My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away. My clients are stunned when I say this, but there is nothing more annoying than papers.” – Marie Kondo The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

 In Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, she outlines a simple technique to get organized forever: first discard all items that don’t “spark joy”, then organize completely. A couple weeks ago, I started sorting through my clothes, then books and have been amazed by how effective her methods are.

However, getting rid of clothes and books was EASY compared to my next assignment: discarding papers. In Part 1 of this blog, I’ll talk about Kondo’s recommendations and in Part 2, I’ll discuss some of the gaps in her advice and what I did a bit differently.

Kondo’s Thoughts on Paper

Kondo’s advice on paper is very simple: “My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away.” She makes me laugh by not hiding her extreme disgust for paper lying around the house.

I laughed right up to the part where I started gathering all of my papers together. It was HORRIBLE! There’s paper everywhere! Receipts, mail, stuff I need to do, kids’ art, coupons, random garbage: WHY IS THERE SO MUCH PAPER?!

What’s so great about Kondo’s advice is that I finally feel like I have permission to pitch the vast majority of my records. There is really very, very little that I need keep.

Three Categories of Paper to Keep

According to Kondo there are three types of paper to keep:

  1. Paper you’re currently using. These should all be kept in only ONE place in the house. Kondo recommends a vertical file folder.
  2. Paper needed for a limited time. Records or contracts you don’t have to keep forever.
  3. Must be kept indefinitely: birth certificates and other important papers.

Discarding Paper Instructions

Most paper doesn’t “spark joy”, so when sorting through them, the technique is very different from when I searched through my books and clothes.

  1. Gather all the paper in the house together.
  2. Create three files:
    1. A vertical file for papers in use, or that you need to process.
    2. A clear, accordion folder for documents you need to access frequently.
    3. A clear, single folder for documents you don’t need to access frequently.

While organizing the items in the “access frequently” category above is important, all documents in the “don’t need to access frequently” category should be lumped together. Why waste your time organizing them, when you never look at them?

Special Instructions

There are a few items that Kondo goes into in depth.

Item What To Do
Warranties Keep them in a single folder, since you don’t have to access them frequently.
Instruction Manuals Throw them out. They’re all online, and we rarely look at them anyway.
Lecture Materials Put the ideas to use and then get rid of your notes.
Credit Card Statements After you’ve ensured they’re correct, they’ve fulfilled their usefulness. Throw them out.
Old Checkbooks No one uses these again. Throw them out.
Greeting Cards Get rid of them, except for the ones that spark joy.
Pay Slips Use them to figure out how much you earned and then throw them out.
Sentimental Papers (cards, certificates, etc) Set them aside until you deal with mementos. Eventually you’ll break them into two piles: “keep” and “deal with”.

How Well Does This Work?

Unlike when I went through my files the first time, I am REALLY cleaning house this time.

Discarding Papers

I guess I was originally afraid that I would need all these records for some sort of mythical tax purpose or lawsuit. What Kondo helped me realize is that, hey, I’m 32, if I haven’t had to use these documents yet, after years and years of taxes and no lawsuits, I don’t need to keep them!

There are a few categories that I came across and some things that I changed about how I store my papers. That’s what I’ll talk about in Part 2.