11 Tips for Dealing With Your Piles of Papers

For help clearing out the avalanche of printed materials in your home, follow these helpful tips from Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck

Magazines
Most of us subscribe to magazines because we are vitally interested in their subject matter, which is exactly why getting rid of old periodicals can be so difficult. Force yourself. If you don’t recycle constantly, you may be crushed by a slippery avalanche of magazines.

  • Keep only the magazines you need for reference, then process them as quickly as possible: Take notes, copy information into your computer, or rip out useful articles and file them away. After you have saved the information you need, donate the magazines to schools, artists, or other people who will use them; recycle the leftovers.
  • Do not read materials you are attempting to recycle. Yes, you probably didn’t read every single word in every single magazine, but life is short and recycling piles up. If you missed an article, you can read it at the public library.
  • Don’t store dated material. Your computer magazine is nearly obsolete as soon as it rolls off the presses. It is unlikely to become more timely when you take it out of storage.
  • Many magazines offer online subscriptions. Consumer Reports, for instance, has a searchable online archive of all their articles, reports, and ratings, and you can subscribe to the online service without receiving the actual magazine. With an online subscription, you can easily find any article and need never fear losing information.
  • Everyone has a complete collection of National Geographics! Yes, they are gorgeous, but they have no resale value. Unless you are going to use them in an art project within a year, give them to a school or an artist who will. Our public library not only possesses a complete collection of the magazine — dating back to its first issues in the late nineteenth century — they also have a complete index. This means that I can go to the library, look up any subject I’m interested in, fill out a request form, and have the issue I need in a few minutes. Finding the same issue in a home collection is unlikely to be as quick and easy.

Newspapers

  • Share your newspaper with a close neighbor; you’ll cut your costs and your recycling chores in half
  • Home collections are not usually indexed, catalogued, or systematically shelved, and an organized collection of newspapers in a private home is the least likely scenario of all.
  • If you are working on a research project and need clippings, mark the page with the article while you’re reading the paper (brightly colored Post-it notes, which can be stuck to the edge of the paper, work well and can be reused several times). After everyone in the household has finished reading the paper, you can clip the article, file it, and recycle the rest of the paper.
  • Don’t keep piles of papers so you can read them later. You won’t. Piles of newspapers will choke the life out of your home. I can guarantee that once you have saved a stack of newspapers to read later you will not be able to find the information you are looking for.
  • Many articles are available on the Internet, and many libraries maintain extensive collections of newspapers on microfiche. Your librarians are trained professionals who can help you find any issue you need.
  • Piles of newspapers are like flammable underbrush in a forest; they need to be cleared out or they endanger the rest of the ecosystem.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ellen Sandbeck, the author of Green Housekeeping (Copyright © 2006 by Ellen Sandbeck) and Green Barbarians: Live Bravely on Your Home Planet, is an organic landscaper, worm wrangler, writer, and graphic artist who lives with (and experiments on) her husband and an assortment of younger creatures — which includes two mostly grown children, a couple of dogs, a small flock of laying hens, and many thousands of composting worms — in Duluth, Minnesota.

MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR

LEARN MORE

8 Tips for Conquering Sentimental Clutter

Do you keep ticket stubs after you see a movie? Do you display gifts you don’t like out of a sense of obligation to the gift-giver? Sentimental clutter can be the hardest type to conquer. But with these tips from Erin Rooney Doland, author of Unclutter Your Life in One Week, you can learn how to remember the past without literally living in it.


Tips for Handling Sentimental Clutter

  • Picture Perfect. An image of an object can be as powerful as the object itself. Take digital photographs of the items before you get rid of them. When you upload the image to your computer, type in the memory you have associated with the object into the file’s “Notes” field. (For example, I had my picture taken wearing my grandfather’s overalls in an alfalfa field on his farm before I repurposed the fabric.) Be sure to back up your computer’s hard drive so that you don’t have to worry about losing the images.
  • Simply the Best. If you inherit a set of something like your grandmother’s china, you don’t have to keep all of it. Display one place setting or even just a teacup and saucer.
  • Digital Revolution. Scan papers and pictures and turn them into digital files. It’s a lot easier to store a computer hard drive than it is to keep boxes of memorabilia. Feel like you have no time to do this on your own? Hire a company for this task, like ScanMyPhotos (scanmyphotos.com) for pictures or Pixily (pixily.com) for documents.
  • Share the Wealth. After scanning papers and pictures, give the originals away to friends and family. This is what I did with my collection of notes. Once I scanned them, I sent a few of the gems off to their original authors. My childhood friends read the notes, laughed, and then shredded the evidence. You also could throw a party where guests are instructed to take any of your old pictures they want — this is especially nice to do with family photographs at reunions.
  • Repurpose. If your dresser is filled with T-shirts from college, cut them up and make them into a quilt. You can enjoy the warmth of the blanket all winter long and also make room in your clothes drawer.
  • Buddy Up. Researchers at Ohio State University found that touching an item (even something as ordinary as a coffee mug) creates an emotional connection to that item, and the longer you hold it, the stronger the bond. Enlist the help of a buddy to hold up items for you in order to keep the duration of exposure to a minimum and make parting with items significantly easier.
  • Pass It On. When someone gives you a gift, it’s because they want to make a connection with you and bring you happiness. Unfortunately, not all gifts are things we want. If someone gives you a gift that doesn’t work with your space, say thank you and feel no guilt regifting or donating the unused object to charity. The gift giver (if he or she has any tact) won’t ever ask you what you chose to do with the item. If the person does ask, respond that you don’t currently have the item out on display. The person will get the hint and drop the subject, and life will continue.
  • Make It Speedy. If the sentimental clutter is best suited for recycling or the trash, get it out of your sight as quickly as possible. Repeatedly walking past the clutter in a trash can or recycling bin will make it even harder to say good-bye. Whatever sentimental objects you wish to keep you should display and/or use in your home. Nothing sentimental should be stuffed in a box in your basement or attic gathering dust. Why keep something that doesn’t reflect the remarkable life you want to live?

Whatever sentimental objects you wish to keep you should display and/or use in your home. Nothing sentimental should be stuffed in a box in your basement or attic gathering dust. Why keep something that doesn’t reflect the remarkable life you want to live?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erin Rooney Doland, author of Unclutter Your Life in One Week: A 7-Day Plan to Organize Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life! (Copyright © 2009 by Erin Doland), is an organization consultant and the Editor-in-Chief of Unclutterer.com, a popular website that has been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Slate, House Beautiful, Lifehacker.com, and on the BBC and HGTV. She is a twice-weekly columnist for Real Simple online, and has written for Ready Made, Women’s Day, and CNN.com, among others. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband.

MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR

LEARN MORE

First, Get Rid of the Clutter! Organizing with Everyday Objects

Easy, inexpensive home organizing techniques, from Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck

Our friend Grace, who has eight decades of housekeeping under her belt, taught me how to divide and conquer junk drawers, cupboards, and closets. Grace’s house is so organized that when her brother came to live with her after his wife died, he could easily find everything in the house without assistance. Grace’s secret weapon is modified cardboard boxes.

Grace’s Box Tricks

  • Use labeled shoe boxes to store things on closet shelves.
  • Use cereal, tea, and cracker boxes to divide drawers and cupboards. Gather your pasteboard materials, then divide the drawers and cupboards one at a time. Simplify by putting seldom-used items in a box or bag at the back of the appropriate drawer.
  • Put open boxes in underwear and sock drawers.
  • Use a utility knife to cut the boxes to fit.

For a short while, customizing pasteboard boxes with a utility knife was my hobby, and “Square Is Beautiful” and “Divide and Conquer” were my favorite mottos. Ready-made drawer organizers just cannot compete with these customized dividers.

Once a space has been divided and its contents categorized, its carrying capacity increases and it tends to resist disorder. When was the last time you saw a disorderly silverware drawer? We don’t drop our spoons in with our knives, why should we allow our twist ties to twine around our rubber bands, salvaged string, and spare electrical cords?

  • I cut the tops off tea boxes and used them to tame our kitchen junk drawers three years ago. The drawers are just as tidy today as the day I conquered them.
  • The bottom of a thin cereal box (from hot cereal, for instance) works well for organizing twist ties and rubber bands.
  • Prevent lightweight extension cords from tangling by storing them in the cardboard tubes from paper towels.
  • I made cardboard dividers for our overflowing collection of grocery bags; the dividers increased the capacity of the cubby by keeping the folded bags upright. The chaos has never returned.
  • Heavy-duty cardboard boxes, such as detergent boxes, can be used to build stacked cubicles for storing lightweight dry goods like dry noodles or lightweight toiletries such as toothbrushes or Band-Aids.
  • Square, heavy plastic containers such as liquid detergent bottles can be cut down to make cubby holes and dividers for under-sink and other damp storage. Many of these containers are heavy enough to support some weight. Since I don’t use liquid detergent, I scrounged for detergent bottles at our local recycling center.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ellen Sandbeck, the author of Green Housekeeping (Copyright © 2006 by Ellen Sandbeck) and Green Barbarians, is an organic landscaper, worm wrangler, writer, and graphic artist who lives with (and experiments on) her husband and an assortment of younger creatures — which includes two mostly grown children, a couple of dogs, a small flock of laying hens, and many thousands of composting worms — in Duluth, Minnesota.

MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR

LEARN MORE