Purging of all things that are Paper

I am swimming in paper. Papers from work, receipts, mail, magazines, newspapers, articles for reading, kids homework and artwork, bank statements, kid photos, financial documents, retirement documents, etc. I could go on and on. I am sure you can too!

After I graduated with my PhD, I had plastic tubs of papers. I had to review so many articles, books, papers, etc. and keep copies to use for my dissertation, that I had almost 3 feet of papers. On top of that, I had kept every edit of my dissertation which was another 1-foot-high pile of paper. I must have killed off a forest and I am very sorry but I did recycle all of it.

So, why do we keep so much paper?
• Records: I have to keep that because we might need it in the future, or to return something, or I need to look that up, etc. (but will you able to find it?)
• Habit: we just always have kept those forms/document/receipts for years.
• Easy: paper is easy to pile up, you can ignore it, hide it, etc. (but it is still there).

As a society, we like paper. It is concrete, it documents, keep record, etc. Paper can be very important, but is all paper important or needed to be retained, no. So if you are looking at piles of papers around your house, I am going to challenge you to sit down and tackle those piles. I would encourage you to tackle them weekly so they don’t get out of control.

Make three piles:
*Have to save: financial records, documents such as birth certificates, records of purchases, etc.
*What to toss: any paper over a 6 month to 1-year-old that you have not used, read, or touched.
*Kids papers: have a box or tote for each kid, save their best work, some S’s or a papers they were excited to show you, don’t save it all. Also, use that artwork around the house. Frame their work and put it on display (and hide those boxes or totes under a bed).

Start folders/files for all financial records, purchases, etc. Or you can use binders to keep track of bank statements, retirement accounts, etc. Most come with 3 hole punches in them for that reason. Don’t keep every deposit slip, or receipt from the ATM, it is all on bank statement (and online).

Work papers: try to keep them at work or in your work bag. If you have a home office, keep work paperwork in that office or space and sort it often (weekly). I find myself being at work and I need stuff that I have at home in my office. Not good. So, I purged and sorted everything over the holidays and got rid of all work documents that: I had multiple copies off, multiple edits of, that were outdated, or I don’t use or reference for work. I cleaned out another foot of paper from my office.

My advice is to keep what you absolutely need to keep and toss the rest. Some people like to scan in their documents and receipts and if you have the time and a system for that, good for you. I am just glad if I get my receipts into a file folder which I purge every 6 months.

I still have a tote of papers from my dissertation and will retain those for another 10 years in case I have teach more at the college level and need to use or reference those.
Work papers need to stay in a read me file or in the work bag, or they get stuck at home and possibly lost forever. I have recently searched for three weeks for a stack of surveys that I needed, I just found them, at home, in my closet?!?! In a rush, I stuck them in a notebook, in a closet. Nice, right. Lesson learned.

Develop paper habits and organize spaces for papers to go. Here are a few tips:

• A mail organizer for all mail is helpful, but purge it weekly. All junk mail comes right in and then goes right out. • Boxes/totes for kids’ paper stuff. Hang or display kids’ work when you can.
• Date stamp if needed. You can stamp back of photos, artwork, work papers, etc.
• Binders and 3-ring punches are my best friend: use them often.
• But in storage large work or school related documents you need to hold on too for years.
• Use a scanner for documents, only if you have the time or are willing to commit to using it. Set up file folders on your computer and scan and dump weekly. Then get rid of the paper or sherd.


Hope these tips will help you manage your paper at your home and in your office. Paper is clutter just like any other objects but it is easier to pile and hide (and justify). Purge weekly or you will get buried. Best of luck and go purge that paper!

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