Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Discarding Papers with KonMari: Part 1

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.

17 Comments

  1. I’m currently in the paper phase and I only KINDA agree with her paper method. I did a massive reorganizing of my files a few years ago so things are pretty pared down and now I just have to update them every January, keeping only what I need to have on record as recommended by my accountant (who, annually and thankfully, sends to me the list of what to keep and for how long. Consumer Reports has a great list online too).

    As I started to go through my files, I patted myself on the back for how organized they were, but then I also found files that hadn’t been neatly filed but not looked at in a decade (whoops!) As a homeowner and a landlord, and LOTS of complicated tax returns, unfortunately I have to keep that stuff. HOWEVER – All my files were fitting in one filing cabinet drawer – my goal is cut that in half and get them them into a portable handheld file box that I can tuck away in the bottom of my closet.

    As I was filing away the tax returns, I said outloud, “Sorry KonMarie but you don’t live in the United States with tax returns!”

    And I agree whole heartedly: I finally feel like I have permission to get rid of MUCH MUCH MORE! 🙂 Curious as to your next post!

    • Hi Tiffany – I thought the same exact thing as I was going through my papers: the Japanese must not have to deal with taxes…or furniture for that matter. (Where’s the section in the book on getting rid of the big stuff?!) My goal is to get from three full file drawers down to one. You’re doing amazing and good luck!

  2. I use a great way to cut down papers even more than mentioned here. What works for me is this: I put things in Dropbox and Evernote.

    My Android smartphone has a camera (or course) and I use FastScanner app. I open that app, take photos of important papers I cannot afford to lose, and send them to DropBox. It is the EASIEST WAY to get even more papers out of file cabinets and into a safe place on the CLOUD. That way, they are preserved and protected by DropBox and retrievable from any computer or smartphone, anywhere in the world. Best of all, it is FREE!

    I use Evernote for stuff I like to clip online and to look at frequently. It allows you to organize by notebooks. Say you’re planning a long trip, set up a notebook, and voila’! All the information, ie. hotel reservations, car reservations, plane confirmation numbers, etc. go into the trip notebook.

    Evernote is great for project management.
    Dropbox is great for packing away important paperwork.

  3. PS.
    As an independent small business owner, I just scan my receipts, tax returns and supporting documents, pay stubs, you name it, into a folder in Dropbox. I have a number of folders, but they can be set up monthly, quarterly, and yearly.

    2016 Tax Info is the main folder.
    These are some of my SubFolders:
    — Estimated tax info
    — Schedule C info
    — Advertising
    — Mileage records
    — Automobile expenses
    — Insurance records
    — Business Supplies (ink, paper, etc)
    — Legal / CPA fees,
    etcetera.

    All of these can be printed out from any where there’s computer access.

    • amberrking

      March 17, 2016 at 9:22 pm

      I think you’ve just inspired me to take another crack at getting rid of my file cabinet!

      • None of you has ever had to endure a period when you lost internet access? Going paperless is a great aspiration, but I am honestly surprised that I am the only person who has had to look back several years to determine a purchase date for some appliance, or to figure out capital gains. It is really scary to me, tbh, that many financial institutions now only provide about 3 years of past statement access without fee. If you are in your 30s, good luck when you are 50 or over. You may be surprised at how long you need records for.

        • amberrking

          March 24, 2016 at 12:44 pm

          Hi Linda – I’d love to know what kind of records you’ve needed over 7 years later. I honestly worry about that, but I’ve never hit any issues needing something I’ve gotten rid of yet. I’m not worried about the internet going down because all of my records are accessible from my cell phone as a back-up. You could also use a physical back-up to ensure you can still access items without internet. Amber

          • I definitely think a physical backup is prudent for important investments or life-event related materials. I have needed my parents’ birth certificates upon their deaths, and purchase dates for appliances in a rental property. Also, if you ever make stock purchases (perhaps no one does this without a broker, now), you want to be able to track which lot a particular share was purchased in, unless you don’t mind paying more capital gains tax than you deserve to. I know that sounds esoteric, perhaps. I think that for clothing, and more ephemeral goods, something like Konmari is probably great.

  4. I hope this isn’t breaking some sort of rule when it comes to leaving comments on old posts, but I really like this journey of actually breaking down Marie Kondo’s book and applying to one’s life. I read her book and for whatever reason it didn’t get me going like it did to so many people. I think I assumed I was always organized, but now seeing how the actual book is being used is very inspiring. Thanks! Going to go read the other posts now 🙂

  5. Where is part 2? What does the “deal with it” pile mean?

  6. I can’t find a receipt I need for a return. Where do I keep receipts?

    • Hi Penney – I keep receipts in a receipt folder and throw them out after a year. For bigger items with warranties, I keep the receipts stapled to the warranty or manual in a warranty folder. -Amber

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