piles of paper

Tired of tripping over those piles of magazines in your living room? Frustrated by all the old bills and junk mail that have stacked up on your kitchen table? If you answered “yes,” you’re in good company.

Millions of Americans feel like they’re buried under an avalanche of paper, even though electronic communication has cut down on the amount of paper we handle.

Americans are pessimistic about a future without so much paper. A 2011 survey found that 56 percent of American adults didn’t think we’ll ever be paper-free. Twenty percent of us were optimistic about being entirely paperless, while 24 percent had no opinion one way or the other.

For now, at least, paper is part of our lives. Yet it doesn’t have to dominate your home. Penny Bryant Catterall, a professional organizer in the Washington, DC, area, offers these seven tips for getting more organized by getting rid of paper.

1. Cancel Magazine Subscriptions.
“If you find yourself with months’ worth of magazines you never actually read, try to read their online versions instead,” Catterall said. “If you still want to get the paper copy, keep only the last two to three issues and recycle the rest. If you haven’t read them by that time, face it—you’re not going to!”


2. Remove Your Name From Catalog Mailing Lists.
Catalog companies sell your name to companies that compile marketing lists, so catalogs wind up multiplying like rabbits, Catterall said.

You can use a free app like PaperKarma or register with the Direct Marketing Association to banish catalogs from your mailbox.

“Catalogs make you want to buy things you don’t really need,” Catterall said. “You can always go on companies’ websites to see what you want to order if you actually need to buy something.”

3. Toss the Junk Mail.
Put a recycling bin or a shredder near where you pick up or sort your mail. Then recycle things you won’t read, and shred credit card offers and other mail containing personal data. Make sure you get rid of unwanted mail before it reaches someplace like your desk or your kitchen table, Catterall advised.

4. Sign Up for Online Financial Statements.
“This not only reduces paper and environmental waste, but also reduces the amount of mail you have to open,” Catterall said. “Very few people actually open or read their monthly financial or bank statements, and if you do need to refer to them, they are usually available on your financial institutions’ websites for several years.”

paying bills online

5. Pay Bills Online.
Have bills sent to you by email, then pay them online.

Catterall recommended using the auto-pay function, so that a bill payment is withdrawn automatically from your account at the same time every month.

“This is especially important for credit card bills,” she said. “It is far better to have them paid on time than to pay hefty late fees and interest penalties for forgetting to go back to the paper statement.”

6. Print to PDF.
Use the “print to PDF” option on your computer instead of printing a document on paper. That way, the document is stored electronically.

“This will save you a lot of money on printer ink and paper, and cut down on extraneous paper that clutters your desk,” Catterall said.

7. Scan Your Paperwork.
Use a simple scanner to create images of documents you want to keep.

“You can file the saved documents in folders on your computer’s hard drive with an external backup, or by using a cloud-based program like Dropbox or SafelyFiled,” Catterall said.