We are diving back into your simplicity struggles with the biggest simplicity struggle of all … paper and photos. My method on how to simplify paper and photos is very straight forward and not for everyone. I share my version at the bottom of this article and asked a paper/photo expert to help with more specific recommendations.
Visit the original article to see how to simplify clutter, mind and clothes. I recommend starting with the category you struggle with the most. Once you simplify your life in that area, consider the others.
How to Simplify Paper and Photos
Based on your feedback, paper and photos win as the most popular simplicity struggle. My philosophy here is less is more. Only keep what you need and enjoy. For more nuts and bolts solutions, Simple Living Coach, Lisa Luken from Simple Joy Living helps simplify paper and photos by addressing the following simplicity struggles.
I am drowning in paperwork. Where do I start?
First, remember that it didn’t get this way overnight so it will take some time to declutter. Start by scheduling 30 minutes in your calendar when you’ll be alert and focused. Your goal during this time will be to make quick sorting decisions without getting hung up reading through every document. Take a deep breath before you start and think about how much better you’ll feel after you’ve cleared the piles. Work in short blocks of 30 minutes so the project doesn’t become overwhelming.
The goal of your first sort is to simply choose between keep and toss. For items you choose to toss, shred papers with personal and financial information. Keep items that you need to act on (RSVPs, bills, appointments) and important financial documents (ask your accountant for guidelines). For items you’re tempted to keep for reference later, ask these two questions:
1. Will I really go back to this?
2. Can I get the information elsewhere later?
Schedule additional sorting sessions as needed. After you’ve gone through everything, decide if you want to maintain paper files for the “keep” items or if you want to go paperless, scan them and maintain an organized digital file system instead. This quick guide will help you decide what to toss or keep and give you ideas for file categories for either paper or digital systems.
How do I simplify the steady stream of school work and child art that flows into my home?
Get in the habit of going through the papers each day after school with your children. Have your children unload the papers from their backpacks, review them together, ask questions and simply listen as they share their work and creations. Be present and savor the experience. Afterwards, immediately throw out or recycle worksheets and items you no longer need. Handle permission slips and information about upcoming events. I suggest entering important dates into a shared digital calendar and keep the actual papers on a family command center-magnetic board with clips. Keep art and papers that you and your child LOVE in a designated folder or bin.
Depending on the size of the bin and how quickly it fills, review the stack at least monthly, tossing anything that no longer seems important. You’ll find that as time goes by, the extra special pieces will stand out and it will be easier to throw away the less important pieces. You can always take pictures of pieces before you toss them and create digital albums. At the end of the school year, review the entire pile again with your children and choose a few pieces that best portray their creativity and achievements for the year. Including your children in each step of this process teaches them that they can’t keep everything and provides opportunities to practice making decisions about what deserves space in their home and life. A simple, curated collection is more easily enjoyed than several boxes full of everything they’ve ever created.
How do I simplify the mail I get?
A few proactive steps can help reduce the inflow. First, be sure to opt out of all solicitations when you sign up for anything that requires you to share your address, including online orders. Second, sign up with https://dmachoice.thedma.org/ to clean up what gets sent to you. And finally, get in the habit of reviewing your mail every day. Just like brushing your teeth, investing a few minutes is time well spent. Designate an area in your home near where you bring in the mail each day. Set up a shredder, recycle bin and “action needed” tray in this area. Each day, all incoming mail should end up in one of these locations. You’ll be left with only the items that you truly need in the “action needed” tray, which you’ll want to handle weekly at a minimum.
Simplify Photos and Digital Files
How do I simplify photo organization/creating photo albums/memory books?
Most importantly, make sure photos from your phone are being automatically backed up through a cloud service (iCloud, Dropbox, etc.). After big events, download photos taken with a camera and check to make sure the backup service on your computer is running smoothly. This will give you peace of mind knowing that your photos are safely stored in more than one location. I recommend keeping them in three locations including:
2. backup service or external hard drive
3. cloud storage
To organize your photos, start by spending 15-30 minutes deleting bad, blurry and duplicate photos. Short sessions like this each week will help keep your collection organized. For albums, think long-term about how you want to enjoy and share your photos (i.e. prints in albums and frames, digital printed albums, or albums viewable and shareable online only).
Make a date with yourself to review your pictures and create albums at least 2-4 times per year. Often, you’ll have a harder time culling pictures right after an event than you do after some time passes. As you get further away from the event, your favorite photos will stand out, making it easier to choose which ones are album worthy. It can be helpful to think of the time and money you invest organizing photos as a gift to future generations. Knowing you are preserving memories by documenting meaningful experiences can make it easier to commit to spending time organizing.
Here are a few album companies and digital services to consider:
- Kolo for albums with printed photos.
- Mpix and Artifact Uprising for digital albums.
- Chatbooks also offers easy digital album creation.
- Forever for online storage.
How do I simplify my digital files?
Choose a central “hub” to store your digital files either on a computer or in a cloud storage location (Dropbox, Google Docs, etc.). Store digital files in folders like you would paper files, using the file categories in this document as a guide. After setting up new folders in your hub, go through your existing files, choosing to delete or keep each file and moving the “keep” files into the appropriate new folders. Move batches of similar files together to speed up the process. Take screen breaks as needed to give your eyes and mind a rest. Make appointments with yourself to regularly work on this project and be sure to celebrate your successes along the way.
I’m grateful Lisa shared her expertise on how to simplify paper and photos because I know my method of barely keep anything doesn’t work for everyone. Your methods will change based on the stage of life you are in and how much time you want to devote to taking care of paper and photos. You can find more from Lisa on her blog and on Instagram.
Quick rundown of how I keep paper and photos simple.
I don’t spend as much time organizing because that’s not how I want to spend my time. Instead …
- I open mail before I bring it inside and recycle the junk. It’s mostly junk.
- I sort paper between a small “working” pile and “keep” pile. The working file includes documents that require my action within a couple of weeks. The keep pile includes papers I think I need to save. Once I’m done working on something from the working pile, I get rid of it. I review my keep pile every two to three months and discard what I don’t need to keep.
- Digital files are trickier because they are invisible. I’m more tempted to save it all. Then I remember that I access the majority of my digital files as frequently as I accessed the thousands of papers I used to keep in two filing cabinets … next to never.
- I save things in Dropbox, and review and delete files quarterly. I don’t use external hard drives anymore because guess how many times I accessed those files … next to never.
- I’ve saved some of my pre-digital photos. I share photos on Instagram, here on the blog and with friends and family.
- Occasionally, I print and frame photos here.
- Every few months, after insuring they’ve been backed up, I delete all photos from my phone.
- About seven years ago, I got rid of my filing cabinets and papers I’d been saving for many years. There hasn’t been one time since that I’ve missed something or wished I’d saved something from my neatly labeled folders. That’s giving me the confidence to save much less.
If you love creating photo albums and organizing paperwork use the great recommendations Lisa shared. If you want to spend less time organizing, sorting, and stressing about your paper and photos, save less. You may find that somewhere in between works well for you too.
The best way is the one that works best for you.
In the next edition of simplicity struggles, we’ll cover food (with Jules Clancy), money and busyness.
If you want to ask questions or share solutions, please comment below.