The very first step in dealing with paper is to eliminate as much as possible. Be ruthless.
I use only a few things for my paper. A paper calendar, a “pending” papers box, a note pad, a pronged folder with sheet protectors and a recipe box.
Paper Calendar (with sticky notes and a pen)
I hang it on the inside of my cabinet door. I have a pen and sticky notes next to my calendar. I don’t use the sticky notes often, but that is where I usually stand while making appointment related phone calls, so it is more convenient for me to have those supplies next to the calendar.
Pending Box (and magnets)
I have a box covered in contact paper and mounted to the side of my fridge with a lot of magnets taped to the inside. That is where the mail usually goes as well as any incoming papers. I like to keep that box as clear as possible, all the “pending” or “in-use” papers go here. These are papers that I don’t need to keep forever, but I do need to keep for now. I have been thinking about upgrading the box to something that I can just put on a desk, something that looks more sleek and presentable that I don’t feel the need to hide when company comes over, but for now it is just fine. I also have a few small, minimal magnets for papers that demand to be seen. I do prefer my refrigerator to be clear of clutter. It is more relaxing that way, but some art work is just too precious.
Note Pad (and pen)
I love to write and make notes, and I am looking for the “perfect” note pad for me. I have been carrying around a composition book, but it is not ideal for shopping lists. Recently I have been trying a spiral bound note pad that is a bit smaller and fits in my purse easily.
Pronged Folder (with sheet protectors)
There are some papers that are simply more convenient to keep in paper form. Birth certificates, social security cards, tax forms, pay stubs. There are often requested and difficult to obtain. For these items I use a three pronged plastic folder with page protectors in the prongs.
My children have their own paperwork, so I also have a plastic three prong file folder for each of them and my daughter has a pocket folder for her homework.
Recipe Box (and index cards)
One last thing that I have is a little box for recipes. I usually print new recipes out if I want to try them. They go in the pending box and if I don’t try them by the end of the week they go out.
If this seems like a bit much, that’s fair. But my paper situation has never been this good. Before I had two large file boxes, hanging files, file folders, countless binders, composition books, who knows how many note pads of every size, color and description. I had unused sticky note pads that I hated, but I kept around “just in case.” There were stacks and stacks of recipes that I wanted to try “someday.” I could never find what I needed. Now when my husband asks me for a paper I either know exactly where it is or I have already thrown it away. The second option is unfortunate, but at least I know I don’t have to look for it.
If you want to reduce your paper clutter and you want to do as I did I suggest starting with the pronged folder and the pending box. Gather all the items you would put in the pronged folder, this is what is in my folder, if you need a list to start:
- birth certificates
- marriage certificates
- social security cards
- immunization records
- contact list of all the people I know with their contact information
- a user name/password list with all the companies I am involved with, as well as their contact information
- pay stubs are in the front pocket b/c I get rid of them periodically
- prescription for glasses and contacts for both me and my husband
- photo copy of the contents of our wallets, in case our wallet/purse is lost/stolen
- tax information
- My husband’s employment information – because he is a teacher he needs a copy of his credential, his most recent TB test and of course a paper copy of his resume/cover letter, his at-will employment agreement and information on our retirement.
- my high school transcripts and my diploma
- I also have a legal document for a friend in my file folder. Because it is personal to her I won’t divulge the contents.
The next step is to find all of what you consider to be pending papers that might include:
- appointment reminders
- flyers from school
- unpaid bills (can you sign up for paperless billing and do all your bills online?)
- unopened mail
- recipes you want to try – this week
The next step was the hard part for me. It took a long time, but it was worth it. Go through every single paper and decide to shred or just recycle it. You might come across a paper that you really need to keep, or something you find sentimental. Set those papers to the side for now. This should be a very short stack because you have already taken out everything you really need, right?
For the recipe box, most of what I do on an everyday basis doesn’t need a recipe. Salads, stir fries, free-form casseroles, sandwiches, smoothies, and things of that nature don’t need a recipe. I keep a box of recipes for holiday foods that I don’t have memorized. My sister-in-law’s favorite potato dish for thanksgiving, my chocolate cake recipe, my dutch apple pie that my husband adores. Things that we only have occasionally.
I really recommend http://www.thesimplebrief.com/best-way-to-meal-plan/ and http://www.thesimplebrief.com/systematic-grocery-shopping/ for the best ways to meal plan and grocery shop when you are just starting out.
I have heard a lot about scanning papers that you want to keep. I decided against this. One, I already have tons and tons of digital clutter that I need to go through still and I didn’t want to make it more of a mess. Two, I can never find anything on my computer, I have lost files due to computer crashes, I have deleted things on accident. I love my computer, I work on my computer, but if something is truly important I want to have it in paper form. You may disagree with me and that is fine.
Above all: do what works for you.