Saturday , 26 May 2018

Carrie Brazeal: Getting Rid of Those Paper Stacks is Harder Than it Seems

paper stacksWhen was the last time you misplaced an important document and had to dig through all your paper clutter to find it?  This recently happened to us.  I knew that we had a lot of papers and documents that needed to be tackled and either organized or tossed but we just never seemed to have (or make!) the time to do it. Now that taxes have been sent off, we’ll finally tackle those paper stacks.  I hope our shredder is ready for all of this!

For many people, getting organized isn’t the problem…it’s deciding where to start and what to toss. For us, we’ll start with the paper stacks.  I know that most of it will need to be shredded since it contains confidential information.  But we have to sort through it just to make sure it doesn’t need to be filed.

If you have an out-of-control area with lots of clutter, try these tips from the University of Illinois Extension (

brazeal_carrieedited*Force yourself to actually look at individual items, maybe even picking them up one by one to help you focus.

*Start with the first item you see that you know what to do with. If it’s trash, put it in the garbage. If it belongs somewhere in the house, put it in a box to be put away later.

*Spread things out a little. Then force yourself to look at individual items. When you’re looking at a pile or stack of stuff, you can be overwhelmed and see the forest rather than the trees.

As you eat away at the mass of stuff, you’ll probably find that there are actually very few items that you truly don’t know what to do with. Once you’ve removed the items that you already know what to do with, you may see groups or categories emerging. It’s easier to create a home and store a group of similar items than an assortment of individual, unrelated items.

Here are some more tips:

*When sorting papers, don’t wait until you’re completely finished to set up files or other containers for the categories you sort them into. Have file folders and labels, an accordion file or envelopes handy when you start going through the stack. Even if you’re only part way through the stack when you have to stop, don’t restack the papers you’ve already sorted. Put each category of papers into a file or envelope and label it. Either store those files or keep them temporarily with the large stack so that you can continue to sort more papers into those files.

*Afraid you’ll need something right after you get rid of it? Then put the item(s) in a box, seal it with tape and write a date on it for six months from now. Put the box in the garage or somewhere out of the way.  When you come across the box and the date has passed, toss it out without opening it. For paper or other pieces of information, ask yourself if you can get it from somewhere else.  It may be easily accessible on the web.

*For those “special” items, ask yourself why it’s special.  Did someone special give it to you? Did you purchase it on a special trip? Was it a wedding gift?  If the item really holds a lot of sentimental value for you, try to decide how to display or enjoy it at your home. You might also consider preserving the sentiment without preserving the actual item.  You might want to take photographs or make collages of those kinds of items so you can hold onto the special feelings those items evoke while taking up much less space.

*What about those items you can’t toss because they cost too much? Even if you paid a lot for it, hanging on to something that is useless to you just makes you feel worse by reminding you of your mistake every time you see it.  Could someone else use it? Can you donate it for a tax deduction?

*Be careful with those papers that have your Social Security number, financial accounts, and other personal information on it. Identity theft and fraudulent financial transactions can result from the wrong person getting their hands on your information. Luckily, the solution here is fairly simple: either rip the documents carefully (I even toss different parts of the document into different containers) or get a shredder.

*Are you afraid that you’ll never find it again if you put it away? If you store an item close to other similar items, you should be able to figure out where to look for it, even if you don’t remember. If you’ve put things away and later couldn’t find them, you may have been “stashing” things to get them out of sight rather than really deciding where it should be stored and identifying a permanent home for it.

*Does logic say, “Get rid of it” but you just can’t bring yourself to deal with it? Instead of focusing on the item, focus on what it means to you or what feelings it evokes when you think about tossing it. Try to identify all your thoughts and feelings you have about the item or how you obtained it. Once you recognize the emotion that’s holding you back, you may be able to toss, give away or organize the clutter. Or you may feel less frustrated at your seemingly illogical behavior and be able to stop worrying about it.

Once we’re finished with the paper stacks, we’ll move on to closets, using some of the strategies listed above.  After all, once you get started, it’s hard to stop.

Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.  She may be reached at or 972.424.1460, Ext. 4233.

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