Saturday, May 8, 2010

Let's Talk Trash: Dealing with Paper, Junk Mail, and More

Every spring, our apartment complex brings in dumpsters for an annual "Dumpster Day." This gives residents an opportunity to clear out the year's accumulated clutter, toss trash, recycle, and even participate in a site-wide tag sale. However, it's not long after the dumpsters have been towed away, that the worst clutter offender rears its head again--paper!

Even though most people proclaim that we live in an "electronic age," there is still a lot of paper that enters our lives on a daily basis. I must confess, I've always had a special affinity for paper, whether books, notebooks, magazines, writing paper, or cards. I jokingly tell people that I must have been a tree in a former life, and I like to have my "relatives" close by. I like the tactile nature of paper products. E-books have their place and can help you tame clutter, but I still like to be able to feel the texture of the cover, the smoothness of the pages, and have a sense of connection that holding an actual book in your hands provides. However, you can make wise choices to control the number of books taking up space in your home. (More on that below.)

Most of the paper entering our homes today is in the form of newspapers, magazines, junk mail, and bills. In a busy world, it's easy to toss these aside to read "later." Next thing we know, there's a pile of paper where the coffee table, or even the kitchen table, used to be. What's worse is that we may overlook a bill that's due because it's buried in a pile of junk.

If you need to tame the paper monster in your home, here are some tips that might help:

P - Place a small basket or box on a table to collect your incoming mail, preferably near a wastebasket, so that all the mail is in one place. When you open the mail, toss fillers, outside envelopes (unless you use the outer envelopes of bills to record the due dates), outer wrappers, and anything that is obviously "junk."

A - Add your name/address to the National Do Not Mail List. For info go to: If you receive junk mail with a prestamped, preaddressed return envelope, write "Remove me from your mailing list" on the return slip inside or a piece of paper, and mail it to the company in the prepaid envelope.

P - Pick it up to sort through only once. Deal with junk mail immediately by opening it, removing any personally identifiable information (which you will shred), and throw the rest in the wastebasket. Place bills to be paid in a file folder or mail holder until you are ready to pay them. If you are one of the rare, lucky people who still receives letters and cards by postal mail, place these in a letter holder or basket on your desk until you can respond to them. Make it a goal to deal with replies within a week of receipt.

E - Explore the online bill-paying service from your bank, and pay your bills electronically so the paper bills don't enter your home in the first place.

R - Recycle paper (some areas require that white office paper and colored paper be bundled separately for recycling, others do not; so check with your local department of public works or recycling service), newspaper, magazines, and cardboard. Staples do not have to be removed, but DO remove plastic clips or bindings, rubber bands, plastic stickers, membership cards, wire spiral bindings, and plastic wrappers. By the way, shredded paper makes great packing material if you send packages to relatives or friends at holiday time, but use a cross-cut shredder for added security--another way to recycle.

And here are some additional tips:
  • Don't sign up for special magazine subscriptions that have an automatic renewal service unless you are certain you will want to continue your subscription beyond the reduced rate period. Don't subscribe just because a magazine offers a "super savings" rate. If you're not going to read it, you're just wasting your money and adding to the clutter.
  • Keep magazines by your chair or bed. If you haven't read them in a month, or by the time the next issue arrives, put them in the recycle box. If there is an article you want to read or save, tear out the article instead of saving the whole magazine. Then set a time to read the article and either throw it out afterward or file it away.
  • Use a filing cabinet or file box for storing receipts that must be kept for tax purposes.
  • Give each family member a "memory box" in which to store personal memorabilia, including special cards and letters. Scrapbooks or binders with clear pockets can be used for storing special cards and postcards, programs from concerts or plays, etc.
  • To keep your home from looking like the local lending library, you might want to invest in an e-reader. With several different brands on the market, you can choose which works best for you. If you have books you will never read again, you can donate them to your library or public school for their book sales, take them to a used book store, or sell them through Amazon or eBay. Only collect print books of value to you, or by your favorite author(s); and recycle the rest by one of the aforementioned methods, or by donating them to prisons, homeless shelters, or hospitals. Call first to make sure they are accepting donations. You can also check online at or
So, how do you tame the clutter in your home? Do you have a hard time deciding what to keep and what to toss? Share your tips and trials in the comment section below.

Next time: Virtual Clutter

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