When computers and the internet began to gain public acceptance, people began to rave about the potential of having a paperless office. We wouldn’t need to buy newspapers – the internet would give us our daily updates on what’s happening everywhere in the world! We wouldn’t need to write letters – emails and faxes would do it all! We wouldn’t need to have paper documents, notes to self, diaries, etc – everything would be done on the screen! Even books would be replaced by e-books!
Fast forward to 2008 and a quick reality check. Most of us have the computers and excellent internet access, and get our emails daily, but we still have homes and offices overflowing with paper of all shapes, colours, sizes and ages. Because we still get newspapers (electronic crosswords and puzzles just aren’t the same), magazines and letters, and we often print out hard (paper) copies of documents. It’s easier on the eyes to read things on paper rather than on screen. And we have homes and offices dominated by paper clutter and you need to sort them out before your domestic cleaning London lady has visited your property.
According to British clutter expert Sue Kay, six factors contribute to the paper mountain:
1. The habit of piling all papers up in one place (usually “just for now until I deal with it”) and leaving them there.
2. Inefficient, overly complex (and off-putting) or non-existent filing systems. This doesn’t necessarily reflect an untidy mind, in spite of the “untidy desk; untidy mind” mantra. Two of the most chaotic offices I have ever seen belonged to mathematics professors – one of them (who specialised in statistics and randomness) claimed that his method of finding any misplaced documents was to shuffle the various piles of paper in his office at random, and the odds of finding what he wanted was pretty good.
3. Unopened mail. Unlike pimples, unopened and unpaid bills do not get better if you leave them alone.
4. The habit of jotting important things down on scraps of paper. This doesn’t mean shopping lists, but important phone messages, addresses and phone numbers. This habit gets worse if you then stuff these bits of paper into your pocket, wallet, handbag or on top of your desk. They get lost.
5. Magazine cuttings. The real problem here is not so much that you cut out interesting articles with useful bits of information, but that you don’t file them. However, you can go paperless here – you can probably find the same information online just as easily.
6. Keeping old magazines and newspapers. While keeping one or two marking really significant events makes sense(my grandmother kept magazines for the Queen’s coronation and a newspaper marking the first Apollo moon landing, and I don’t blame her). But don’t keep every issue. You won’t read them all, and you won’t read those old magazines again, especially if you have new ones coming through.
So grab something for recycled papers and some sort of filing system (one of those concertina boxes works well for a start, or else a set of labelled manilla folders or a ring-binder and hole punch) and begin.
Obviously, you want to keep important documents, especially if you need them for tax returns or accounts. But you don’t need to keep every single old cheque book butt from the last ten years. Usually, once all the cheques have cleared and have turned up on your bank statements, you can get rid of the cheque butts. They also say you should hang onto tax returns for seven years. File these important things AND LABEL THEM.
Chuck out old newspapers, junk mail and ancient, tatty magazines. Some glossy mags can be kept if you have kids, as they’re good for collage. Into the recycling with them. DO NOT STOP TO READ THEM.
Get a small in-tray and out-tray to store letters to be answered and bills to be paid. Make sure it’s small so it gets full quickly, thus reminding you to deal with them promptly. Always open bills and do not put them off – you could end up in court or having the power cut off if you don’t pay up. Deal with it as soon as possible – that letter from the tax department might let you know you’ve got a refund.
Get a handy notebook for writing addresses, etc. If you are caught short with only an old envelope and lipstick to write the name of a potential client on (at a party, say), then make it a habit to transfer this information into your notebook as soon as possible.
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