Banishing Paper Clutter Forever

bookkeepingI know that’s a bold statement. Yet, I believe you can really banish paper clutter forever… if you follow a few simple principles.

Knowing that I help clients who struggle with paper — bills, important documents, and the like — a good friend recommended this book to me: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. “Life changing… you’ve got to be kidding me? is what I was secretly thinking.” Then I read it. And I know it’s possible.

Sort by Categories

This sounds so logical! When we embark on the process of organizing ourselves, we tend to tidy up by location. You may set little goals like tackling the kitchen junk drawer. Then a week later it’s cluttered up again, this time with other odds-and-ends that don’t seem to have a home. Kondo, who is now a world-known organizer in Japan, says that by failing to sort by category is the primary reason we rebound — organize something only to have it fall back into disarray.

So why does sorting by location not work? Because you can have the same type of item in multiple places scattered throughout your home. As a result, we aren’t really aware how much stuff we really have. Until we sort by category in one session. Do you really need 7 different types of scissors? Probably not. You’ll find that getting rid of duplicate or unused items  is easy when you sort by category.

Start with the Easy Stuff

The author has a definitive methodology of tackling clutter. She suggests starting with clothes as they tend to not have an “emotional charge.” Letting go of tatty underwear, for example, is easy to let go.

As a daily money manager and paper wrangler, I use a similar approach for paper clutter; I typically sort items in this order:

  • Junk mail
  • Past Bills
  • Current Bills
  • Medical Paperwork
  • Tax Documents
  • Legal Documents (e.g., Trusts, Insurance Policies, Power of Attorney)
  • Charitable contributions / solicitations

By starting with benign items like junk mail, my client and I get into a decision-making rhythm. Piles of paper start to diminish and progress is made. Often I can visibly see the relief in my client. By starting with the easy stuff, they feel in control of their paper. Paper clutter gets under control. And by the end, they are more comfortable in making harder or more important decisions related to their finances.

A Simple Question

If you go through this tidying-up process, tackling papers as well as other areas of your life, the author made an important observation in her clients.

When you put your house in order, you discover what you really want.

This really struck a chord with me. As my work as a daily money manager helps others uncover that answer. Let me give you an example.

Mary is a very successful program manager at a well-known Bay Area firm. She makes very good money working 60+ hour weeks. Dealing with mail, especially paying bills, caused a lot of stress. Paper would pile up… and then Mary would neatly put all that paper into a paper bag. Then the bag eventually migrated into the garage. Now fast forward 8 months… the garage was a sea of paper bags. As you can imagine, sorting through these bags was akin to an archeological dig.

At its very core, Mary hated dealing with paper. She was too tired at the end of the day to handle financial decisions and manage its related details. Now she puts her mail into one bin and I pick it up weekly. Mary’s financial life is in order and she’s free to focus on what’s important to her.

A New Year Around the Corner

2016 is quickly approaching. Is one of your New Year’s Resolutions to get your financial house in order? You might start with reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Another favorite book I recommend is One Year to An Organized Financial Life by Regina Leeds and Russell Wild. Or if you want to fast-track your goal, give me a call. I’ll guide you through the tidying up process.

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