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Eliminate Paper Clutter

Spring Cleaning – Decluttering Paper Again

As a minimalist, I think I’ve done a good job of eliminating the stuff from my life that doesn’t add any value to it. Instead, I try to surround myself with things that make me more efficient and comfortable and I put more energy towards experiences than acquiring tangible stuff. However, my Achilles heel when it comes to being a minimalist, is paper clutter.

Buried Again by projectbamboo from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Buried Again by projectbamboo from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

There is a lot of paper in my life. I admit I kill lots of trees because I have to write down ideas in order to process them, and I’m that person who prints off stuff at work and writes notes on it by hand. It’s just how I work best. I understand it. I accept it. But it also generates a lot of paper clutter around me. And one of the things that makes me more anxious and less clearheaded, is having a cluttered workspace and a cluttered home. So then all my paper clutter ends up in piles  around the house and the office, and it takes me months to deal with it. I also have to deal with other paper clutter like receipts I have to save for tax purposes and business cards I get at events. I have systems for dealing with these things, but I suck at implementing them on an ongoing basis.

I’ve done a minimalism project before around my paper clutter – I challenge myself to deal with every new piece of paper in my life within 24 hours. This time, for the month of March, I am going to use The Minimalism Game, invented by The Minimalists, to deal with the paper clutter in my home.

The game is very simple and lasts one month. On the first day, you eliminate one item. On the second day you eliminate 2 items. Whatever day you are on, that’s how many things you have to eliminate from your life, so on the 31st, I will have to eliminate 31 items. The amount you have to remove each day is manageable (especially since I’ll be minimizing paper), but in aggregate, it has a big impact. If I follow the rules of the game, I will eliminate 496 items of paper during the month of March. (If I run out of paper to declutter (yay me!) I’ll move on to decluttering my inboxes.)

I have 2 caveats for myself in regards to playing The Minimalism Game:

  1. The game does not apply to new paper entering my life. At the end of each day, I have to have a net loss based on however many items I have to eliminate that day. So if I get 5 pieces of mail on the first day, I have to eliminate 6 items to have a net loss of 1 for the day.
  2. I am allowed to work ahead. The goal is to eliminate 496 items over the course of the month. If I get on a role and eliminate 50 items on day 1, I only have to eliminate 446 more items during the rest of the month. This particularly makes sense for me because I will be traveling for a few days in March. I need to be able to work ahead were play catch up as needed, but I hope, for the most part, that I’m all eliminating paper clutter almost every day. The game is merely a guide.

You are welcome to play The Minimalism Game with me. It’s a great way to get started with minimalism if you want to decrease the excess clutter in your life. My goal isn’t just to make my house look cleaner, but also help me feel less anxious and more creative as a result of having a space that is more conducive for my needs.

New Year, New Minimalism Projects

Happy New Year! I hope 2016 is an awesome year for you.

Flipped Hangers in my Closet - January 2016

Flipped Hangers in my Closet – January 2016

It’s the start of a new year, so you know what that means – Closet Clean-out 2016 begins! On January 1st, I went through my closet and flipped all my hangers. When I wear a garment, it will be hung up the normal way when I put it away. At the end of the year, I’ll be able to tell at a glance what I haven’t worn. The general rule is – if you haven’t worn something in a year, you’ll probably never wear it again – so get rid of it.

My wardrobe has shrunk significantly since I started minimizing my life in 2013. Since then, I’ve whittled my wardrobe down and built it up with garments that I love. The goal is to feel beautiful and comfortable in any setting.

Donation to Charity - January 2016

Donation to Charity – January 2016

I also have a shelf in my linen closet for items that need to be given away to charity. When I moved into my condo, I did a “packing party” that resulted in eliminating over 9 boxes of stuff from my life. Since then, I filled my charity shelf with more things to be given away. This week, the AZ Humane Society is coming over to pick up 2 boxes and 2 garbage bags filled with stuff for their thrift store. One box is almost all books – books I’ve read in the last year and books I’ve kept and will never read. One of the bags is filled with clothing – jeans, socks, t-shirts, and dresses that didn’t survive last year’s clean-out.

My other minimalism challenge for the year is eliminating and controlling paper clutter. I have a perpetual influx of paper into my life – bills, business publications, handwritten notes, etc. My goal for January is to eliminate my existing paper clutter and to keep incoming paper from piling up for the rest of the year. A few years ago, I challenged myself to process every new piece of paper within 24 hours. Perhaps I should try that again.

Minimalism Project Recap – Eliminate Paper Clutter

I challenged myself last month to take steps to eliminate the paper clutter in my life. Before starting project, I would let papers that needed to be filed pile up on the kitchen counter. If people were coming over, I would move the pile from the kitchen to the bedroom, and about four months later I’d take an hour to sort and file the massive pile of papers.

My project for May 2014 was to deal with every new piece of paper in my life within 24 hours, preferably before I went to bed that night. So here’s how it went.

For the most part, the project was a success. The only papers that sat on my counter for a limited amount of time are bills (that get paid every Friday) and grocery store ads (that get recycled when the next ones arrive in the mail). Many times, the 24-hour rule forced me to file papers I keep within minutes of coming in the door. It was a great habit to solidify. Often times, it was faster to deal with papers right away than when I’d let them pile up.

It wasn’t always easy or successful. Sometimes I go to networking events and I get back to the office with a stack of business cards. It’s time consuming to enter the data from each card into my contact database and there were a few nights I was up late, sometimes painfully tired, getting all the data in before I’d let myself go to bed.

Working Through My Phoenix Business Journal Last Week

Working Through My Phoenix Business Journal Last Week

The hardest thing to deal with was newspapers and magazines. I get the Phoenix Business Journal (PBJ) every week and I get a few professional magazines every month as part of my memberships in professional organizations. It’s hard to go through each one within 24 hours of their arrival, and I can’t always predict when they will arrive so I can’t set aside time for them. And I think part of it is a fear that going through each one will take a lot of time – and that’s not necessarily true. Here’s a typical process I go through with each edition of the PBJ:

  • Flip through the paper – read the articles that are relevant to my work, skim the rest (or at least read the headlines).
  • Highlight the articles that require a follow-up – people I know or people I want to meet
  • Tear the pages with highlights out. Recycle the rest.
  • Take the highlighted pages to my laptop and send follow up emails. Note the interactions in my database.

I only have to send a few emails per editions, and sometimes it’s zero. Take home lesson: Dealing with these publications (which are filled with ads I don’t read) takes a lot less time than I think. It’s usually less than an hour, significantly less.

I wish I’d made it a bigger priority to clean out my existing files, in particular to take my receipts in Taxes 2014 folder and put them in the Taxes 2014 binder that has dividers to help me stay organized. I started the binder last month and every new receipt goes into it, but there’s a file folder of accumulated receipts that may not get sorted until 2015 when I’m working on next year’s taxes.

So what’s next in my minimalism project? I think it’s my CDs. I have a CD binder full of albums I rarely look at. Some people would say just to chuck it out, because if it’s that important, I’ve already ripped it into my iTunes. I think I’ll go through it one more time, make sure everything’s ripped, keep a few albums I play in the car, and then get rid of the rest.