It’s time to start sorting ALL the paper in your house!
Now that you have your Sunday Basket® up and running, we can start to get a handle on all the papers you have cluttering up your home. You know, the pile sitting on the kitchen counter, the stash under your car seat, and that random box of receipts that somehow ended up in the laundry room!
I know that a part of you is going to feel really excited. You can’t wait to have all your documents color coded and your countertops cleared. But another part of you is thinking, "Oh, wow! There is just so much paper, what am I going to do with it all?’ Don’t worry, we are going to get there. It’s just going to take some time.
The process of decluttering and organizing paper is simple. First, we need to sort. Then we need to get out information. Then, ideally, we can digitize that information so that everything is available to you at the click of a mouse button.
With this as our end goal, let's take the first step towards it. Trust in the process. You can do this.
Download the FREE How to Sort Paper Printable here.
When you sort your papers, you are going to decide:
Right now, these are the only decisions you need to make. It’s important to remember, though, that this process can take a long time, longer than you probably expect. The quantity of paper we keep is massive. But you can tackle this however you want. Maybe it’s easier for you to sort one drawer at a time. Or maybe you prefer to sort for 15 minutes a day and see how far you get. It’s entirely up to you.
I prefer to use banker’s boxes when I sort my papers. They are readily available at most office supply stores and they are inexpensive cardboard boxes that come flat. They are useful because they hold hanging files so they’re perfect for when you’re emptying your filing cabinet. You can take your files and hang them in your banker’s box, then take that box to your family room, turn on a great TV show and sort in comfort. Don’t bend over your cabinets for hours as this can hurt your back.
Now you are going to need two other cardboard boxes and, with your marker pen, label one RECYCLE and one SHRED. This is an important step as you won’t believe how quickly you can forget which is which when piles of paper look identical.
Once you have your boxes ready, you can start to sort them into three piles.
These are the papers you need to keep, current documents that are necessary for your files. You don’t need to worry about how you are going to keep them – we’ll get to that next week. For now, it's just that you need to save them. Make sure you store these in a safe place.
This is any paperwork that you have that is no longer needed that doesn’t contain any of your personal identifying information. You don’t want to recycle any papers that could increase your chance of identity theft so make sure there are no addresses or ID numbers anywhere on the pages. Once you’ve finished your sorting session, empty your RECYCLE box into your recycling bin ready for the next session.
Paperwork that contains personal identifying information must be safely shredded. I take my SHRED box to the local office supply store where they shred my paper for me. The papers are placed in a locked cage and shredded on site by a professional shredding company so it's a safe process. You will find that most places that sell paper will also shred it for you, but there is usually a charge of around a dollar a pound. One of my banker’s boxes costs me about $20. Some places offer free shred days, especially at tax time, but just know that there can be a long wait as people will queue for hours for free shredding. Ask yourself if it’s worth the cost of the time spent.
When you are sorting your paper, you might see that your personal information is only visible on the first page of a document. If this is the case, you can tear off the first page for shredding and recycle the rest. If your information repeats on every page but only appears on the top inch of the document, consider cutting off that top inch, recycling the bulk of the paper and just shredding the small pieces.
This saves a little money on shredding and reduces the amount of heavy boxes you have to carry.
Figure out how much paper you have to sort, what order to sort it in, and how much time you can devote to organizing.
Now, I don’t want to alarm you, but when I completed this process, I found that I recycled or shredded a whopping 80% of the paper I had kept. I guarantee that you will also be shocked at the amount of paperwork that is sitting in your filing cabinets not being referenced and not being used. I’d LOVE to hear how much paper you can get rid of in your home.
Take it slow, one box at a time, and soon you will start to notice that the piles of papers are missing from your dining table and your car seems a lot cleaner.
This is Part 1 of How to Sort Paper. Next week, on Part 2, I will be talking about what to do with your saved papers and where they are going to go.