If you’re interested in what I’m doing but not ready to toss everything out, try these simple ways of reducing clutter. Like me, you may not think you have much clutter, but you’d be surprised to find how much stuff you have that you really don’t need – it might motivate you to get rid of even more things!

Your desk is a mess.

Papers are stacked on every surface in your home. Unopened junk mail stares at you from the bedside table. You can’t find your latest electric bill. You don’t know which magazine had that awesome smoothie recipe. You’re ready to tear your hair out as you rummage through your flyaway papers for that important document, hands littered with paper cuts.

Yeah. I’ve been there. Here’s how to change that.

1) You don’t need all those magazines. You’ve flipped through them, noted a few cool recipes or ideas, and put them on the pile under your coffee table – never to be picked up again. You keep them around because that apple-walnut salad recipe looked amazing and you want to give it a try. Unfortunately, you never got around to making it! The magazines sit and pile up and make your space look cluttered. Get rid of them! You don’t need them.

If you really want to keep some recipes, makeup tips, clothing ideas, etc., go through each magazine and cut out all the parts you want to keep. Find a notebook and paste the clippings on the notebook pages, organized any way you want or put all recipes in one folder. I went through my copies of Real Simple, clipped out all the vegetarian recipes I wanted to make, organized them by meal, and put them in one section of my accordion file. Now I can find what I need much easier. That’s one notebook/file compared to dozens of magazines! I donated the magazines to an art teacher who needed them for class projects. You can do the same, or find a magazine recycling center near you. If your magazines are in great shape and relatively recent, a local doctor’s office might accept them for waiting room material.

2) Open your mail over the garbage can. This will ensure that any junk mail will get tossed out right away, or recycled if you have a separate container for that, instead of piling up on the counter top. A majority of paper mail you receive is junk. Half of it remains unopened!

3) Pay bills immediately. Deal with remaining mail (usually bills) right away. You will also feel a sense of relief from not having those bills on the counter, staring at you, waiting to be paid. Fill out forms, respond to surveys, make appointments, and do anything else related to your mail right away. Get those papers done and out of sight.

4) File all your papers right away. Buy an accordion file (available at stores such as Target and Barnes & Noble). Label as many tabs as you need for the various types of papers you need to keep – health insurance records, paid bill receipts, car insurance information, phone service documents, and so forth. Then file your papers accordingly – making sure you’ve done them first, of course! Make sure you have a spot for all those papers you need so nothing gets lost behind the desk again.

Create a ‘random’ tab if needed if you have a few documents that don’t need its own tab. For better organization (i.e. personal documents vs. family documents), feel free to have two accordion files. I actually have two of them: one for the apartment and one with my personal documents. Now that everything is labeled, you know exactly where your papers are instead of shuffling through those piles you have crammed in every corner of the house!! The most important thing to remember is to file papers right away.

6) Start paying bills online. Eliminate the potential for paper clutter altogether and save trees! Most companies now offer the option of paying your bill directly from your bank account or via an electronic transfer. You can set this up through your online bank account, by calling the company, or by filling out a section on your paper bills in which you indicate you want electronic payments from now on.

7) Store things digitally – scan paper documents to your computer. The best way to eliminate the need to keep any paper around in organized file boxes is to scan every important document and save them into clearly labeled and organized folders on your computer. That is, assuming you even have any papers to deal with if you haven’t taken the online bill pay route. Then back it up. Never forget to back up everything on your computer to an external hard drive or online service like Google Docs.

8) You don’t need all those pens. I had a 1′ three-drawer storage thing for assorted pens, pencils, staples, rubber bands, ticket stubs, and so forth that I had accumulated over the years. Recently, I didn’t want that box anymore and tossed out everything, keeping a couple pens, tiny stapler, and few paper clips in a small box placed in a kitchen drawer.

You probably have the same kind of large box, or keep a bunch of pens clustered in a few drawers just in case you lose a pen and need another one. Get rid of them. Toss them out now (or if you’re hesitant to part with working pens, donate them to an office or school.). Keep only two or three pens and a couple pencils. If needed, place them in a mug in view on your workspace so you are always reminded to put them back where they go. You will realize how much easier it is to keep track of your pens when you only have a couple!

9) Clear off your workspace. I currently don’t have a desk – my laptop sits on my dining table and this is where I work. The dining table is a clear, glass surface that occasionally holds a vase of flowers along with my laptop. I love it. So clear.

No distractions aside from my fiance who likes to come up and kiss my head while I’m working. I don’t understand how anyone can accomplish anything with dozens of distractions on their desk. Keep it minimal: your computer, cup of [three] pens, notepad, photo or two. No stuffed animal knickknacks. No paper clip trays. At the end of the day, make sure your desk is clear so you are not greeted with a pile of work to do in the morning.

10) Find a place for things and keep them there. If you absolutely must keep some things around (I’m sure you will need a paper clip occasionally), use drawers and folders to neatly put things out of view after assessing whether or not you really need the item(s).

Remember, you are simplifying – not just putting everything you own out of sight. Then, like the pens, remember to put them back exactly where they go. If you make this a habit, you will find things easier and rarely lose them, thus reducing the need for extra “just in case” items.

Use time this weekend to do these! Some of these steps require a chunk of time to do, but others may take you a few minutes. Then sit back and enjoy the calm you get from having all your papers organized within a simplified workspace!

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