Smart Ways to Control Paper Clutter

woman-deskHas your desk or kitchen table become buried under folders, papers and unopened mail? Do you ever feel stressed because you can’t find important papers when you need them? It’s okay.You’re not alone.  

The average person spends 150 hours per year looking for documents – that’s almost one month.

Think back to when we first brought computers into our homes. We were seduced by the promise of a paperless office, perhaps even a paperless society – remember? Clearly, that was just wishful thinking. In fact, we have more paper now than ever and we can thank technology for that.  

The average person prints 32 pages from the internet each day.

Paper is a fact of life; it has a permanence that just can’t be match by a computer document – so we need to learn some smart ways to deal with it to avoid being buried under it.

How to keep paperwork under control: 

One thing I recommend is to go on a paper diet. We need to reduce the amount of paper that enters our home or office.  There are several ways to do this…   


First, take a look at all the magazines catalogs and newspapers you subscribe to and ask whether they are adding value to your life or draining you?  If they are piling up unread, it becomes a drain, not only financially but emotionally (due to guilt). Consider canceling subscriptions to magazines you haven’t read in the past 3 months.  You’ll feel much lighter. 

You can probably get a refund for the unused portion of your subscription or you can give the remainder of your subscription to a friend by sending in the change of address card.  If nothing else, put a limit to the number of magazines or newspapers you subscribe to. If you miss them, you can always buy an issue here and there when you have extra reading time. And if it works for you, consider reading your favorite magazines online.

Mailing Lists: 

Write or email the marketing association in your country and get yourself off mailing lists. 

Another way to reduce junk mail is to resist entering contests where your address will be shared. 


Resist the urge to print e-mail messages; just file them electronically in folders, where you can access them easily. Rather than print pages and pages from the internet, just bookmark the site in your favorites. 



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This post has 10 comments

  • Twila Gore Peck says:

    A timely note, as I sit here wading through bookkeeping and tax prep!

    Printing 32 pp from the internet per day??? Wow!! I feel hip-deep in paper, now, and most of it isn’t my production. And printer ink is so expensive!

    Today, I get more pieces of junk mail per week, than the average person got letters (wanted letters, at that) in a year, 100 years or so ago. Go back another 100 years, you could make that in a lifetime.

    I’ve heard that the visual clutter of words everywhere is an energy sucker. One example, it’s not so much fun to go to a baseball game any more where the field is plastered with advertising on every bare surface. It’s even difficult to watch baseball on TV now, with the ads behind the batter.

    I’ve also heard, if you want to make a room more restful, strip it of visible words to reduce the visual stimuli — no mail or papers sitting out, no boxes with labels, no posters with words on them, no sticky notes, etc. (Books on a shelf seem to be one exception, if the titles on the spines are small enough.)

  • Richard Hollins says:

    I have, for years, been storing many documents in digital format. And now that I can get almost any statement from credit unions, credit cards and utilities online and not get a paper statement, I have eliminated much paper. (Unfortunately, regular email is not secure, and is not useable for this.) I still need a reminder for bills, since the paper statement used to serve that purpose, but if you are fetching your statements online (ePost helps centralize this) you can also use one of the many free, or quite inexpensive apps or programs to give you reminders.

    It is important that you don’t get too compulsive about backing up, because that also can become a drag. Automated backups help, but the most important part of a “document retention policy” is document deletion.

    It makes no sense to keep receipts for things you no longer have, but if the record of purchase is in a credit card statement, it is more difficult to tell which ones to shred. I try to put a label on larger items (TV, DVR, refrigerator) with the month and year of purchase. I sort receipts, and store them in monthly envelopes. Past a couple of months, they can disappear into a small file box in the basement, where they can be retrieved if I need them for a warranty claim.

  • Peggy says:

    I wish you had another show. I watch the old shows for inspiration. Your personality is soothing. Two years ago I moved from New York to Washington State. Now I have to find another house to rent but this time it will be a local move.I struggle with what family items from decrease family to save and what to get rid of. Old pictures, my mom’s sweater That still has her scent,etc. Moving stories and life transitions would be great tropics. I am having company this weekend .Is this a live workshop? Peggy

  • Jenny says:

    Do you have to live in Canada to participate?

  • Joan says:

    I would love you to come to my house. Since I know that can’t happen, I thought maybe this weekend workshop could help me get somewhere with my clutter. I see it is sold out this month. Is it offered the end of every month? Or at other times? What is the cost? I’m getting pretty desperate!

    • Joan, I may be offering the weekend program again in the Fall. You may want to consider signing up for my newsletter so you’ll receive advance notice of any offerings. Just enter your email in the box on the top right hand side of this page (bonus – free e-Book).

  • Jennifer Johnson says:

    Looking for product Helen uses for “pilers” to corral paper. I think its called a lateral bookcase. Where in Los Angeles can I find one?