Part 2 of 4*
Taming Paper Clutter
This is the second in a series of four articles that chronicles my experiences and impressions of Marie Kondo’s hugely popular book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. To catch up and read the previous posts, click the active links at the bottom of this page.
Even if you haven’t read Kondo’s book, you may find my remarks helpful in your journey.
When I read the section in Kondo’s book on clearing paper and paperwork, I must confess that my eyes started to glaze over. I felt overwhelmed and tired and couldn’t focus. Her suggestions for how to manage paper clutter were a blur. The only method that made sense to me was “discard everything” and that was too much for me to process at that moment in time.
This is not her fault. Paper is one of the biggest challenges facing most of us. And yes, even I, the veteran space clearing practitioner and teacher, with decades of experience, still have way too much of it.
Recently when I surveyed over 10,000 students, readers, and SpaceClear followers, I was struck by how many of them put down “Paper” as being one of the biggest clutter challenges they face.
I pushed past my initial blur (aka resistance) and kept reading. When I landed on part where she talks about credit card statements, warranties and appliance manuals – I perked right up! This I could handle. And being told that I didn’t have to keep any of it was a complete revelation and a relief.
You mean I can ditch the two years of credit card statements that I meticulously save (for who knows what)? You mean I can toss the appliance warranties – those yellowed scary looking papers that I never filled out (and have long since expired)? You mean I can throw out the appliance manuals with intricate illustrations on how to install them (in case I took them apart on a lark and needed help remembering how to put it back together again)?
So out they went: credit card receipts in the “to shred” basket; the warranties and manuals into recycling. Some of the manuals were yellowed with age and dated back to the mid 80s. Some manuals I had kept for appliances we no longer owned.
Took me less than fifteen minutes.
On day two, I was so inspired that I pulled out my beloved recipe box that I’ve had for over forty years. You can still see the homemade tabs I made with that embossing gizmo that was popular in the seventies.
I threw out half the contents. Over 110 recipes, which I’ve lovingly kept all these years just in case I’m inspired to make brown bread, Orange Julius, or spice sachets.
Not gonna happen.
Not ever in this lifetime.
Taking One Step at a Time
It would be radical to ditch it all – but I’m not sure I’m ready to pull it off just yet. I’m still too attached, and some of it, frankly, is still useful.
There are folders that I check every once in a while that I’m really glad I still have – like the folder for my internet-TV provider, for example. It reminds me of the string of conversations I’ve had every year with customer service agents. I suppose I could type it all up, but that would take some time I rather spend doing other things. Plus I kind of like seeing my scribbles.
When it doesn’t feel too onerous, I will go back and re-read the section in the book that I couldn’t process before.
“Folding In” The Spacious Way
Kondo would probably cringe when I say this, but my slow-drip, “reduce and repeat,” method of clearing works like a charm for paper, too. Adopt the “Rule of One”: work with whatever you can handle in increments of one: one piece of paper, one pile, or one area, for one minute every day; and increase the task or time spent when your energy allows until the task is complete. My recipe box is a “tidy” example: I chose only the box and its contents to work with in one sitting. Not the folders in my filing cabinet. Not the letters that still sit in a box in my closet.
The slow-drip – spacious – method works well to soften resistance, nurture ease, and grow new habits that lead to lasting change.
If paper is a huge challenge for you – i.e. it paralyzes you just to think about it, and makes you go into cold sweats every time you look at it – that would be an indicator to back away. It’s very difficult to make progress when you’re in overwhelm. Address an issue or an area of clutter that doesn’t carry so much emotional charge. Maybe it’s your magazine collection, the refrigerator, or shoes, or stamp collection – anything that won’t send you into spasms of fight-or-flight. Adopt Kondo’s method of clearing by category (vs. by room) – it’s brilliant!
Over time, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find yourself in front of the mounds of paper with more energy and aliveness to address them effectively in no time.
Care to weigh in?
What are you experiences of the KonMari method? Tell us in the comment thread. We welcome your thoughts!
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This is the second in a series of four articles that chronicles my experiences and impressions of Marie Kondo’s hugely popular book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. To catch up and read the previous post, click the active link here: