Papers, Papers Everywhere – Part Two of Two

Papers, Papers Everywhere – Part Two of Two

September 16, 2020 Organizing 0

If you have trouble deciding what to keep, consider:

  1. Am I still interested in knowing/doing/having this? (If YES, save. If NO, toss)
  2. Is there a newer version of this somewhere? ((If NO, save. If YES, toss)
  3. Could I get this information again if I need it? (If NO, save. If YES. toss)
  4. What’s the worst that can happen if I throw this away, and can I handle that?

Once you’ve SORTED, you can TOSS: take the recycles out, throw away any trash, and shred the rest. If you don’t have a shredder, or if you have a lot to shred, you can take it to a Staples or UPS store (they charge about $1 per pound), or hire a mobile shredder service to come to your home or office.

Now you are ready to begin to ORGANIZE what remains. Take the “Act” pile. Divide it into that which requires your prompt attention (bills to pay, invitation to answer, reminder of dentist appointment to make, a borrowed knitting pattern to return to a friend), and items to do whenever you have the time (an article you want to scan and send to your brother, a review of a new book you’d like to read, a recipe that looks good, a catalogue for gifts you might want to buy, a magazine not yet read).

Label these two stacks “Act Now” and “Act Later,” and put each into a separate box or container. The “Act Now” box should be right on top of your desk or workspace, and the “Later” papers can be set aside to review and process when you have more time. Very often, my clients find that over time, the “Later” piles migrate directly into the recycle bin, when they realize just how much precious time it will take them to browse through that three-foot stack of old catalogs!  

Working from the top of the “Act Now” stack, deal with the most urgent items first: pay the bill, reply to the invitation, call the dentist’s office, pack up the pattern and mail it to your friend. Keep going until the last item is finished. When new papers come in, process them in the same manner each day.

Once you are comfortable with your fifteen-minute daily paperwork session, you can begin to work through the “Act Later” backlog box in exactly the same way. If you can add an extra fifteen to thirty minutes each day (or a few hours on the weekend), eventually you will eliminate it all. The piles didn’t get there overnight, and they won’t go away overnight, but you can reduce them, bit by bit.

Remember: taking care of your papers means giving them a permanent home and regularly-scheduled attention.

Now that you have a system in place to process all your action items, and are working on the backlog, check in next week to find out how to file or archive all those papers you want to keep.

I always welcome your comments and organizing questions.  Write to me here or at

About the author

Gail R. Shapiro Gail Shapiro is pleased to bring you her experience, education, and energy to help you create harmony, efficiency, and systems that work. Gail first worked as a Professional Organizer in the mid-1980s, after many years in the development field, and before founding a non-profit community women’s center. She brings her clients more than 40 years of teaching and organizing skills garnered from her work as a director of development, project manager, grant proposal writer, executive director, workshop presenter, writer and editor, and strategic planning consultant, as well as a lifelong volunteer and board member at several charitable organizations.


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