I hate papers! I also apparently love papers. Last month we tackled the paper monster in our house by using the KonMari method described in the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
If you’re new here, we are taking a portion of this year to work category by category through the steps in the book to “tidy up” our homes. You can read the introduction here, learn about my experience sorting our clothes, or read all about how I released hundreds of books from my home.
If I were to give myself a grade on how closely I followed the KonMari method for the paper category, it would probably be a “C”. However, we had a LOT of papers in our house and now we have a lot fewer papers, so I’m still calling it a success.
Marie’s instructions for the paper category are essentially: throw away everything. “After all, they will never inspire joy, no matter how carefully you keep them.” (pg 97)
Marie does make a distinction between papers and sentimental papers. Anything that might be considered sentimental paper should be saved for the end when you go through all the sentimental stuff in your house. Any non-sentimental papers in your home should be dealt with or discarded.
She does allow for keeping some papers, there are papers that need to be saved and papers that need to be dealt with. Marie does not recommend an elaborate filing system. However, she does require that all papers be kept in one specific spot only. This is good advice. When I started this month we had papers spread in every nook and cranny of our house. It took me a very long time to collect all of the papers we had.
Paper that must be dealt with.
The first category of papers Marie allows you to keep are those things that must be dealt with. She recommends keeping a vertical organizer that will allow you to collect all of the papers that need to be dealt with in one place. These would include letters that need a reply, forms to fill out, and I would add paper bills that still need to be paid. Keep them all in one place so they’re easy to find and deal with them as you need. You should also aim to keep this box empty at all times. Ha! Easier said than done, and even Marie will admit to that.
Papers that must be kept.
The second category of papers to keep is those that must be saved. She recognizes that the majority of these papers must be kept “regardless of the fact that they spark no particular joy in your heart.” This might include things like leases, policies, warranties, and tax documents. You may need to keep these items, but you will rarely actually need to access most of these items, so she doesn’t recommend spending a lot of time organizing them. Place them all in one folder and be done with it.
Frequently used papers that need to be kept.
There may be some papers that you will need to review or use more often. This might be meeting notes, newspaper clippings, or whatever else you may need to look at once in a while. These can be sorted and organized a little more than the other papers to be sure you are able to find what you need when you need it, but they should still all be kept in one place. She cautions that this category does tend to grow if kept unchecked, so be sure to really consider each paper that is stored in this category.
At most, you should have three “bins” for papers. Stuff to deal with, stuff to be saved because you must, and stuff to review on occasion. All of these should be kept in one place and kept to the bare minimum.
How I did using the Konmari method for our paper category.
I’ve mostly stuck to these rules. I did get rid of 3 bags of paper trash, so I definitely improved our situation. Almost all of the papers in our home are now tucked away in my office. Here’s a brief rundown of how I sorted and saved our papers.
- Fire-proof safe. In here we’ve got birth certificates, savings bonds, social security cards, some bank/loan information, and passports. All things that are really important to keep and would be a giant hassle to replace if they were damaged or lost. (Side note: As I was sorting through our safe I found 16 expired credit cards! When we were heavy in credit card debt payoff mode we had a fair number of credit cards. We couldn’t bring ourselves to go full on Dave Ramsey and clip them up, so we just tossed them in the safe. Apparently, it was a pretty good plan because there were several versions of the same few cards that we never even activated. They have all since been paid off, so I finally broke down and shredded them. Ah, it felt so good.)
- Tub for warranties and instruction manuals. This is where I start to stray from Marie’s strict rules. She recommends getting rid of all your instruction manuals because you can look everything up online these days. This is true, but sometimes I’m lazy and this small tub isn’t taking up much space, so I decided to keep it. I’ve been using the tub for years, so I did go through it and trash all of the appliances/gear we no longer own (baby gear) or the small items that really didn’t require an instruction manual in the first place.
- Hanging files storage crate. I had a pretty decent organization method for papers that need to be kept that I started years ago. I do agree that just tossing all the papers you must keep in one place is an easy way of dealing with your papers, however, I already had most of these papers organized into separate folders, so I didn’t see the need to ruin that system. I sorted through each of the files and tossed anything that was no longer important. This is where we keep old tax records, mortgage paperwork, and other bank and insurance documents that we might someday need.
- Kid stuff. Holy cow. I’ll talk more about kid stuff in a minute, but for now, I’ll just say I do have a box (that will soon be moved to a sturdy Rubbermaid tub) of kid projects and memories to keep. I think Marie includes kid’s stuff in the sentimental category, but I just bit the bullet and dealt with it now since the majority of my paper madness comes from kid’s stuff. Marie does mention that if your kid’s papers truly do spark joy then you can go ahead and keep them, but you should not keep them out of guilt that you might hurt your kid’s feelings.
- Vertical organizer for the must be dealt with. I have one spot in my office where I toss any papers that need to be dealt with. I’m really hoping I can develop some type of routine to go through this and clear it out on a regular basis. I’ve heard one person mention that every Sunday evening she goes through her “to deal with” folder and cleans it out. I think that’s brilliant, I’m just not sure Sunday evening is the right time for me. I’m not sure when is a better time though, so I’m thinking on that one.
Kid Stuff (To be revisited).
The kid stuff is my biggest problem. The kids come home with stacks of worksheets and art projects every single day. They make more papers while they’re at home. And kid papers multiply and get hung on every vertical surface of my home. It’s maddening. But I also really love to see my kids’ stuff and they are so excited about all of their projects and papers.
Every time the kids see one of their papers in the trash their little hearts break and I feel so terrible. But we cannot keep everything, our house would be overrun with papers in a month! I threw away a LOT of kids papers. I took down just about every art project from our walls and most of them were discarded. Three weeks later, my daughter has just now started to notice all her papers missing and keeps getting upset. I don’t know what to do with the fact that they’ve been gone for three weeks and she’s just now even noticing.
I know a lot of parents take pictures of all (or the best) of their kid’s papers and artwork and save them digitally. They create photo books and albums of them as well. This sounds like a lovely idea. I just haven’t gotten around to implementing that kind of thing. And I feel like I suck at taking pictures so I’m worried that pictures of their artwork just might not do it justice. I think I’ll try to find a happy medium of keeping the originals of best of the best and storing the other great masterpieces in a digital format. I’ll probably readdress this when we get to the sentimental section, but for now, I just needed to tame the kid paper monster while I had it on my mind.
Notes, notebooks, and lists, oh my!
I try to be very modern and digital, but I’m also a really huge fan of writing stuff down. I truly believe in the power of handwriting things to remember them. I’m always taking notes during phone conversations, I write down little things I want to remember for later. I take notes as I’m reading. I take a lot of notes throughout my workday. And I still love, love, love a paper to do list.
My main life calendar is digital (I use Google Calendar). I try to do most of my writing, blogging, and journaling on the computer (I hate hand cramps). However, I still write stuff on papers and in notebooks all day every day. I love my lists and notes. I’ve tried to do notes and lists digitally and I hate it. There is just something about writing stuff out with my hand that makes life a million times better.
I have discovered that most of my note taking is to help with my memory making. I don’t refer to my notes at a later date, most of the time. I just write things down at the moment as a way to help me store the information into long-term memory. Which means that I was able to discard a lot of the scrap paper notes and notebooks. If it’s important enough to keep long-term, I plan to scan it to keep it digitally or type the notes in a document.
I still have a large stack of empty notebooks, but I’m trying to only use one at a time to keep my note taking a little more organized. Instead of having a notebook in every room of the house and 3 for my work, I just have one notebook for work and one notebook for random other things.
Recently I started using a bullet journal for my to do list and general life planning. I love, love, love it. First of all, it has drastically cut down on random scraps of paper to do lists that get lost and shuffled around the house. It’s all in my bullet journal so I can go back to previous days to see how much I’ve accomplished. I can look over my accomplishments at the end of the month to help me decide on new goals for the coming month. I love that it’s all in one organized place. If you are a paper and pen list person like me, I highly recommend starting some version of a bullet journal. You can check out this post to see exactly how I use my bullet journal.
The Paper Monster is no fun.
The paper category has so far been my least favorite category to work through. I enjoyed going through my books and clothes, but the papers were such a drag. Probably because papers don’t actually spark joy but we do need to keep a lot of them (and feel guilty for many we don’t keep). I’m so glad to be done with this category and I’m really hoping to be able to keep the paper monster at bay in the future.
I’ve already developed the habit of tossing all junk mail in the recycling can outside before I even enter the house after visiting the mailbox. I keep a stack of all the kids’ papers and artwork from the week in one place as they bring it home. When they aren’t around I quickly sort through it and discreetly toss most of the items in the bottom of a trash can where they can’t see it (so. much. guilt.). Permission slips and other forms I try to fill out immediately or they go in the “to deal with” folder right away. Invitations get added to my calendar immediately, I take a picture of the invite if it’s cute or has important details I’ll need, and then toss them. Greeting and thank you cards are read and then tossed unless they are really touching and then they are stored in my sentimental folder.
We will never get rid of paper completely, no matter how hard we try. But it doesn’t have to be everywhere and it doesn’t need to make us lose our minds. Tame that paper monster and then develop some systems and routines to keep that monster at bay.
Action Step: Sort through your paper monster and toss, toss, toss. Share your favorite paper taming tip in the comments.
Ruth Soukup (author of Unstuffed: Decluttering your home, mind, and soul) recently posted a great article on Taming the Paper Clutter that shares a lot of helpful tips as well.
Quarterly Goal Setting Workbook – if you’re looking to develop some goals, create a plan, and actually make some progress on tackling the clutter and paper in your house then be sure to check out my quarterly goal setting workbook to walk you step by step through the process.