Sorting papers - Tidying by category works like magic

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing - Marie Kondo 2014

Sorting papers
Tidying by category works like magic

Rule of thumb—discard everything

Once you’ve finished organizing your books, it’s time to move on to your papers. For example, the letter holder bursting with envelopes that hangs on your wall; the school announcements stuck to your fridge; the unanswered invitation to your school reunion lying by the phone; the newspapers that have accumulated on your table over the last few days. There are several spots within the house where papers tend to pile up like snowdrifts.

Although the general assumption is that there are far fewer papers in the home than in an office, this is actually not true. The minimum amount of paper my clients discard or recycle is two 45-liter bags. The maximum (so far) is fifteen bags. I don’t know how many times I hear my clients’ paper shredders jam. It is extremely difficult to manage such a large volume of paper, yet I occasionally meet some amazing clients whose filing skills take my breath away. When I ask, “How are you managing your papers?” their explanations are extremely thorough.

“Papers related to the children go in this file. That file there is my recipe file. Magazine clippings go in here, and manuals for my electric appliances go in this box.…” They have categorized their papers in such fine detail that my mind sometimes wanders off in the middle of their discourse. I confess. I hate filing papers! I never use multiple files or write labels. This system perhaps works better in an office setting, where many people use the same documents, but there is absolutely no need to use such a detailed filing system in the home.

My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away. My clients are stunned when I say this, but there is nothing more annoying than papers. After all, they will never inspire joy, no matter how carefully you keep them. For this reason, I recommend you dispose of anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, or must be kept indefinitely.

The term “papers,” by the way, does not include papers with sentimental value like old love letters or diaries. Attempting to sort these will slow down your pace drastically. Limit yourself at first to sorting papers that give you no thrill at all and finish the job in one go. Letters from friends and lovers can be left for when you tackle sentimental items.

Once you’ve gone through those papers that don’t evoke any pleasure, what should you do with the ones that you’ve decided to keep? My filing method is extremely simple. I divide them into two categories: papers to be saved and papers that need to be dealt with. Although my policy is to get rid of all papers, these are the only categories I make for those that can’t be discarded. Letters requiring a reply, forms that need to be submitted, a newspaper that I intend to read—make a special corner for papers like these that need to be dealt with. Make sure that you keep all such papers in one spot only. Never let them spread to other parts of the house. I recommend using a vertical organizer in which papers can be stored standing up and designating a specific place for it. All papers requiring attention can be placed in here without separating them.

As for papers that must be saved, these I subdivide according to the frequency of use. Again, the way I divide them is not complicated. I organize them into infrequently used papers and more frequently used papers. Infrequently used papers include insurance policies, guarantees, and leases. Unfortunately, these must be kept automatically regardless of the fact that they spark no particular joy in your heart. As you will almost never need to access papers in this category, you don’t have to put a lot of effort into storing them. I recommend putting them all into a single ordinary clear plastic folder without worrying about further categorization.

The other subcategory consists of papers that you will take out and look at more frequently, such as outlines of seminars or newspaper clippings. These are meaningless unless they are stored in a way that’s easy to access and read, which is why I recommend inserting them into the book-like pages of a clear plastic file folder. This category is the trickiest of them all. Although papers like this are not really necessary, they tend to multiply. Reducing the volume of this category is key to organizing your papers.

Papers are organized into only three categories: needs attention, should be saved (contractual documents), and should be saved (others). The point is to keep all papers in one category in the same container or folder and to purposely refrain from subdividing them any further by content. In other words, you only need three containers or folders. Don’t forget that the “needs attention” box ought to be empty. If there are papers in it, be aware that this means you have left things undone in your life that require your attention. Although I have never managed to completely empty my “needs attention” box, this is the goal to which we should aspire.