All about papers - Tidying by category works like magic

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

All about papers
Tidying by category works like magic

How to organize troublesome papers

My basic policy is to discard all papers, but there are always going to be some that are hard to get rid of. Let’s consider here how to tackle these.


Those who enjoy studying are quite likely to attend seminars or courses in various subjects, such as aromatherapy, logical thinking, or marketing. The recent trend in Japan is to utilize time in the early morning to take seminars. The content and time frame are broadening, giving people a wide choice. For the participants, the materials diligently produced by the lecturer are akin to a badge of honor, and as such they are hard to part with. But when I visit the homes of these ardent learners, I find that these materials usurp much of the room, making their space oppressive.

One of my clients was a woman in her thirties who worked for an advertising company. The moment I entered her room, I felt like I was in an office. My eyes were assaulted by rows of files with carefully printed titles. “These are all materials from the seminars I took,” she told me. A self-confessed seminar fanatic, she had saved and filed the materials from every seminar she had ever attended.

People often insist, “I want to restudy these materials sometime,” but most never do so. Moreover, the majority of them usually have materials for multiple seminars on the same or similar subjects. Why? Because what they learned at the seminars did not stick. I am not saying this as a criticism, but merely to point out why it isn’t worth keeping materials from past seminars. If the content is not put into practice, such courses are meaningless. A seminar’s value begins the moment we start attending, and the key to extracting the full value is putting what we learn there into practice the moment the course ends. Why do people pay expensive fees for such courses when they can read the same content in a book or elsewhere? Because they want to feel the passion of the teacher and experience that learning environment. Thus the real material is the seminar itself, and it must be experienced live.

When you attend a seminar, do so with the resolve to part with every handout distributed. If you regret recycling it, take the same seminar again, and this time apply the learning. It’s paradoxical, but I believe that precisely because we hang on to such materials, we fail to put what we learn into practice. The biggest collection of seminar materials I have come across so far was 199 files. Needless to say, I had her discard every single one.


Another thing to discard are all your credit card statements. What is their purpose? For most people, they are simply the means of checking how much money was spent on what during a particular month. So, once you’ve checked the content to confirm that it’s correct and have recorded the figure in your household account book, the statement has fulfilled its purpose and you should discard it. Trust me. You need feel no guilt at all.

Can you think of any other time that you would really need your credit card statements? Do you imagine that you might need them for a court case to prove how much was withdrawn? That’s not going to happen, so there is no need to treasure these statements for the rest of your life. The same is true for notices of withdrawals from your account to pay utility fees. Be resolute and take this opportunity to get rid of them.

Of all my clients, the ones who had the hardest time disposing of papers were a couple, both of whom were lawyers. They kept asking, “What if this document is needed in court?” At first, they made very little progress, but in the end, even they were able to discard almost all their papers without experiencing any problems. If they can do it, so can you.


Whether a TV or a digital camera, all electrical appliances come with a warranty. This is the most standard document category in any home, and the one that almost everyone files and saves properly. The method of organizing, however, is usually almost but not quite right.

In general, people save their warranties in clear folder files or accordion-style files. The attraction of these files is that the documents can be stored in separate compartments. However, therein lies their pitfall. Because they are so well divided, it is easy to overlook things. Most people save not only the warranty but also the operation manual in the same file. First, let’s start by parting with these manuals. Take a look at them. Have you ever used them? In general, there are only a few manuals that we actually need to read, such as our computer or digital camera manual, and these are so thick that they won’t fit in a file anyway. So basically, any manuals contained in your warranty folder can be discarded without causing any difficulty.

To date, all my clients have discarded most of their manuals, including those for their PCs and cameras, and none of them has experienced any problems from doing so. If they have a problem, they can usually fix it themselves by fiddling with the machine, and they can find solutions for anything they can’t figure out on their own from the Internet or the place of purchase. So I assure you, you can dispose of them without any qualms.

Getting back to warranties: the filing method I recommend is to put them all in a single clear file, without separating them into categories. Warranties are only used once a year if at all. What point is there in carefully sorting and separating them when the odds that they will be needed are so low? Moreover, if you’ve filed them in a file folder, you’ll have to flip through the pages to find the right warranty. In that case, it’s just as easy to keep them all in one file, pull out the entire stack, and search through it.

If you sort in too much detail, it means you will have fewer opportunities to look at each warranty. Before you realize it, the warranty will be out of date. If you have to sift through them all when you need one anyway, this becomes an excellent opportunity to check the expiration dates of your other warranties. This way, you don’t have to go to the trouble of deliberately checking the contents just for the expiration dates, and often, you don’t even have to buy the clear file in which you store the warranties because there is usually at least one already in the house. Finally, this method takes up a tenth of the space of conventional methods.


In Japan, it is the custom to send New Year’s cards to convey New Year’s greetings (many have lottery numbers at the bottom). This means that each card has fulfilled its purpose the moment the receiver finishes reading it. Once you’ve checked to see whether the numbers on your cards have won anything in the lottery, you can part with the cards with gratitude for conveying to you the consideration of the sender. If you save the cards to confirm the sending address for the following year, then only save one year’s worth. Dispense with those that are two or more years old, except those that spark joy in your heart.


Used checkbooks are just that—used. You’re not going to look at them again, and even if you do, it won’t increase the amount of money in the bank, so, really, get rid of them.


The purpose of your pay slip is to inform you how much you have been paid for this month. Once you’ve checked the content, its usefulness is over.