Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Discard Papers with KonMari: Part 2

Last week, in Part 1, I outlined Marie Kondo’s “discard papers” method, which she describes in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Unlike discarding clothes and books, which can be done in a few hours, discarding papers took me two weeks. Why? Because papers are EVERYWHERE!

I dealt with the file cabinet and our dresser and the kitchen island and the kitchen table and the storage boxes and the coupons and the random kid creations and our junk drawer…

Junk Drawer Before & After

Junk Drawer Before & After

Literally every room, drawer, and box had random paper and it just keeps coming in everyday (thank you, US Postal Service)!

Keep or Pitch?

I followed Kondo’s advice as closely as possible, but I found that she didn’t touch on many types of documents, so I had to make up a few things as I went.

Document Type What I Did
Health Insurance Claims Since we thankfully aren’t going through any extended illnesses, I started throwing these out right away. Our insurance company keeps a copy on their portal.
Kids’ Art Throw out all but the best pieces of art. If you can’t decide, take a picture, and then toss them. For more ideas, check out this blog post.
Receipts After verifying the charge online, I now throw out receipts for food, gas, and anything else I probably won’t return. The rest I keep for a year, except for items that have extended warranties.
Bills I’ve gone paperless and have automated payments on almost all of my bills, so I don’t have to deal with paper or checks.
Coupons I stopped using coupons. They are so annoying and I realized they’re not worth my time in sorting and storing them.

Kondo’s Suggestions

Document Type

What She Suggests

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 Set them aside until you deal with mementos. Eventually you’ll break them into two piles: “keep” and “deal with”.

Things I Kept

  1. Pay-off notices for old mortgages and car loans.
  2. Hospital records from when my kids were born and vaccine records.
  3. Tax Forms up to seven years ago, only because we’re required to, legally.
  4. All official IDs, titles, and insurance policies.
  5. Mementos: Anything that had sentimental value, I set aside to deal with later.
  6. One copy of each bill, so I can reference our account number if I need to.
  7. Warranties now live in their own folder, nicely labeled and about 1/6 of the size they used to be before I got rid of the manuals.
Good-bye Instruction Manuals

Good-bye Instruction Manuals

  1. Employee documents related to our nanny.
  2. Car maintenance records in case we ever resell them.
  3. Current reservations & tickets (like our Busch Gardens summer passes)!
  4. Credit reports: We likely only need the latest one, but I want to be sure we’re covered if anyone’s identity is ever stolen.

Still, even with all of these items still in the house, I’ve gone from four, full file drawers down to half of the top drawer (frequently accessed) and half of the second drawer (infrequently accessed). I need a lot less file cabinet now!

Top File Drawer Before & After

Top File Drawer Before & After

Organization

Kondo recommends the following:

  1. A vertical file for papers in use, or that you need to process.  I didn’t have a vertical file yet, but my pile of “in use” papers is now located in ONE location: the corner of our kitchen island. I understand why the vertical file would be better: things at the bottom of my pile are forgotten and lost.
  2. A clear, accordion folder for documents you need to access frequently. I have been using David Allen’s Getting Things Done method for eight years and, without an accordion folder readily available, I decided to continue to organize my files with alphabetized hanging folders. The only difference is that now, my files fill up half of one drawer, instead of four. I’ll likely switch to an accordion folder someday because I like the idea that it would fill up more quickly, prompting me to evaluate what’s in there sooner.
  3. A clear, single folder for documents you don’t need to access frequently. The rest of the files that don’t have sensitive information in them, I put in a pile inside the second file drawer. I didn’t mix them all together because they were already in folders, I just stacked up the folders and put them away.
"Infrequent Access" File Drawer

“Infrequent Access” File Drawer

  1. Everything else (ids, titles, tax papers, etc) goes in a secret, protected location.

The End of Paper

I really, really hated this project. It seemed to take forever and it was really, really boring. However, it is completely worth it. It turns out that random papers were the reason my house always looked so messy. Now, even with our kids’ toys strewn about, the house looks much better and it’s even easier to sort our mail (much more of it goes directly into the recycling). Now, the only problem is getting all this to the shredder.

Shred This

Pretty good, given that I’d already gone through our files once this year!

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this! I needed some guidance on many of the paper categories Marie didn’t touch on in the book, like kids’ art. And I loved your take on coupons…I think I’ll adopt that stance. No more coupons. It feels liberating! I’m looking forward to being at the end of the paper part of the tidying. It seems overwhelming. But I know it will yield amazing results.

    Did you ever decide on a vertical file solution for the in-use papers?

    • amberrking

      September 29, 2015 at 9:53 am

      Hi Suzanne,

      I’m happy this was helpful! I really do think the vertical file in the way to go. Have I bought one yet? No, but I think about it a lot and I need to just go get one. I recently looked through my paper stack and found a gift card to a spa that I’d gotten for my birthday. It’s stuff like that that I don’t want to lose and so a clear, vertical file would really help me out.

      The paper part was the most annoying phase for me. Keep going – it feels REALLY good to be done.

      Amber

  2. Sigh. I’m now on books, and dreading papers. Not just because it is a LARGE task but because I have a problem that is not unique: I have a small business as a writer and musician, and my office, alas, is in our apartment. Among other things, that means that I have a lot of paper on prospects, Schedule C documentation (bills, bills, invoices, and fees), and managing/monitoring my activities. For example, I’ll go to a business conference (which often on the music side is a hiring hall) and come away with all kinds of networking leads and such. As a writer, I have research materials on current projects. As well as music lifelong learning materials and folios, sheet music, etc. Essential reference materials, though they probably could be divided into “frequently referenced” and “only occasionally referenced”.

    I’m also married and much of our household papers refer to joint household finances. My wife, praise be, is my partner in the tidying process.

    My hunch is that if I did KonMari on all the non-professional, non-business papers, I’d have a greatly reduced set of papers and be more able to see what remains and can attack, uh, embrace the rest…

    Note: we have a 1-bedroom apartment, about 1100 square feet and only moderate closet space.

    • amberrking

      December 10, 2015 at 8:54 pm

      Hi Jeep – My recommendation based on what I eventually did is to keep anything confidential and legal in paper format and try to scan the rest. It was really easy for me to get rid of a bunch of notes I wanted to keep by taking pictures of them and uploading them to Google Drive or EverNote. It takes a bit of time, but the result is completely worth it. Sheet music may be a different story, but maybe you can test exactly how often you need the music and reference materials. Box ’em up, put a date on the box and if you haven’t used them within a pre-determined amount of time (say, a year or two) consider getting rid of them completely (to make room for materials you actually use).

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