willing let in your home. Do you want the newsletter from the national branch of your church even if you’re a faithful church attendee? How many magazines should you subscribe to? Is there an on-line version instead? If you never manage to read the newspaper, stop your subscription. You may love to shop at Ikea, but do you really need to get their monthly catalog? You know how to find them on-line if you want to see what they have.

4. The last mistake people make is leaving their papers to another day. When you bring in a stack of papers from the car or the mailbox, you should deal with it promptly. At a minimum, junk goes right into the recycling bin. (Yes, even after you do the above steps, there will still be some junk.) Bills are opened and appropriate reminders to pay noted. Personal letters are opened. Envelopes go into the recycling. There’s a place for everything and everything in it’s place, and that place is not a big heap on your entry table, kitchen counter or desk.

Paper is a tool for relaying information; manage it wisely, so it doesn’t manage you.

Today’s Declutter Item

Lena will be pleased to see I have found another craft item to declutter. There are still plenty of craft items to go but they are going, one day at a time.

Another crafting tool

Something I Am Grateful For Today

My husband and children. We may no always conform to the conventional family mould but that is what makes life fun for us. We are anything but boring.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow


Continue reading with these posts:

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  • Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom ~ How do you store your books? Cindy's Weekly Wisdom Books are a collecting weakness of many people. I know that in my early 20s I dreamed of having a library - ideally one with a rolling ladder. Then I moved every […]
  • Day 200 Sharing publications I happened to see 5 minutes of an old Bewitched rerun this morning on television before I went to work. It struck me as amusing that this episode started out with a magazine subscription […]

Comments

  1. There is so much money spent in advertising that ends up in the recycling or trash. I know it is how many people make money, but it is a shame that there is so much waste that is unnecessary. It would be nice to be free of junk mail, save them money on advertising and save the trees at the same time.

  2. Cindy, thanks for the reminder. I am actually good when it comes to paper clutter, but I have somehow forgotten to unsuscribe the catalogue that suddenly arrives monthly since a single purchase online last year. Wrote an email just 5 minutes ago…

    yay colleen!

    • Good for you Lena. Once you make a single purchase, they surely hope you’ll make three more, don’t they?

  3. The Other Lynn :

    Thanks for the junk mail link. I had done several, reducing my junk in. But there were several I hadn’t realized I could opt out of. Thanks!

    • Fantastic The Other Lynn. I had completely forgotten the ValPak, since I no longer get it, until I looked on the privacy website.

  4. Cindy, this is a great post. I will always remember when my dad died and I suddenly had to take over all the bills and stuff for Mom. He had one 2-drawer file cabinet and two 4-drawer ones. Can you imagine going through all of that to see what was important and what wasn’t? Even worse was the insurance policies and other things that he kept but that were no longer valid. I had to make phone calls and write letters and all sorts of things that wasted time because I had to figure out what was valid and what wasn’t. So people, clean out all that paper. One of the things my dad, who worked for Ford, had was EVERY sales flyer on EVERY car, truck or van made by Ford, Lincoln or Mercury since 1950!!!! In another box he had 100’s of maps of every state and all of Canada. Many were old. He had every tax return back to 1950. the clean up was horrendous and made the grief worse. Don’t do that to your family. Keep on top of things.

    Colleen, great job with decluttering another craft item. It’s freeing.

    • Oh Deb J, how unpleasant that must have been. I recently helped a friend who’d gotten ridiculously backed up on his mail. I bet the stack would have been 3 or 4 feet tall. I spent a solid 6 hours opening and sorting the mail, so you have my sympathy. That experience, in fact, was the inspiration for this post.

      • A friend of mine has a friend who doesn’t deal with her mail. So Susie offered to take all the mail home with her and sort it. It was four 30-gallon trash bags full. Some of it was over two years old. Can you imagine? Susie got it all sorted out and found that there were several were some very important papers in it that had been never looked at. She took it all back and sat with her friend to help her figure out what to do with some of it. Scares me just to think about it.

  5. It’s easy for papes (like photos) to overwhelm us. I’m pretty good at dumping all the junkmail as soon as it comes in the house but the things both my hubby and I need to read/act on sometimes builds up. Then I make a pile and say, “I’m done with these. Your turn.” as a way to remind him to deal with the papers.

    I think I’ll check out those ‘no mail’ options…no more Valupak!

    • Interesting. I’m wondering what we do different at our house that we don’t have “mutual mail” that needs mutual decision making.

  6. DH keeps too many papers, like bills after he has paid them and old receipts. Why???? I don’t have a lot of papers, a single folder.

    But a funny thing just happened.. the last time I did a big declutter and organizing of my papers, I threw away papers relating to my illnesses, like endoscopy results. I thought I didn’t need to keep all that. Now I am in a situation where I need to see them, and I just called three hospitals where I have been treated, that they send the papers they have..
    But I’m like this, I’d rather have to get the papers again later if need arises, than store them for years or decades and perhaps never need them again. Now, if we had a scanner I would scan everything important. I may have to do some scanning at my dad’s house…

    • I do save my medical results, but for example, I got rid of all the bills, discharge paperwork, etc. related to Clara’s hospitalization 2 years ago. When I get a negative pap smear or mammogram, I just save the most recently report. For conditions that seem to be changing, I save all results. Scanning is a good solution for this.

  7. Wow IKEA in the US sends catalogues more than annually? In Australia we all get one (if you live in the right suburb!) annually!

    Cat’sMeow, my specialist said ‘keep this x-ray’ to which I said, no, I won’t. He said, well you might need it. I said, if YOU might need it, you can keep it. But chances are you’ll send me for another x ray (as they are free on medicare) rather than look at the old one. I don’t know if I ‘won’, and I still have it (only saw him a week ago), but it won’t last long…!

    • snosie, you might want to think about whether you may need that x-ray for a baseline comparison some time in the future, i. e., to determine if there has been a change in condition. Not applicable to all x-rays, but it is for some.

  8. You’ve made many good points to consider, Cindy. I especially liked the last sentence – paper is a tool for relaying information. Paper isn’t precious on its own (except maybe the paper money kind), and although some of the information is important, a lot of it is visual noise.

    I do keep information from our local paper such as notices of clinics, craft sales, or street closures, etc. which are kept on our fridge until they are past; contact numbers for groups who have write-ups in the paper and would not be in the phone book, but who I don’t need to keep in my address book; and occasionally obituaries for family members (I have a large extended family and I am interested in genealogy). But the trick is to tear these out the first time you see them – don’t put the paper down until you’ve done it! If someone else needs to read the paper, use sticky notes that show beyond the edge of the paper, let the others read it, and then tear them out promptly.

    I also keep bills for one year; this has served me well in the past when I’ve had to check things like electricity usage, telephone plans, etc. But I don’t need ten years of them 🙂

    Like everything else, people will have somewhat different needs and definitions of what is important. But in general, Cindy is right on – manage the paper, don’t let it manage you.

    • The city recently revised its website so that two years of utility usage is available on their website. Before that, I did save my bills for a year or two.

      • I save only the December utility (gas/electric) bills of every year, they have graphics showing month by month power usage for the entire year. I like (organized, manageable) paper and this works for me 🙂

  9. I put a little sign on my post box “No junk mail” and this has cut down tremendously the amount of paper that comes in. (I made it with my labelling machine.)

    • Do you live in the US? I’m surprised that works.

      • No, Cindy, I live in New Zealand.

      • Most of the junk mail we receive in our mailboxs in Aus and NZ arrives via hand delivery by companies who distribute it for the advertisers. Not by the postman. Luckily Australia hasn’t cottoned on to the idea of sending it through the post where the postal service is obliged to deliver it. So all we have to do is put a NO JUNK MAIL sign on our mailbox and the deliveries are obliged to heed our request. Therefore no junk mail. If companies use address information you are obliged to give them, say if you stay at a motel or buy a new car, then they will naturally start sending you junk mail via the post. That is when you call them and say do not send it. This can be more challenging than it sounds. So try to get around it by addressing it to Occupier but you can still request for it not to be sent.

  10. Great post Cindy,
    We switched to getting bills online yonks ago and to be honest our mailbox is really just a home for spiders. Sometimes we get cards and letters but the amount of paper coming into the house via the mail is so low I’d find it hard to line the bottom of a birdcage! (if I had one).

    I’ve been meaning to let you know also that I is a ‘Techno Scaredy’ NO MORE!!! I seriously got hooked on a friends Kindle that she let me try out, She’s like me with her bookloving but she has way more than I would ever have at one time. As you know I do like to pass them on when we have all finished with them. Man that sleek little case was fabulous and I am seriously considering letting my hubby treat me to one for my Birthday. As a photography buff it took me a while to switch to digital from film, so there is mourning period to go through hahaha.

    As for junk mail that is always handled very swiftly, if I don’t want it coming in I am quick to opt out with the survey cards, that’s if it snuck past the ‘NO JUNK MAIL THANK YOU’ sign.

    Have a beautiful day 🙂 🙂 🙂

  11. The way I deal with my paperwork is in 3 steps.
    1 File papers I need to keep ie tax returns, employment related in filing drawers
    2 have a box for anything that I might want to checkup ie electricity usage. This needs to be emptied yearly once you are sure you won’t need to check on anything more
    3 file papers, paid bills in the recycling that are no longer required

  12. I’m still having trouble keeping junk mail from ending up in our condo in the first place (there’s no reason for this really, since our mailroom has a recycling bin). I’ve managed to keep the mail limited to the little “mail rack” we have next to the door. Now if only I could convince myself to go through it more often, or at least empty it once a week!

    • Set this as a challenge for yourself and you will be amazed at how that tends to bring your focus back to it. Having someone to answer too helps, so if you have a partner tell them your goal and have them help you stick to it. Or you can check in here each week and let me know how you are doing.

    • Hi Joanna,

      Just checked out your blog, Awesome, isn’t it great when you can say ‘I changed my brain’, good luck with all and have a beautiful day:)

  13. I found something that will change my life paper-wise.

    I said before I have my paper under control, but I still “recycle” paper as to do lists (at the moment I have an old unused notebook as the “list”). BUT: I had troubles to actually keep my work (final diploma thesis and a lot of research) in a shape that allows me to keep the paper madness to an absolute minimum. http://www.7stickynotes.com/index.php is my new solution. everything where I need it, easy to go through and I actually like the design as well.

  14. I just have to tell you about my decluttering weekend. Since this was a 4 day weekend for me, I planned to sort papers on Friday and move my sewing room on Sat and Sunday to another room and clean house and do laundry on Monday. The best laid plans fell through because I was scheduled for an MRI on Thursday but the meds I was given knocked me out for all day Thursday (had to reschedule MRI because I was too sleepy to participate) and most of Friday. So, those plans got rearranged but all day Saturday, I sorted and tossed and piled and reviewed and tossed and tossed and tossed. I threw away two huge bags of paper and had to shred only a handful that had SS#’s or med record #’s or other pertinent data that I didn’t want “out there”. But me, easily distracted, kept looking around saying to myself, I really need to do that or that or that. But, I kept on track by saying “one thing at a time. The 365 rule. Today is paperwork day, tomorrow is moving day”. I was so very proud of myself and on Sunday and Monday, I got most of the fabric moved to the new location and cleaned up the previous sewing room to make it perfect for my grand’s who are coming for a visit next week. My husband was so surprised by it’s new look that we now are keeping the door open. Before it was so messy, no one wanted to look in there. Of course, there is still more to do but I have been wanting to get started in there for so long and thanks to your one thing each day, I was not so overwhelmed and am making excellent progress. I’d work for about 2 hours, then take a 30 min break for an iced tea and snack. Just enough to be refreshed but not so long that I got lazy. Thanks so much, Colleen and Cindy, for your wonderful hints and support and for all your friends on the website. I am making a difference in my home and even my husband is noticing.
    By the way, I am so blessed that my husband does all the yard work and is very conscientious about keeping junk out of the yard. He is so very good at putting things away when he is done, almost O.C. about it but I’d rather have him like that than extra messy.
    Sorry this is so long but just wanted to share my weekend.

    • amazing. is that the first positive rush of decluttering? I had that with CDs and it was the same experience. you get so satisfied with yourself, you want to sit in this room and look at it for the next two days… Congratulations!

  15. Why are people recycling sensitive papers? SHRED anything with any personal information before recycling…

    • I shred anything that’s not glossy (important documents but also used grocery lists, chore lists, etc)… the compost, garden, worms… all love paper… and the birds steal it for their nests!