Managing Your Stuff, Part 3

All that paper!!

We are drowning in paper. Unwanted mail flyers (admittedly a lot better than it was right before the November election, but just wait a year), multiple catalogues, cards we can’t throw out, etc. etc. Here’s the good news. Paper is the most recyclable of all products.

But the kicker is, we have to be willing to let it go. So here are a few tips.

The slot that holds my collection of personal cards really needs a purge!

First, I like the “touch it once” rule. I keep a recycling bin next to my desk, and as I go through the mail, I set aside the envelopes to open (bills, personal letters), and toss without opening the junk mail. I never open junk mail.

Second, I also use the “time’s up” rule. I have places for certain things I like to hang onto for a while, and I try to make those holding bins just so big. My friend Linda mentioned last week that she hates to toss personal cards and notes. So do I – to a point. So, I have a spot for them, and when I can no longer fit a new card in that spot, I filter the old ones out to make room for the new.

Bills. Ugh.

I do the same with catalogues. I like catalogues, but we get so many! Every couple of weeks I recycle the old ones and add the new ones to the same small inbox. Magazines get the same treatment. (No. You do not have to read them all. Stop feeling guilty. But more about that in a future post.)

Third, for bills, I have a filing system that goes like this: I have a “bills to pay” station, and a “bills paid” station. Every couple of weeks, the paid bills go into the file box, in hanging files I’ve set up in categories according to what my tax preparer has suggested I need. That makes bill paying and tax time both so much easier.

Hanging folders waiting for those paid bills to be filed.

As to those old tax files, I keep all the paperwork for seven years in individual labeled plastic boxes. At new tax season I yank out the oldest box, take all but the tax forms (those I’ve kept forever, in case I ever run for President) to the shredder, and use that box for the new paperwork. That’s seven plastic file boxes, which, if carefully labeled, are easy to find and renew. Hanging files in each of those boxes make this task easier. And the UPS store has a shredder.

And yes, I go to conferences and take copious notes. And then I come home and annotate those notes.

No, I don’t, and neither do you (well, maybe you do and then I’m mildly jealous). I run through my notes on the way home, pull out the most important thoughts/ideas/things-to-do and toss the rest. If there’s something I really need to remember I take or put the notes in a bound journal, but I still rarely go back to those, so every once in a while I spend a couple of hours culling all that paperwork, too.

Some of our reluctance to part with things stems from guilt, and some of it stems from nostalgia. Recognize why you can’t part with something. Realize that guilt is counterproductive to your health, and nostalgia is best reserved for the truly important stuff, like baby pictures. If that get-well card is signed with no meaningful note, maybe it’s time to let go.

As with anything, if you have stuff just hanging around, whether it’s an old pair of pants that are out of style or a stack of papers you haven’t looked at in five years, it needs to be sent on to a better place. Look at it this way. Next week you might eat off a paper plate made from your recycled catalogues.

Have questions? Have ideas? Have your own way of handling stuff? Please do share!



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