How to Get Rid of Paper Clutter – My Approach and Success

Clutter is a nuisance, and paper clutter seems to be the one that piles up infinitely and if impossible to get rid of. What makes paper clutter so daunting?

Paper clutter is any group of unorganized papers, envelopes, and files lying about in an untidy mess.Paper clutter can accumulate from sentimentality, items coming in faster than they can be organized, and not knowing what is and isn’t important. There are many great ways to organize and help feel calm.

Where does clutter come from, and how do we get over the looming fear of trying to rid ourselves of these unsightly piles of paper? Let’s explore and learn how to take control of the clutter.

What is Paper Clutter?

Paper clutter is piles of accumulated papers that have built up over time either because of a lack of motivation to clean them or because the papers can’t be processed/ organized as fast as they are incoming. 

Bills, newspapers, and collections of magazines and coupons can all add to the mounting piles of papers, and the bigger they get, the harder it is to find the motivation to start moving through them. Paper clutter is a common and frustrating problem, but incorporating some organizing techniques and learning to decide what to keep and toss can help eliminate those paper stacks fast.

Mountain of papers - How To Get Rid of Paper Clutter - Gone Minimal
Mountain of papers

What Is an Example of Paper Clutter?

Receipts come to mind when thinking of paper clutter, for students it might look more like class printouts and worksheets, it could also be post-it notes written as reminders, old mail you’re not sure what to do with, any accumulation of paper. 

What Is Clutter?

Clutter is any group of unorganized items lying about in an untidy mess. It can be piles of papers, stacks of books, unmanaged collections of antiques, parts and tools related to many open projects, dishes about the kitchen, knick knack shelves filled with items, most anything involving physical items.

What Is an Example of Clutter?

That pile of laundry that moves from your bed to your desk chair to your bed to your desk chair, that’s clutter. Earrings and headbands you took off but didn’t feel like putting them back in their right place: clutter. The magazines you bought, flipped through, and never opened again: clutter. 

Why Is It So Hard to Get Rid of Stuff?

There are two main reasons it’s hard to get rid of stuff. The first is that when stuff has accumulated it becomes overwhelming trying to motivate yourself to clean and organize. We get caught up in the idea of, where do I start, where does it all go? The second is that we can form attachments to some items. You probably don’t need every card you’ve ever gotten but they meant a lot to you when you got them, even if they’re now in a pile in your closet. 

What Is the Fastest Way to Purge Clutter?

Get someone else to do it.  But really the best way to start is small. This can look like a couple different things. Either you start with one type of item such as going through old receipts, or collecting all the dishes around your house, or maybe finding everything that’s blue. Or it can be starting in one area of your home like the kitchen sink, your desk, your bathroom. Start with small, manageable tasks.

How Do I Get Rid of Sentimental Clutter?

This is where it gets tricky. We don’t want to get rid of anything that at one point meant a lot to us, but when it starts to pile up, it becomes necessary. We can start by asking ourselves a few questions to decide whether the sentimental item needs to be kept. First, would you buy this item for yourself? Second, if a person you didn’t like gave you this gift would you still want to keep it? And third, Does this item invoke happy memories? Starting here can help you to understand if you keep an item because you genuinely like it or if you just associate it with the person who gave it to you.

Clutter is any group of unorganized items lying about in an untidy mess. 

How Do I Get Rid of Clutter Once and for All?

Clutter will accumulate, that’s just part of being human and living life, so preventing clutter can feel like an impossible task. If you can set time aside once a month or every couple weeks specifically for decluttering and going through the items that have piled up, that can become a habit that helps you to assess whether you’ll need to keep an item before it becomes clutter.

Getting rid of Paper Clutter Efficiently and Safely

How to Purge Paper Clutter

First and foremost, a lot of our paper clutter comes from bills and receipts so wherever you can, try to go paperless. That way the bills won’t pile up and they can still be accessed on your computer. Second is to go through the hopefuls, things like magazines, newspapers, things you hope someday you’ll read again but have been sitting on a shelf for the past few months. Last is to keep a recycling bin somewhere you can access easily for when you stumble upon paper clutter you know you can throw away.

How Do I Keep From Getting Overwhelmed by Paper Clutter?

Like with getting rid of clutter, the first step for not getting overwhelmed is to halt the influx–go paperless where you can. That way the paper doesn’t keep piling up so quickly. Next, having some kind of filing system in place so when you come across paper it has a specific place to go and if not, well then you either create a new file or trash it. Give yourself time, take a deep breath, and don’t kick yourself if you don’t finish it as quickly as you imagined.

How Do You Get Rid of a Lot of Paper at Once?

One quick way to get rid of a lot of paper at once is to shred it so the paper takes up less space. Either way, old paper should be recycled so it’s not totally wasted. 

What Can I Do With Shredded Paper?

Oh, my friend, you can do so much with shredded paper. Easiest is just to recycle it but what are some other options? Well, you can add it to your compost pile or add it to a community compost for local farms and gardens. You can also blend old paper scraps and make new, blank paper which is perfect for birthday cards, a new journal, you name it!

How Do You Destroy Paper Without Burning or Shredding?

Shredding and burning aren’t the only solution to getting rid of paper that may contain sensitive material. You can soak paper which will ruin the ink and if you blend it you have paper pulp and could make new paper out of the old paper. If you have a lot of paper you need to get rid of, there are external service providers you can hire to dispose of the paper.

Is It Better To Burn Papers or Throw Them Away?

It’s best to recycle paper which is an available option in most neighborhoods. Burning paper isn’t great for the environment, especially if the paper has ink on it, it releases carbon emissions and gases that can harm the environment. 

How Do You Destroy Paper Documents With Water?

If you choose to dispose of paper with water, allow the paper to soak in a water bath for 24 hours, when mixed it will break apart and it can be thrown away or made into new paper. 

Is It Ok To Put Shredded Paper in Compost?

Any paper that is not colored or glossy is safe for your compost.

Shredded paper - How To Get Rid of Paper Clutter - Gone Minimal
Shredded paper

Papers to Keep and Papers to Toss

What Personal Papers Should Be Kept?

Tax returns and important financial records should be kept indefinitely, other tax documents should be kept for 3-7 years, statements and pay stubs should be kept for one year, and bills, deposits and withdrawals only need to be kept for one month.

How Many Years of Documents Should You Keep?

Typically up to seven, depending on the document. Any document you intend to use for taxes should be kept for a year, tax documents typically are kept for 3-7 years.Other documents like social security cards and marriage licenses should be kept forever.

Organizing the Remaining Paperwork

How to Organize Important Documents at Home

There are products you can buy that are for filing papers you would want to grab if your house were on fire, but sometimes a regular file folder will do just as well. As long as the organization makes sense to you, then it works.

How Do I Organize Papers Into a Folder?

The organization should start before you even get the folders out. First sort your documents into piles like tax forms, tax returns, bills, bank statements, etc. Those will be your folders. Then within each folder you can organize by date or alphabetically or whatever works for you.

How to Organize Papers Without a Filing Cabinet

Filing cabinets can be expensive and take up a lot of space, luckily most folders can be placed into three ring binders which can then be put on a shelf or desk.

Helpful Insights:

Filing Tips

There are a few guidelines for filing papers, but the order in which they go is up to you and what is most helpful for your own organization.

What Are the 5 Basic Filing Systems?

Subject/CategoryThis can be a great first step to organizing papers, figuring out which files go together such as tax forms, bills, letters, etc. Once you organize your papers into piles of similar papers, then you can assign a name or category to each pile which you can put into an order based on date, title, or something else.
Alphabetical orderAlphabetical order is a good way to organize files with titles or authors. Once you’ve organized your papers into categories, one way to organize from there is to put them in alphabetical order. This might look like bills, letters, taxes, returns, all in their own ordered folders.
Numbers/Numerical orderAnother way to organize the folders is by giving each one a numerical value. This is basically what libraries do. The numbers can be based on priority, or subject, that part is up to you. You can assign numbers like taxes are 1, then from there, each paper can be 2017 taxes are 1.1, 2018 are 1.2, 2019 are 1.3, and so on. 
Places/Geographical orderAnother way to order the folders is based on where they come from. Perhaps you want to keep all your bills and tax info from your first apartment or first job together. This is a helpful way to organize if you’ve moved locations/ states/ countries, or for items that relate to locations like printed directions, maps, and letters.
Dates/Chronological orderUsually when we organize by date and time, it’s a secondary order system. This means all of your bills are in one folder, and then within that folder they’re organized from oldest to newest. This doesn’t always have to be the case, sometimes you can order solely based on date such as having all your June expenses, bills, and documents in one folder works better for you.

Here is a helpful video demonstrating insights and practices into paper decluttering:

Must Haves to Tame Paper Clutter

The way you organize and dispose of your paper clutter is up to your preferences, but here are some products that can make the process a lot easier.

  • Paper Shredder – Having a paper shredder is helpful for disposing documents for a couple reasons. Firstly, shredded paper takes up a lot less space in recycling bins than full sheets do so you can dispose of more at once. Secondly, if you have papers with sensitive or personal information such as licenses, bills, and taxes, it’s more difficult for that information to get stolen if the paper is shredded. 
  • Folders – Folders can help with giving the papers you keep a place to go. They are necessary for housing categories of papers that can later be organized. Putting groups of papers into folders helps to organize large piles of papers into smaller bite size chunks. 
  • Binders – Binders are a great tool for organizing larger groups of paper. They tend to come with tabs and labels so each set of papers can go in their own category. They are also great for storage since binders can be put on shelves or in file cabinets really easily which is a fancy way of hiding paper clutter. 
  • Scanner – The best way to get rid of paper clutter is to not have paper at all. A lot of bills and forms can be paperless and most companies have that option. However for documents that can’t be paperless, a scanner is your best friend. Once the document is received, scan it into your computer, put it in a labelled folder either on your desktop or an external harddrive and then rid yourself of the paper forever! Or put the paper in a folder in case the harddrive crashes or goes missing. 

Keeping Paper Clutter Away

  • Go paperless whenever possible – Many businesses are giving customers the option to go paperless with bills and statements that they email to you monthly or quarterly. Not having paper statements coming in can prevent paper from piling up.
  • Purge your paper regularly – Set a date for yourself once a month to go through papers and decide what you need to keep and what you no longer need. Anything that needs to be kept for a little longer can go into folders or on your computer, and everything else can be disposed of. 
  • Shred personal documents – Any document that has personal or sensitive information should be shredded before disposed of so your information doesn’t get stolen. You can shred by hand of course, but using a shredder saves a lot of time. 
  • Create and use a filing system – Creating a filing system can help not only organize the papers you have but when new paper comes in you have a system already in place so it doesn’t pile up, and if it does pile up, it can still be integrated into your system.
  • Put the recycling bag or bin next to the front door – When the recycling bin is in a space you pass a lot like the front door, it becomes a reminder to get rid of paper clutter. It is also convenient to have it here when you bring the mail in so you can throw junk mail away immediately.

Other Resources:

Paper clutter can become overwhelming really quickly. Hopefully with these tips and tricks, the task seems less daunting and you can get your paper clutter under control. 

Related Topics:

Can You Burn Paper in Your Backyard?

You can, but the fire department might show up and environmentalists might get mad at you. If it’s safe and legal to have fires in your backyard then you can burn paper, but not all paper can be burned. Newspapers in small quantities, plain paper, yes but nothing with a glossy coating or colored ink can be burned because of the harmful emissions. 

Is There Any Reason To Keep Old Bank Statements?

There are a few good reasons to keep old bank statements. Proof of payment incase of a dispute, it is a good record of spending and can help you notice if there has been fraud. Additionally some apartments require bank statements as proof of income. 

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