creating a simple system for paper clutter

When we made this last move to the east coast, we didn't really come up with a revised system for dealing with our incoming mail. I think some of it has to do with our new space. Okay, well it's not so new almost five months in, but you know what I mean. I'll spare you the gory details, but basically our mail was piling up on the little table we have in our tiny entryway. No one claimed responsibility. We pay almost all of our bills online, but Nick was snagging our utility bills from The Pile and making sure they got paid. I was grabbing catalogs when I wanted some reading material, and that's about it. In short, we'd accumulated a massive pile of unopened mail, and the time had come to deal with it. Here's what I did.

We still get quite a bit of paper mail, even though we've automated most of it. Junk mail, catalogs, tax documents, coupons, snail mail. It all adds up like crazy. Nick and I talked about it, and we decided I'd go ahead and be responsible for the mail. I love organizing things and throwing things away is definitely in my wheelhouse. Done and done. So that was step one.

Step two was figuring out what we had. So I took the giant pile of mail we'd accumulated and made some smaller piles by category: for Nick, for me, shred, toss, file, respond, etc. I got online and signed up for electronic bills where I could and sorted the rest.

Step three was finding a home for everything. Catalogs live in two places in our house: either on a shelf in my office or on a side table in our family room. As new ones come in, I'm pretty good about tossing the old ones they're replacing. I keep coupons in a little drawer in our entry table. It's right between the office and the front door, at the foot of the stairs, so it's a spot we pass all the time.

In order to organize the remaining mail, I got this magazine rack. It was inexpensive, and not really intended for mail, but I love that it's white and that it hangs on the wall. I already had the little silver bookplates, which I just adhered to the mail organizer. The sections are labeled shred, Nick, Catherine, respond and file. Our shredder is upstairs in the guest room / Nick's office, and while he isn't super-passionate about decluttering, the man loves to shred junk mail with our address on it. Go figure. So that section is right next to his. Periodically, he'll grab those two, take them up to his desk and go through them. You can see this thing from our family room, which makes it easy for us to remember to take things upstairs as needed.

Anything that requires a quick reply goes into the "respond" section. Our personal sections are really for things that aren't urgent or that require us to make a decision: keep or toss. Bills go into the "respond" section. Cards or information stuff go into our personal sections. The "file" section is for things like the kids' bank statements, insurance paperwork, tax documents, medical stuff, paid bills, things we want to keep but don't require a response. Our file cabinet is upstairs, so when that section gets kind of full, I'll take it all up and file it away.

I got all the mail sorted (and shoved) into this thing and then we went through the sections, one by one. Actually the system seems to be working pretty well. At the very least there's a place to put everything. And when Nick came looking for the water bill yesterday, I knew right where it was. I'll call that a success. And it actually looks a little neater now that we've got through this stuff. It helps to break it down into categories so we're not just dealing with one big pile all the time.

I kind of feel like the last person in the 21st century to have a "mail problem." How do you manage paper clutter? Do you hang onto stuff in files? Or are you strictly electronic?