6 steps to organising paper, Marie Kondo style

I have decluttered and organised every part of my home thoroughly except papers. Why I delayed it? Perhaps because it’s too overwhelming and boring at the same thing. Sorting out clothes and books is fun and harmless. It doesn’t matter if I get rid of skirts or dresses. But bank statements or kitchen warranties? Not so.

Thankfully after writing How Marie Kondo’s minimalism Makes Me Happier, I realise that papers is one thing that I have not cleared and they are bugging me. So I spend more than half a day sorting out piles of papers. Here’s how I did it and how you can follow:

1. Identify papers and where you store them
We thought we don’t have much of them, but we do. Announcement pinned magnetically on the fridge, tray of letters, newspapers and magazines we’ve collected etc. Though she did say sentimental papers such as love letters and diaries do not fall into this category.

What I did: I have started decluttering the house even before I read Marie Kondo – so I’ve long discard magazines after reading them and recycle papers I don’t need. I have a lot of greeting cards and postcards – which I deemed as sentimental – and kept neatly in labeled ziploc bag. Despite that, I still have quite a lot of papers that are cluttered (to my minimalist standard at least). 

However, I keep bills, statements, brochures and menu I collected from my travels which I filed in an old accordian-style file which is so fat the strap broke. In another basket and in the storeroom, I have scrap papers which I reuse for my drawings and drafts of my work.

Life Changing Magic

Marie Kondo’s first book: The Life-changing Magic Of Tidying Up


2. Discard everything 
Marie Kondo is ruthless when it comes to paper. Her general rule is throw everything away! But she had a good reason; paper will never spark joy no matter how carefully you keep them. She advised us to ‘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’.

What I did: After much organising, I have no problem discarding things I don’t need. The problem with papers is I thought I need them. So I took time to read through papers I keep that I thought was important e.g a letter from a bank thanking me for patronising them. I sat dow on the sofa, sifting though papers and place in a plastic bag papers that I obviously don’t need e.g brochures on delivery services.

What significant for me is throwing manuals on electrical items which I believed is important. If I really need them, I can probably find them online. This is a huge relief to me as I have heaps of appliances! 

This is a rather boring and time-consuming thing to do. My advise is do it infront of the TV or while listening to your favourite music. I was entertained with a Korean drama I would not otherwise have watched.

greeting cards

greeting cards and postcards should be considered ‘sentimental items’ hence sorted later

3. Sort remaining papers into two categories
Kondo’s method of filing is extremely simple and consist only of 2 categories: 1) papers to be saved 2) papers to be dealt with. The first thing to do is to identify and put aside things you want to deal with.

What I did: The question is: what to save? It goes without saying that I keep important things like bank statements and receipts for tax purposes. Other things I decided to save includes brochures on insurance, menus I collected from around the world and newspaper clippings of myself. Marie Kondo may no approve of this. I insist on keeping things that not only make me feel happy but secure.

4. Put papers to be dealt with at one spot and a vertical organiser
Papers to be dealt with includes letter requiring a reply, forms that need to be submitted or magazines you intend to read. She suggest putting it in one spot only and on a vertical organiser where paper can be stored standing up.

What I did: I transfer all papers I need to deal with into ONE vertical folder and place it on my work table, between my computer screen and printer. Instead of a vertical folder, I almost thought she recommended the typical letter trays where paper are stacked horizontally. Because in my mind that’s the only way to store paper neatly isn’t it? But really a vertical holder saves so much space and having less space to pile up incoming papers probably means I won’t do it. 

Make sure you keep all such papers (to be dealw with) in one spot only. Never let them spread to other parts of the house. -Marie Kondo

vertical folder

Marie Kondo recommends a vertical organiser for ‘to-be-dealt-with-soon’ papers

5. File papers that must be saved according to frequency of use
Marie Kondo divide papers that must be saved into two categories: 1) Infrequently used paper (insurance policies, guarantees, leases) and 2) Papers that are use more frequently (e.g seminars and newspaper clippings).

She suggesting putting infrequently used paper in one clear file. Her justification is that you are unlikely to see these papers so there’s no need to waste a lot of effort categorizing and filing them.

What I did: I realise that infrequently used paper are the most important papers I have. In that case, I like to put some time on it. I want to be able to check these information easily. For example, I have just upgraded my insurance policy which comes with heaps of benefits, I want to know what I am entitled to at one glance in the event of emergency. The one-file system doesn’t work for me here. Instead I place the policies, the statements and notes in separate clear folders.

6. Digitised papers
Paper that are used frequently such as outlines of seminars and newspapers clippings are the trickiest according to Kondo. As they tend to multiply. So the key is to keep their volume under controlled.

She suggest putting them in a clear folder. I on the other hand think its best to digitised this category. I keep most papers in Evernote e.g business cards. It’s as simple as taking a photo!

What I did: I did nothing much. All these while, whatever I want to read frequently is in digital form anyway. I subscribe to digital newspapers and magazines. If there’s anything that I need to clip and save, it’ll go directly into my Evernote.

EVERNOTE SUNDAY #2: Turn recipes from cookbooks into digital recipes

Digitising a recipe from a cookbook

It felt so good to have finally decluttered my papers. While it had been under-controlled and I don’t have an avalanche of papers like many do, it still makes a considerable difference to my state of mind. I have a clearer view on my obligations and finances. Having said that, I think my papers are decluttered but I have not achieve the system that I want. Next, I’ll be fine-tuning my incoming papers; perhaps I should have e-statements instead?

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