If you are sick of piles of paper, have filing cabinets stuffed with out-dated material or feel like paper is taking over your life, go paper-free or at least, paper-less. Keep reading to learn how to get rid of paper.
While you’ll have to address the paper you have (which we’ll unpack below), you can prevent future paper collections by asking these 2 simple questions.
Get rid of paper clutter by asking these 2 simple questions:
Until you start asking these questions, you’ll continue to print and save paper without really understanding why.
1. Why Should I Print This?
In many cases we print things just to save it. Before you click “print” see if you really need it. Could you save it digitally or let it go? What’s the reality of you using what you print? Just pausing to ask and then making a more intentional decision to print or not to print will prevent paper build up.
I haven’t owned a printer in many years and while I still occasionally have things printed, it’s rare.
2. Do I Have to Save This?
Aside from taxes and important documents, what are you saving that you are actually using? Understanding the categories of paper that you save and noticing how you interact with them, will help you know what’s useful to save or not save moving forward. Instead of always working to better organize your paper, keep way less of it.
I remember when I emptied two filing cabinets of paper I had diligently saved and organized over the years. Hardly any of it was important and I never looked at it once it was neatly filed.
If you’ve ever printed something just to save it and never used it, you see how powerful these two simple questions are.
How to let go of paper clutter you already have
With the right approach, this doesn’t have to be a painful process. Choose what works best for you.
FAST AND FURIOUS
Turn on your favorite music or feel good movie and move all of your paper into one room. Bring in the filing cabinets, the boxes of papers you’ve been saving just in case, the piles on your desk, from your nightstand, and the kitchen table. All of it. You might need snacks too because this may take a while.
First, set aside anything you need to keep legally, like tax forms or important documents.
Next, admit that you’ve been holding on to the rest “just in case.” I’m not judging. I’ve been there. The question as you go through each piece of paper is, “Is this helpful?” If the answer is no, put it in the “shred or recycle pile.” If the answer is yes, put it in the “keep” pile.
Remove the “shred or recycle pile” from sight and revisit your keep pile. Go through each piece in this pile again and ask “Do I need to keep this and why?” If your why doesn’t make much sense to you, let it go.
With the paper you decide to keep, scan what you can (more on scanning below) and put the rest away in one single pile. It should be small enough that you don’t need folders, labels and other things to make your clutter look good.
NICE AND EASY
This approach takes more time, but is just as effective. Move all of your paper to one place and then commit to 15 minutes a day to work through the steps above.
More tips on getting rid of paper clutter …
1. Banking and bills. Sign up for e-statements and do your banking online.
2. Books and magazines. Read and recycle. When you are finished reading, bring them to your local library, share in a neighborhood tiny library or pass along to a friend. I like to give my books away on Instagram.
3. Mail. Open your mail outside and recycle what you can. Only bring in what’s important. Most of it isn’t.
4. Printing. Turn your printer off and try a 30 day print-free challenge. It’s easier to live without than you think.
5. Catalogs and junk mail. Here’s how to make it stop.
6. Journals. Extract your best ideas and let the rest go.
7. Personal identification and documents. Scan and store. You won’t get far with a scan of your passport, but having the scanned version will help if you lose the real one.
8. Children’s artwork, report cards and love notes. Instead of saving every report card, and work of art they bring home from school, select a few pieces and display them on a “wall of fame” that rotates monthly, or create a meaningful collage. A digital photo book is a nice way to preserve those memories too.
9. Photographs. Sort. Toss the duplicates, bad images, and pictures of things you don’t want, need or remember. Scan or display the rest. They aren’t doing any good stuffed in a box under the bed.
10. Financial and other important documents. Read How Long Should You Keep Records after Tax Day? If you still aren’t sure, consult with a local professional.
11. Medical records. Hospitals and doctor’s offices are going digital. You can too.
12. Scan it. Unless you need a pristine digital version of something, use your phone and a scanning app like TurboScan. Just don’t over scan in attempt to keep everything. Only save what you need, even digitally.
13. Sentimental. Parting with those old yearbooks and love letters can be challenging. Save the thoughts, words and memories that are meaningful to you, and then let go of the past to make room for the future. See what my friend Krissy discovered when she let go of decades of birthday cards, invitations and other messages.
Parting with those old yearbooks, birthday cards, and love letters can be challenging. Save the thoughts, words and memories that are meaningful to you, and then let go of the past to make room for love in the present and future.
All paper isn’t clutter, but most of it is. When you finally get rid of paper, the question you’ll be asking is, “why did I save this for so long?”