Most of my clients do not like dealing with paper, so it often accumulates and becomes overwhelming. Some of them also enjoy saving articles, recipes, images, quotes, cartoons or other papers they might want to read “someday.” If you fall into either or both of these categories, I encourage you to at least pull out the most important papers that come in so they don’t get lost among those that have a lower priority. Set up simple systems so you can find the legal, financial, medical and other data that it is important to keep.
Remember that a “filing” system is really a “finding” system. Figure out something that works for you so you can find anything you choose to keep, whether it’s in a box, a book shelf, a file drawer or a cabinet, making sure things are well labeled. If it helps, make a list of these files and where you keep them.
I happen to love paper! I get inspired and am always collecting ideas to write about, share with someone or include in my art journaling. I also have lots of interests and like to read things on those topics—travel, hobbies, grandparenting, decluttering, how the brain works, self-care, spiritual growth, inspiration, etc. It is these papers (plus those from my mother, father and brother) that I accumulated over many years and chose to purge during the last three weeks. And that is the paper I’m addressing here—old piles and boxes of paper that up until now were a very low priority. However, I knew there might be some treasures in them so I didn’t want to toss everything without looking.
Some Things to Think About
- Piles of paper are piles of postponed decisions. Most relate to the past.
- Get in the right frame of mind so you can make decisions more easily.
- You will never again look at 80% of what you’ve kept! (The 80/20 Rule.)
- Paper represents our past, our present and our future, so there can be emotions attached to it.
- Keep what matters. Recycle the rest!
- Make sure you have large containers nearby for recycling and shredding.
- Consider getting help if you are stuck, resistant and/or would rather be doing something else.
Some Questions to Ask
- What are your current and future interests and plans? Get clear on what is important to you now, in the next six months, in the next year, or in the next chapter of your life.
- How much space do you want your papers to take? I set an intention to only keep what would fit into my two 4-drawer file cabinets.
- Where could you create a space to sort your papers? A large table is best.
- Where are your papers now? Gather them all together, in piles or boxes.
- How much time can you block out per week or per month to deal with your papers? Commit the time so it’s no longer a burden. Think of the relief!
What the world really needs is more love and less paper work.
— Pearl Bailey
Here are More Tips
- Make appointments with yourself…and keep them! Select times when you have the most energy—probably not late afternoon, for example, when your energy could be at its lowest.
- Create an environment to support your sorting process. I worked at a large dining room table, with good lighting and a comfortable chair. I stayed hydrated, ate regularly and often played some favorite music in the background.
- Work in small chunks of time. Set a timer for 15-30 minutes. You can always set it again. I chose to work several hours at a time, taking breaks every hour to walk, stretch or do something standing up for awhile. Find your own pace.
- Focus on one piece of paper at a time, one pile at a time. Put papers in piles or boxes so you only see the top paper. Set on a chair or on the table to avoid repeated, strenuous reaching. I worked with about 4” of paper at a time.
- Sort first into broad categories such as memorabilia, correspondence, contact information, papers to review, to file, to give to others and whatever your current and future interests might be. There could also be legal, financial and medical papers. Set up your own broad categories as you are sorting. Label each pile with a nearby sticky note.
- Hopefully your biggest pile is for recycling. Set an intention to recycle or shred 80% of your papers! And celebrate every time you dump them into your recycling bin!
- Be your own cheerleader—acknowledge what you’ve accomplished. Every time you finish a pile or box, pat yourself on the back. “Yay me!” is the best cheer! This can keep you going.
- Don’t fret about what else needs to be done. Focus on what you want to create—fewer papers, relief, order, freedom, joy!
- Affirmations can help. Create your own, or tell yourself, “It is getting easier to decide what papers to let go of, and which papers to keep.”
- Handle each broad category later—if you stop to file, it can bog you down. If you have lots to go through, you’ll want to sort as quickly as possible.
- Set aside separate time for things you want to go through more thoroughly. I came across medical records and correspondence between my dad, my mom, my sister and me regarding my mom’s manic-depressive episodes. It stopped my momentum, AND, I set aside time to read through everything, have greater compassion for everyone concerned and then let it all go.
- Purge the containers/file drawers you’ll be using. Once you’ve sorted all the old papers, where will you put them? I decided to also purge both of my four–drawer file cabinets, using a similar process as described above. I also discovered that 80% of the papers in these two file cabinets were no longer relevant. The 80/20 rule is really true!
More Key Questions To Ask About Paper
- What is this piece of paper about?
- Is this still important to me?
- Is it current or outdated?
- Do I really need to keep this?
- Where else could I find it? Online?
- Who else would have it? Attorney? Agent? Family member?
- Do I need to keep this for tax purposes?
- Does it relate to a capital improvement on my home?
- Do I really plan to take time to review or read this?
- Could I scan it?
- Does it support my desire for less paper?
Now that I’ve finished sorting and purging all my old papers and both file cabinets, does this mean I’m “out of sorts?!” ☺
- I feel relief and great joy at what I accomplished.
- I didn’t realize how “stagnant” and draining the old files were. They are now very “alive” and user-friendly. Now I love to file because the file drawers contain only that which is of interest and useful to me now and in the coming “golden years” of my life
- I have a much deeper appreciation for all the experiences I’ve had, all that I’ve created, the hobbies I’ve enjoyed, the people I’ve known and all the ways I’ve grown and evolved.
Among my papers, I found an affirmation that sums it all up:
I honor the past for its lessons and joys.
I relish the future for its possibilities.
Together they enrich the present moment.
Hopefully you will find some tips here that will inspire you to reduce any paper you have accumulated. Please know that I always wish for you greater order, greater joy and greater peace of mind.
And so it is!