Stem the tide
Reduce your inflow of paper in the first place. Wiss recommends unsubscribing from magazines you don’t read and switching to getting your bank statements, credit card and other monthly bills delivered electronically. To fight back against the tidal wave of brochures and promotional materials in your mailbox, the Direct Marketing Association’s website lets you opt your address out of receiving a lot of junk mail.
Create a system and follow it
Creating a system for organizing documents when you get them (and sticking to it) can help you stay organized and prevent decision fatigue, says Jennifer Truesdale, a certified professional organizer and the owner of STR8N UP professional organizing service in Daniel Island, South Carolina.
“From the time you wake up in the morning until you lay your head back on the pillow at night, your brain is making millions of subconscious and conscious decisions,” Truesdale says. Scrambling to find an old receipt or decide where to stash an important document for future use only adds to that mental burden, eating up time and leaving you mentally exhausted.
To eliminate some of those little, day-to-day decisions, start by having a strategy for what’s worth holding onto in the first place. When it comes to document storage, people really need to think about why they're saving something, says Scott Roewer, a certified professional organizer at The Organizing Agency in Washington, D.C.
“We tell people, ‘This is not a paper sorting system. It's a paper retrieval system,’” he says. “That goes whether you're keeping things as a paper document or electronically.”
Roewer suggests separating documents into “action” and “archive” files. “Action” documents are ones that form your to-do list, like a receipt for a sweater you need to return, or car registration for your trip to the DMV. “Archive” documents, like old tax returns or mortgage papers, can be filed away.
If you’re storing some documents digitally and others in hard copy, categorize them consistently. For example, if you keep your electronic medical bills in a folder marked “Doctor” on your computer, have a “Doctor” folder for your paper bills, too.
“If you are using digital and paper organization, it’s a good idea to mirror the categorization so when you’re looking for something in either system you don’t have to shift your way of thinking to find it,” Truesdale says.