THE BLOG

The 3 Questions That Will Eliminate Your Paper Clutter

04/07/2015 02:25 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2015

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Paper clutter.

Whether your paperwork is relatively managed or your paperwork is your arch nemesis, you need an organizational system that works for you.

The problem is that not all systems are created equally.

You may not have a system that works correctly for your needs. Or, you may not have a system at all.

But, before you head to the office store, it is helpful to get clear on what kind of systems would be best suited for you.

Here are three key questions to ask yourself, in your organizing process, to create sustainable paper organizing systems and regain your sanity.

I call them the three W's of de-cluttering: What, Why and Where.

What is it?

Get specific and define exactly what that piece of paper is.

Is it a bill that needs to be paid? Is it a bill that has already been paid? Is it a piece of your child's artwork? Is it a calendar of school events?

Once you identify exactly what it is, it will inform the answers to the next two questions, which ultimately leads you to creating an effective system for each category of paper.

Why are you keeping it?

While there's a whole subconscious element to why we keep paper, I'm talking about why you think you are keeping it, in this moment.

Does it require action? Do you need to reference it later? Do you want to save it for memorabilia? Are you afraid you will need it for something?

Again, get as specific as possible. It is important to understand why you are hanging on to the piece of paper, and what action it may or may not require, in order to know how and where to store it.

Where will it live?

Once you determine what the item is and why you are keeping it, it dictates where the item can or should be stored within your home.

The first two questions are leading you towards identifying if your paperwork requires action, referencing or archiving. Once that is determined, you can choose an organizational system that is appropriate for each of those needs. And then choose a place in your home where that system will live.

For example, you need to keep bills that are awaiting payment, or recipes that need referencing, in accessible spots. But you do not need to keep Christmas cards, extra artwork from the kids, or any other memorabilia on the kitchen counter.

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In other words, paperwork that requires action must be in an open and accessible organization system.

Consider open paper trays, baskets, and attractive mail sorters. This is the ONLY kind of paperwork that should be within your sight.

Paperwork that does not require action, but needs to be referenced on a regular basis, can be kept in easily accessible areas, but not right out on tabletops, countertops and desks.

Think file boxes on a nearby bookshelf, or an open basket within a closet or cabinet.

Finally, paperwork that is "inactive", meaning that you are only keeping it either for memorabilia, archives, or "just in case" (also known as fear), can be stored in your furthest, least accessible spots; such as the back of a closet, a basement or attic.

Get that paper in a system and get that system out of your active spaces.

Overall, it is very important to assess all of the above before diving into creating random systems. Otherwise, you will likely create something that doesn't actually serve your needs and just creates more chaos.

So, take the time to establish your needs and from that place, you can create an effective and sustainable organizational system for all of your paperwork.

And the bonus is that you will gain productivity and peace of mind, which are pretty nice side effects.

Clear YOUR paper clutter with the Fabulous Paper Purge, a free online 7-day program designed to clear your clutter for good and connect with Susan on Facebook for her weekly tips.