How to reduce paper clutter

February 10, 2012|Lisa Prejean

Paper tumbles from mailboxes, bookbags, briefcases, pockets, purses. It accumulates on counters, tables, desks, filing cabinets. The amount that makes its way into our homes can be overwhelming at times.

The average American deals with a five-inch stack of paper each week, says Monica Ricci, an organizational expert.

This paper needs to be processed, filed or tossed in a timely fashion, or else the task can take on a snowball effect. Digging out from under seems a goal that is out of reach.

Will it ever be attained?

When a person takes on one piece of the puzzle, it makes it easier to take on the other pieces, Ricci says.

"The more good you do, the more good you will be able to do," Ricci says. "The bigger the project is, the less likely we are to do it."

Here are some of Ricci's suggestions for organizing the paper that enters our homes:

 The first step should be reducing the volume of mail.

There are services online that enable people to choose the mail they will or won't receive.

For example, allows consumers to select which catalogs they want to receive.

Consider placing a trash can between the mailbox and front door or a shredder in the garage. The less mail that makes its way through your front door, the less has to be processed.

 Develop a system for processing the mail.

There should be a place for all mail that is not going to be tossed. Coupons, catalogs and magazines should be immediately placed in the area reserved for them.

"You've got to know in advance where it goes," Ricci says.

Have an "in-box," a place where children can place papers that need to be signed or processed in some other way.

Deal with the mail and the papers in the in-box three to four times a week.

"It keeps you on top of the process," Ricci says.

 Limit space for incoming papers. Most people think they would be more organized if they had more space. That typically is not the case. Set physical limits for the amount that will be kept. When that limit has been reached, it is time to purge.

 Piles should be divided in an organized way.

"Transform them into groups that become mobile by using stacking trays or a similar method," Ricci says.

 Consider going paperless.

Paper is merely a vehicle that is used to provide information. That same information can be obtained digitally.

Accounts can be gathered in one place online, says Jessica Insalaco, chief marketing officer for Manilla, an online account and bill organizing system. Insalaco explains that Manilla provides easy access to household bills, travel rewards, student loans, etc.

"It's like a personal assistant," Insalaco says, noting that there is an added bonus. "You're not bringing the paper in the front door."

Manilla clients range from 18-year-olds who are learning to manage their finances to 85-year-olds who want to keep life simple.

Manilla provides extended family members with the ability to monitor a loved one's accounts online, a feature that appeals to parents of college-age students and adult children who are helping aging parents.

The best part is, the service is free. For more information, go to

Have fun getting organized. Start small and remember that each step makes a difference toward the ultimate goal.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send email to her at

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