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Declutter Paper Piles

Updated: May 24, 2023

How to manage paper clutter one pile at a time...

Raise your hand if you feel like papers are breeding when you're not looking!

You're not alone - thousands of papers come into our hands each year, so it's easy for them to take over if we're not diligent about managing them.

Add in backlogs that build up when we deal with disease, depression or a loved one passing, and it can feel like we're drowning (I know, I've been there!)

To clear all the papers can seem like a huge, overwhelming, endless task, but I'm here to tell you...YOU CAN DO IT! I've helped countless clients through this. I've done it myself and helped my Mum do it, too.

I invite you to ask your brain to open to the idea that it doesn't have to be hard, it doesn't have to completely suck :)

First, imagine the paper-clutter-free future you want - create what my coach calls a mind movie: Ask your deep self WHAT WILL LIFE FEEL LIKE WITHOUT PAPER CLUTTER? Imagine and feel into it - what would your space look like? What would that be like for you on a daily basis? What would you do differently?

If you can't imagine, take some deep breaths and try again...

Once you have an image of your Future Self...

Choose one small area or pile - maybe one of the places I often see papers pile up:

  • dining room table

  • kitchen counter

  • around favorite cozy sitting areas

  • on desks

  • on nightstands

It's ok to be nervous - and also know that anxiety can be excitement with less breath. So try taking some deep breaths...

Once you've chosen an area...

How to prepare to tackle a paper pile or paper area:

  • Decide where you're going to go through them and make some space

  • Next to that spot, put containers for garbage, recycling and shred - use boxes, large trash bins or baskets you can toss papers into

  • Clear distractions - turn off phones or put them in another room, turn off music or tv, tell family you need to focus and ask them to support you

  • Get a glass of water or cup of coffee

  • Go pee

  • Make a commitment to do what it takes to get through that pile or area

Steps to go through a paper pile or area:

  1. Sit your butt down between the papers and the containers

  2. Pre-sort: make a quick first pass through to pull out anything that's trash, recycling or shred (put them right into containers so they don't get shuffled). Pick up each piece of paper and make a decision about it. Yes, every single one - ask Keep? Recycle? Garbage? Shred? To do? SUPER IMPORTANT to do?

  3. Don't second guess or read articles, just listen to the first thought and put trash, recycling and shred into their bins.

  4. Make make clearly separate piles for at least TO DO and TO FILE

  5. Make piles for other large categories, such as hobbies, memorabilia, taxes, health...

  6. Do this until you've gone through the whole paper pile!

Two options to help get things done and reduce to-do anxiety:

  • Two Minute Rule: after the pre-sort, turn to the to do pile. Find papers with things you can take care of in two minutes or less and do it now (pay a bill, switch a bill to auto pay, make an appointment, make a call...). After you do it, put the paper where it needs to go (labeled file folder, recycling, shred...).

  • OHIO: Only Handle It Once - see if you can make a decision now rather than having to deal with it later.

  • Flow: Let yourself get into the flow. The longer you set aside to do this the better.

One woman in my guided paper organizing program spent about 12 hours in 2 days going through papers! She set herself up for success with containers and no distractions, then let herself focus. (She also had private calls and courses with me - that helps!)

Yes, you might have 100 piles, or one continuous pile, but what can you do today to put a dent in this?

If you're really struggling with papers and want help, I can help! See the note below...

Regardless of where you are with papers, choose one pile today and go through it thoroughly.

Ready, set, go!

Happy Organizing!



Please remember that I'm here for you! Reach out if you have questions and/or you feel stuck.

There's no need to struggle with clutter anymore - you're not alone and I can help you feel better right away.

For inspiration and organizing tips in your in-box, join my e-newsletter, Sunbeams. Inspiration only, no spam, I promise :)

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