One of my goals while redesigning our home office study space was going entirely paper-less, file and clutter free. This means no files, no large boxes for paper storage, no random things in random places.
A place where every thing has its place and everything is IN its place. (Yes—that’s including you, you rogue paperclip!)
Accounting for every single possession I have not only supports my clutter-free #goals, but it provides me with opportunity to express gratitude for everything that I've been given. I used to just throw away stacks of post-it notes that only had a few left instead of using them. Now that I'm more organized and have clearly defined systems and places for ALL my things, I use EVERYTHING, down to the last paperclip.
We, Americans, have a thing for storage. There's a storage container for everything. We even have an entire store (I'm looking at you, The Container Store) dedicated specifically to home storage and "organization," and yet, we still are unorganized. We have 2000+ square foot homes and yet, bigger homes are being built because there simply wasn't "enough" space. Three-car garages, yet all the cars are in the driveway and the street. We find solutions on Pinterest for "How to Organize the Clutter," and even on "How to Hide the Clutter," but never really deal with the root issue--which is having CLUTTER. You can make the cutest organizer in the world, but you will still find yourself unorganized if all you did was organize the clutter.
There should be no clutter to "organize" or "hide."Everything should have a place and a purpose, and if it doesn't, it needs to go and stay away.
Over the years, I've learned a lot (through trial & error) about what works for my lifestyle when it comes to maintaining a clutter free, (almost) paperless home office. I tend to absorb the energies in my environment and having a clutter-free zone allows all the thoughts, emotions & ideas to flow to and through me and do more in less time.
Here's what I've learned and my steps & current systems for a paperless, clutter free home office!
Step 1: Create Systems for Existing Papers
I separated existing papers into four qualitative categories--(1) easily replaced, (2) somewhat easy to replace and (3) can be replaced, but a process and (4) irreplaceable--and then decided on an action depending on the category.
- Examples: Bills, statements, manuals.
- What I Do & Why: Shred and throw these away without regret. This information can be instantly accessed online or via a phone call.
Somewhat Easy to Replace
- Examples: Transcripts, medical records, certifications.
- What I Do & Why: Make an electronic copy, shred and throw away. These can be replaced through a phone call or e-mail, but may take longer to receive. The information contained in these records can be useful, but the paper copy is not necessary. I use Dropbox to organize all my electronic files so I can access them at home and on the go.
Can Be Replaced, But More of a Process
- Examples: Birth certificate, title, mortgage, government-issued documents.
- What I Do & Why: Put in a single folder and place in the safe. These documents can be replaced, but it requires more than a phone call or an e-mail and/or it takes a considerable amount of time to be replaced.
- Examples: Photos, awards, letters.
- What I Do & Why: I have one small box for sentimental items and throw everything else away. If it doesn't fit in the box, I need to figure out what to let go of because memories are with me, not with my things.
Step 2: Adopt the "Only Handle It Once" Philosophy for Incoming Papers
Organization systems can get really overwhelming if they are not seamlessly incorporated to your existing daily routines. For me, this meant I had to train myself to be more disciplined in some areas like checking the mail and cleaning out my bag every day. It was pretty annoying at the beginning, but now, it's no big deal because the habit has been created.
Here are some of the ways I currently handle incoming papers:
I check the mail everyday and handle it immediately. Meaning, its the first thing I do when I come in the door. Most of it are ads that get a quick skim and get thrown away. If I see something I've been looking for, I tear out the page and place it on my cork board. I have a specific day in my schedule to address "administrative" things (like bills), so if a bill comes in the mail, I pin it on my cork board to handle on that day.
I scan receipts immediately into its designated folder in my Dropbox. Most of the time, I opt for e-mail receipts only and save them into a folder in my G-mail and consolidate when tax season comes around. Again, only handle it once means as soon as I receive a receipt, I do something with it, let it go, and move on with my day.
Only handle it once. Put immediately into my phone contacts and throw away.
Internalize notes. If there's an idea I may want to implement in the future, I create a new note in an Evernote notebook specifically dedicated to "Vision & Ideas."
Deposit immediately. Put the check in the front pocket of my paper planner until it clears. Shred & throw away during my "Admin" day.
Read. Thank the sender. And throw away. It's the thought in the present moment that counts :-).
Step 3: Define & Use Systems for Incoming Ideas
Handling incoming ideas is similar to handling incoming paper--only handle it once and get it written down somewhere right away. Over the years, Evernote has been my consistent "go-to" for capturing and organizing my life. I have four main folders--life, brand, education & clients. And each folder has one level of subfolders. If there are times when I must use paper, I jot things down in my paper planner and transfer to Evernote as part of my nightly routine. The key is, again, building habits and executing on them consistently.
Step 4: Adhere to AM and PM Routines
I begin and end each work day with my paper planner (which is typically 8am to 8pm). I begin each day the night before with my PM routine where I write everything I'm going to do the next day. This includes waking up, eating, checking e-mail. EVERY. SINGLE. THING. This allows me to internalize what the next day is going to look like without wasting time the next morning fumbling over what I should be doing. I also take this time to tidy up my workspace and close-out for the day. Resetting my desk gives me a sense of completion and provides a clean slate for the next day.
In the AM, I take 20-30 minutes to make the bed, wash up, get dressed and eat breakfast and dive right in to my scheduled tasks. I schedule the most "difficult" tasks first and have my meditative time in the afternoon/evenings to mirror the rhythm of the day.
Cheers to living paperless and clutter free! Thanks for stopping by!