I hope this challenge is going well for all of you! If you’ve gotten stalled, take this article as a call to get started again, with just 5 minutes a day. You got this.
Today I’d like to talk about a couple of areas that many people struggle with:
- Papers: Bills, work documents, catalogs, tax documents, manuals, kids school papers and drawings, birthday cards, and more. These can pile up on your counters, in shelves, in folders, so that it is spilling all over the house. It can be hard to make decisions with these.
- Photos: Photo albums, digital photos. They can pile up as well, and getting rid of photos can be too difficult for most people.
If you’re having trouble with these, read on! If you’re good at dealing with them, share your method/tips in the #declutter channel on Slack!
Dealing with Paper Clutter
What I like to do is get a bunch of papers in a stack, then set a timer for 10 minutes, and see how many papers I can deal with in that 10 minutes. I repeat this over the course of a few days, until I make my way through a stack or two. It’s so satisfying to see the pile getting smaller as you deal with one document at a time!
Here’s how I deal with them:
- Documents I want to keep records of: I scan them using a document scanner (here’s mine). Then file them into one of several folders (taxes, finances, documentation) in my Dropbox, so they’re always backed up and available online or on any of my devices. Simple! It takes 20 seconds to scan and file most documents.
- Documents I need a physical copy of: I file them in a family documents folder, with a scanned copy in my Dropbox folder. Medical records, marriage license, birth certificates, passports, our will … these most important ones actually go in a fireproof, waterproof safe (here’s mine). But again, most importantly, I have scanned copies of them (I take a photo of our passports).
- Documents that need action: I put bills and other action-oriented papers in an “Action Pile” or “Action Folder”, and take action on them all at once. For example, I pay the bill, respond to an inquiry, etc. However, I also try to get the electronic version of these documents in the future. Once I deal with them, I scan them for my records and recycle the documents.
- Papers I don’t want to receive in the mail anymore: I put these in the action folder, and write to the company to take me off their mailing list.
- Kids drawings and other memorabilia: Whether this is a birthday card or letter someone wrote me, I scan these in or take a photo, and put them into a folder in Dropbox as well. Then I recycle the original. Sometimes I put the item on my refrigerator with a magnet for a couple months, like a card from someone, so I’m thinking about that person for awhile every time I go to the fridge.
- Manuals or other product documentation: I try to get a digital copy online, and file it in a Dropbox folder. If not, I just scan it. I rarely need a paper version of a warranty or manual.
Those are the vast majority of our papers. Scan everything, basically.
More tips for going as paperless as possible:
- Get as many of your bills and financial notifications electronically delivered, if possible. Even put them on autopay if you’re good about keeping a good amount in your checking account, so you don’t have to worry about paying the bills. For me, it was a few months of just converting each paper bill that came in to an electronic one. That was years ago, and it works pretty well now.
- Scan and search. Basically I scan everything, and give it a decent name so that when I want to find the document, I just use search. It works pretty well. I only file in a few folders, with no subfolders.
- I pay my kids to scan. I trained them in about 5 minutes, I pay them a little money, they get some experience with work, and I don’t worry about it!
In general, it just takes a little diligence about getting things switched over to paperless. It’s not perfect, but most of my stuff is paperless these days.
Dealing with Photos
It can be really tough to let go of photos, so people let them pile up. These days, photos are pretty much all digital, so there’s the question of digital photos as well. Let’s dive in.
Here’s what I do:
- I sent all our old photo albums and boxes of physical photos to a scanning service. They scanned them in, and I have them digitized now. I want to toss all the physical copies out now but my wife won’t let me. :(
- When someone sends me a physical photo, I snap a photo of it. Then I put it on our fridge for a little while before letting it go.
- I put all digital photos into Google Photos. Yes, I know some people have problems with Google and privacy, and I respect that. It’s just the easiest thing I’ve found. I have Google Photos on my phone, automatically syncing online, so I never worry about losing my phone because everything is automatically backed up. It all goes into online storage, and it’s searchable and easily sharable. Sometimes I organize albums but rarely.
It’s as simple as that.
With some simple systems like this, all your stuff can be simply organized and backed up, searchable and lightweight.