Making Space – Paper

Starting last summer, I have been attempting an epic decluttering of my entire apartment, roughly following the KonMari process laid out in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I’ve posted about my decluttering experience five times so far: four posts on Clothing (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4), and one on Books. My tentative goal is to finish the KonMari process by the end of this year.

After doing a huge book purge at the end of September, I stopped decluttering for about four months. Decluttering just wasn’t a priority during that time, for all the same reasons that I wasn’t up to blogging. By January, though, I was caught up in my usual start-of-year zeal and ready to tackle the Paper category.

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If I had been born 20 years earlier I would absolutely have huge filing boxes and binders full of paper and notes since I love to collect information that might be useful at some point, or just for the sake of collecting. Luckily, I’m able to keep almost everything digital at this point. You should see my Evernote folders. My paper pile was also reduced by a file box purge of about a year ago. Still, I have a bad habit of keeping things that might be useful or important one day, and it was making finding actually useful things rather difficult. The photo above shows all of the paper in my apartment: receipts, binders from various projects, empty notebooks, letters and scrap/printer paper. Not a big pile, but I was ready for a lot of it to go.

The first thing I did was spread everything out across my floor and separate it into categories of similar papers. That way I could go through one category at a time and not get overwhelmed by all the different types of papers that were in that one big pile. It also helped me to see progress over time, which kept me going when it got tedious.

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I labelled all the piles because I am just that kind of person. Sorry for the blurry photo, by the way, it was dark outside and I don’t have a ton of light in the main room of my apartment.

After categorizing everything I immediately removed anything sentimental and put it in a box for another day. I have a really hard time getting rid of sentimental items, so I am saving them for the very end of this process. Hopefully by then I will have practiced decluttering so much that I will be able to conquer my inclinations to keep every single sentimental item. I also want to have the visual shock of how much stuff I have that I’m keeping purely for sentimental reasons. I’m going to need that visual to keep me strong.

Going through all of my paper actually took me two days, although I didn’t actually start until after dark the first day. The first day/evening was devoted entirely to receipts. I had kept every single receipt I ever received since 2009, and I had some receipts as old as 2007. They were all very organized, but really, who needs grocery receipts from 2009?? I went through every single one and kept only receipts for really big purchases, which was probably less than half a dozen total. I also kept receipts for purchases in the last year or so that weren’t “big” purchases, with the plan to purge those once a year. After all that work I made a resolution to immediately recycle any receipts from food purchases or experiences during my weekly checks of my bank accounts. Some part of me had felt that I was being responsible by keeping all of those receipts, but they were mostly useless. All of the data was in my accounting software, and I never went back and looked at the receipts.

By the end of Day 1, I had a big Recycle pile, a small Shred pile and a very small Keep pile (not shown).

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On Day 2 I started things off easy by cherry-picking files that had only a few papers, plus a few categories that I knew I wanted to mostly keep. In the photo below, the leftmost pile (with several folders and a box) is the Keep pile, and everything to the right hasn’t been processed yet. By this point I had a Donate pile (mostly school supplies) and a Scan pile as well. I tried to keep the Scan pile as small as possible.

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After that it became a tedious grind of picking up each piece of paper, deciding what to do with it, and then picking up the next piece. I can’t bring myself to get rid of paper that is only printed on one side, so I kept stacks of it and spent a lot of time removing staples from old university printouts and assignments. I use the paper to make scrap paper notebooks at Staples: I take stacks of 50 sheets in and have them punched on the short sides for spiral binding, then cut into quarters. Each stack of 50 sheets makes four notebooks. I keep a notebook in my purse at all times and jot down any thought or to-do that occurs to me. I love having paper on hand at all times, and it is very satisfying to tear of each sheet from the spiral binding once I’ve processed all the notes into various digital systems. I may have enough paper for a lifetime of notebooks at this point, although the same paper also gets used as scrap paper and as printer paper wherever possible.

By the end of the second day, I had reduced my Paper collection by about half, to this final Keep pile:

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You can see the stacks of notebook and printer paper on the top right, and some cut and punched notebooks (without bindings) just below. The files take up about half the space in my file box that they used to, although there are quite a few files in the sentimental box that I haven’t dealt with yet.

I ended up with a huge Recycle pile and a significant Shred pile (I forgot to photograph them, sadly). I also had a folder full of papers that I wanted to keep digitally, but not physically. Many of those, especially the product manuals, I was able to find online over the next couple of weeks. Roughly 50 items remained to be scanned. The plan is to do all the scanning while visiting my parents over Easter, since they have a very nice scanner.

In absolute terms, I have been working on decluttering since June of last year. The slowness of my KonMari is absolutely intentional. I struggle to part with anything I’ve owned for any length of time, doubly so if it was a gift or connected to my family in some way. I don’t shop a lot in person or online, and the reason I have an uncomfortable (for me) level of stuff is solely because I have trouble getting rid of things. If I take my time, pay attention to each item, and find away to get rid of it without putting it straight into the trash, I can stop myself from keeping everything. This slowness works for me in a way that would probably discourage or overwhelm other people. I also don’t have a ton of possessions in terms of absolute numbers, so I can afford to take it slow. It is definitely not the easiest way to declutter, but it works for me more than any other process has before.

In the KonMari process, Paper is the last “named” category. Kondo groups all other possessions under a general “Komono” (Miscellaneous) category. Like many other people, I’ve divided up my Komono into many sub-categories to keep it manageable. At the moment, my categories are: Kitchen, Bathroom, Linens, Office Supplies, CDs/DVDs/Video Games, Electronics, Jewelry, Craft Supplies, Household Equipment (basically “everything else”), Decorations and Sentimentals. March has been all about Kitchen, so I’ll be posting about that soon. I’m hoping to keep up the momentum and tackle at least Bathroom (possibly also Linens) in April. Persistence, in this as in everything, is key.

P.S. After about a month back blogging I’ve decided to switch to a Monday/Wednesday posting schedule. I may post the occasional Friday post as well, like I did last week, but the Monday/Wednesday posts will be consistent. Well, as consistent as I can make them, of course!



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5 Responses to Making Space – Paper

  1. Christine says:

    At Capital Knitter Headquarters we TRY to be paper free – about once a month we scan all the important mail and then shred it. Its doubly awesome because then all the things are easily accessible and easy to find when you need them! I bet your organizational efforts are an excellent investment of your time and energy.

    • Jess says:

      I hope so! I was clearing out several years worth of papers, which is part of the reason it took so long. My plan is to keep as little paper as possible going forward, and to check my files once every six months or so to see what I can get rid of. Hopefully that keeps it manageable from now on.

  2. Pingback: 2016 Jan-Apr Goals Update | One Stitch, One Step

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