7 Top Questions for Controlling Paper Clutter
In another post, 3 Best Declutter Questions for "The Collection", I covered 3 essential questions I ask clients while helping them decide what to discard. There are also some basic questions for paper clutter, and if put into practice they build some real "mental muscle" when confronting stacks of paper. I once watched a particular client in just one session go from total indecision about every piece of paper she touched to literally flipping paper into the recycle/trash piles at a glance as if she were dealing cards! 😁
What's the worst thing that can happen to me if it didn't exist? (If nothing, or something really minor, toss.)
Is it replaceable (on the web, by phone call to original source, logging in to your account somewhere, etc)? This includes bills and monthly statements... Almost any so called important piece of paper that comes into our homes and requires a payment or has to do with financial, medical or tax-related topics, can be recovered from the originating source by a simple phone call. Once bills are paid, it is very rare to need to keep the physical bill (unless it's tax-related), as the payment itself now becomes the record from our side of the matter.
Is it tax-related documentation? If yes, it stays! Pretty straight-forward...
Would a scanned copy serve just as well as a hard copy? Then scan it, and shred or toss it! Scanning is an incredible tool for getting rid of old paper clutter, but it's an even better habit to get started for dealing with future incoming paper. Sometimes it is hard to judge if you might need a hard copy of something in the future, so scanning allows you to store it but get it out of your surroundings, and if you title it and store it well on your computer system, it's easily retrievable.
Is it outdated? This is a particularly useful question when it comes to articles clipped from magazines on hobby topics, medical information, school and professional texts on outdated technical information, etc. Another related question is "Do I know this information now...?" We often retain articles or snippets of information to help us remember details, but if it is something you're very interested in and continue to learn about, maybe you've outgrown the need for a particular bit of information on the topic. This article gives plenty of ideas for ways to discard old books, be they technical, texts, general reading, etc.
If you're still stumped... What purpose does this serve in my life? Does it remind or inform you of an upcoming event, remind you to make an appointment, is it simple memorabilia (Oh, boy--that's another topic! 😉)
And, if it has a purpose but you're still stumped about whether to hold, scan, or file it...
What's the next thing I need to do? I.e., make a phone call, pass it to someone else, get more information... And, if there is nothing keeping you from it (office closed, person unavailable, too early to respond, etc.), do it now!
These are by no means all the questions that come into play with paper clutter, though they are generally enough to help figure out whether something should be kept or discarded. But, no guarantees here, friend--it can seem complicated for emotional reasons, and learning to deal properly with paper clutter can take time and practice. 😏
Here Suzy Orman offers a concise list of paperwork that needs to be kept and for how long. If it doesn't show up on this list, it's probably trash, especially once you've taken any necessary actions on it, e.g., made the appointment, RSVP'd, made a reservation, paid the bill, confirmed the delivery, etc.