In my house, clutter is a "five letter word" that actually means "paper – and too much of it."
Too much junk mail I won't read. Too many newspaper advertising supplements I don't use. Too many coupons I don't clip. Too many business cards from people I don't know. Too many receipts I don't need. Too many empty cardboard boxes I can't fill. Too much throwaway packaging I can't use. (Yes, this is what my desk looks like every now and then…cluttered!)
Maybe all this papery nonsense served a purpose at one time, but it becomes clutter in my eyes when it physically gets in my way. It's especially annoying when it covers my desk or makes a mess of my coffee table. Then, it can take me HOURS to go through it, sorting, shredding, tossing, WASTING precious time. To add insult to injury, all this wasted clutter weighs down the recycling bin I have to lug out to the street every week.
Plus, it pains me to think about the environmental impact paper clutter has. According to 41pounds.org, a group that works to reduce unwanted junk mail, more than 100 million trees are destroyed each year to produce junk mail. Just creating and shipping junk mail produces more greenhouse gas emissions than 9 million cars.
What to do? Reduce, Reorganize, Recycle
My anti-clutter crusade is based on these three strategies. I am reducing the amount of waste paper coming into my house as much as possible. I've re-organized my filing systems slightly so I can keep track of the minimum amount of paper I need to hold on to. And I'm recycling the rest.
1) Pay bills and bank online. Many banks now actually charge their customers a monthly fee to send them a paper statement (my Bank of America outlet charges $8.95/month for this "service."). So not only does online banking reduce the clutter in my house; it saves me money, too. Plus, paying bills online gives me longer access to my capital, since I can pay bills the same day instead of having to send a check a week ahead of time. In addition, I'm saving money on postage – not a lot in a month, but dollars that will add up over time.
2) Read newspapers and magazines electronically. Why? To avoid all the ads. The news part of the paper is actually rather thin; the advertising supplements are huge. If I bought what they're selling it might make a difference, but I don't. When I want to know what a store has on sale, I check out their website before I go shopping, or pick up their sales paper when I enter the store. If I want the coupons, I can usually find them online: there are all kinds of mobile phone coupon apps so you can skip the print-out completely. (You can find coupons for green products here. ) Meanwhile, I read the paper on my laptop or my phone. I don't have an e-reader, but you could certainly read newspapers and magazines there, too.
3) Share or go to the library. Sharing works especially well for for magazines. I share a variety of magazines with my neighbors, and drop in at my local library for others.
4) Stop junk mail and unwanted catalogs. You can use a service like 41pounds.org who will contact junk mailers on your behalf. What I've found, however, is that the most effective solution is to call the contact number directly on the mail or magazines I don't want and ask them to remove me from their lists. Here are more services that will help you stop junk mail from cluttering your house. You can also put a "No Solicitations, Please" sign on your door or mailbox so people won't leave their sales fliers at your home.
5) Skip paper receipts. I don't take receipts at the ATM, the gas pump, or the grocery store. I've discovered that grocery stores will usually take back a product they sell without a receipt; but honestly, I almost never take anything back to the grocery store, so why bother with the receipt? I only take receipts when I buy hard goods, like clothing or some kind of equipment. I keep all receipts in a file, just one file per year, so they're not on my desk. NOTE: Whole Foods market gives its customers the option to receive receipts online, though I don't want this clutter in my e-mail box, either.
6) Limit business cards. I recently threw away a shopping bag half-full of business cards I'd accumulated over the last couple of years because they were just cluttering up my office. I couldn't remember who most of those people were, anyway - and I'm sure they don't remember me. Now, I only give out business cards to people whom I really should be networking with, and I only take business cards so I can follow up with people I really want to be connected to.
7) Carry reusable bags. In addition to grocery bags, you can use small mesh bags for produce or grains you buy in bulk. I have a couple of snazzy shopping bags I use when I go clothes shopping, too. Plus, I just say "not" to the extra tissue paper some stores like to wrap around the items I buy.
8) Use a blackboard. Note pads and stickies are supposed to keep people organized, but they're a big source of clutter for me, given how easily they stack up. A clutter-free alternative? Blackboards. Put one in the kitchen where you can leave "notes" for family members, put one in your office or workroom so you can write notes to yourself.
9) Consolidate. Right now, I'm in the process of consolidating the contents of five different notebooks into just one. It will make my life sooooo much simpler. I'm also consolidating paper files into fewer folders that have only the essential papers in them. Everything else is headed to the recycling bin. Speaking of which…
10) Make recycling easy. Keep a recycling bin nearest to where the most paper comes into your house or where it creates the most clutter. Some options: 1)Near the front door, so you can deep-six unwanted mail before it makes it to the dining room table. 2)In the kitchen, so you can easily recycle packaging. 3)In your office, so you can keep paper from piling up on your desk.