Papers: The seemingly Endless KONMARI Category
Just as the leaves are falling, papers seem to be infiltrating my home. Between school papers, fall catalogs, and the everyday bills, it has become a steady stream. I know I’m not alone.
I recently was invited as the “KonMari™ expert” at a shredding event at NVE Bank in Englewood, NJ where I shared my advice on how to handle the beastly paper category. The bank’s savvy head of marketing, Barbara Hand, wanted to provide a real and relevant service to the community and thought it would be helpful to have an expert to guide people on the spot.
The buzz of change was in the air as people drove in with their trunks full of banker boxes stuffed with papers that had likely accumulated over decades. The burly crew from Pro Shred Corporation rolled their huge barrels over to the parked cars where they relieved participants of their paper monstrosities. The barrels, now full, were then placed into a monster shredding truck built to do nothing but shred paper. It was quite the sight and I was happy to be a part of it.
The sign of relief and exhaustion on peoples’ faces when they saw their papers being wheeled away was a reminder of what a burden paper can be for people. Papers that had once made them feel paralyzed and helpless and disorganized were finally being removed from their lives. Whether they used the KonMari Method™ to declutter their papers or not (many said they had more to do after talking to me!), they hopefully had a new perspective on what they would be capable of doing in future decluttering efforts. Before leaving, dozens of people sought out my advice on how to tackle the rest of their homes in hopes of finding the KonMari™ magic in all areas of their house.
The papers category often reminds me of my late godmother, Janet, who lived a full century and I’m pretty sure spent half of it wrestling with the papers on her desk. Aunt Jan had a generous heart and she donated to lots of organizations who constantly solicited her for more. She was all about family couldn’t bare to throw any hand written cards away. Like many people of her time, she also had the dated habit of saving every paid bill and receipt long past any necessary point. And in the end, the medical bills of her ailing husband piled up and surely became unbearable. I wish I had my current knowledge about decluttering papers to have helped her back then.
Papers are a real challenge for people because they represent:
Money we spent on things (and if we consider it well-spent or not)
Thoughts and feelings documented
Creativity of our loved ones, such as children's artwork
Time spent on reading, writing, and learning
State of health– physical and mental (medical bills, doctors notes, etc)
Willingness to let go of the past
As a KonMari Method™ Consultant, I ask my clients what will life would look like without have endless piles of papers around the house. I ask them to fantasize about how they might spend newly found time and imagine the focus they would have with a clear desk. My ultimate goal is to free people up to spend time doing things that really matter and inspire them into taking action for a better future.
Papers Strategy 101:
1. Gather papers from all parts of the house– this includes the dusty file cabinet in the attic.
2. Create three large bins/boxes labeled:
Shred | Recycle | Keep
Decide which papers please you or that have a real utility. Consider how difficult it would be to replace a paper such as a financial document. Most things are digitized and easily found online, such as paid bills.
Second pass (The Keeps):
Create three categories for the "keep" papers, such as the ones Marie Kondo suggests:
Needs attention – bills to pay, paperwork to submit, forms to sign, etc
Short-term – current tax documents, current warranties, etc
Long-term – identification, certificates, etc.
Here is how I further categorize my papers but note how simple I keep the categories. No other papers live around the house outside of this box and the file cabinet upstairs.
IRS on what financial docs small businesses / self-employed people need here
IRS on what financial docs the average person should keep here
Regarding filing, the fewer the categories the better. If papers are overly categorized, it will be hard to retrieve them. You should have narrowed down your papers enough to know what lives in “medical” without needing a whole breakout within that category.
I store long-term papers up in a file cabinet and the more short-term (action items) in a small vertical file box on the counter. I like this one by Poppin, which uses hanging file folders for easy access.
Don't open mail until you are ready to really sort it and address it. Keep the recycling bin near where you look at the mail.
Unsubscribe to catalogs through Catalogue Choice and DMA Choice (note it can take a couple of months to kick in). For magazines, call the number on the subscription card that is tucked into the magazine. It's work, but let's save the trees!
Kids papers– a big one for many. Have your child empty his/her backpack upon arrival. I’ve trained this into my kids' routine after school. Snacks are not doled until this happens. Separate info papers from artwork. I put art in a specially designated basket on the dining table where we can look at it and discuss it over dinner. Address school papers or put them in your “action needed” folder if you don’t have time to address right away. Try to handle it immediately though, as handling things once is more efficient.
If you come across sentimental papers, such as love letters or kids art, set aside for the "sentimental" category and address at a later date. Stay focused on the task of reducing your volume of papers and go down memory lane another day.
Lastly, stay on top of the mail. Stashing mail in a drawer does not make it go away! Good luck and feel free to reach out with questions!