One Bag Nation

Managing Paper Pile-Up, Part One: The Mail

Posted on: June 10, 2008

The main source of paper clutter in our house is used to be the mail. We had a giant (conference-sized) table piled high with unsorted bills, catalogs, solicitations, newspapers, flyers and magazines. A naturally organized person would never live like that . . . but it took me a long time to develop the habit – and the discipline – to stop piling and start processing.

Now when I bring the mail inside, I don’t even put it down anywhere. I walk straight to the recycling bin and get rid of the obvious junk. If there are direct mail letters that look like they need to be shredded, I put them in my “to shred” box; magazines or catalogs I want to look through go on the stairs to be taken up at bedtime, and everything else goes into my inbox, to be processed on desk day.

Sometimes I can’t believe I lived with all that paper taking up physical – and mental – space.


13 Responses to "Managing Paper Pile-Up, Part One: The Mail"

Hi Ann,

You sound like me.

I try not to handle the mail any more than I have to. When I open the mail I have my recycle (paper) box next to my desk, have a stack for shredding, one for business (input into computer), and one pile for filing.

Ironically, most of it gets recycled or shredded.

This is what I do as well, but then I decided to take another step towards simplicity and stop the mail altogether! Well, the junk mail anyway.

I posted about it on my blog:

I figure the best way to simplify is to stop the inflow of stuff at the source, which means not having to deal with it at all. 🙂 The things I mentioned in my post are Canada-specific, but I’m certain there are similar organizations in the U.S. (actually, I remember Oprah talking about them on one of her shows).

I think you’ve developed a great system. I like the tip of not even putting it down – thanks!

hello, just wanted to say i found your blog thru a zenhabits comment, and girlfriend, i just ate it up. i am very full of blog now i guess, yet satisfied. keep it up!

@Barbara: I still go to the mailbox with anticipation, hoping for something “interesting”, and it’s amazing how little interesting, or even important, mail we get!

@Alissa: I’ve taken some steps as well to reduce the junk that comes to the door, and I pay some bills online, and that helps. You’re right, there are ways in the US to reduce even further; I’ll have to research that and post again – thanks!

@Vered: I think you’re way ahead of me on this; I have a suspicion you’re a “naturally organized” soul! 🙂

@Catherine: glad you found me and glad you enjoyed your reading!

Hi Ann – I found your blog via a comment on another site. Nice to see I am not alone in wanting to be organized/clutter free but am not a natural organizer. I ordered a planner pad today – surely that will help 😉 GTD just wasn’t working for me. I enjoy your site.

Welcome Sandy! It is hard work for me, every day, to keep the stuff and the “to do’s” in order, but I’m making progress!

GTD and I didn’t mesh either; I read the book twice! and finally realized I needed something else, though I have used a couple of his ideas.

I recently ordered something called The Planner Pad, too and it’s working pretty well; I’m planning to post about it soon.

Thanks for commenting!

Bingo! I’m currently having a massive internal debate on whether it’s better to get a second shredder to put by the mail table or to stop being lazy and just keep hiking upstairs to the shredder there, where all the filing happens.

Sara, I don’t shred every day, but my shredder is downstairs, so no hike required! Do you feel comfortable letting the things to be shredded accumulate for a few days?

Of course that can be a slippery slope; a modest stack can quickly become an overwhelming pile!

I open my mail outside by the recycling can, that way trash goes immediately into the bin and I only bring the relevant stuff inside. Then I go to the calendar and write down all relevant dates and bin those papers as well (right next to the calendar) and then things either go into my ‘to be filed’ box, which I sort monthly, or into my deal with folder which I do nightly.

Kelly, that sounds very efficient and probably eliminates any paper pile-up. Are you a naturally organized person?

The biggest problem I have with mail clutter is my husband. He and I don’t see eye to eye and no matter how many different systems I put in place to deal with the paper clutter it STILL ends up on my floor and on my coffee table. Every couple of weeks I pile all his mail on his keyboard and sort through mine, but he just knocks it back onto the floor/table. HELP!

Meags: would it help if you got some sort of bin or basket? At least there wouldn’t be a pile on his keyboard. And I wouldn’t wait for two weeks’ worth to accumulate; that might be overwhelming for him to deal with. Good luck!

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