The Magic of Tidying Up – Taming Paper Clutter

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 UpTo 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.

The Aha

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)?


The Experience

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.


Paper Clutter 2That was day one.

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.

Up nextPart 3: Does it Spark Joy?

Care to weigh in?

What are you experiences of the KonMari method? Tell us in the comment thread. We welcome your thoughts!

Dear Readers: If you found this message helpful, please forward it to someone else (or share, like, tweet, pin… ) and let’s build the clearing energy together that will help to lighten all of our loads!

Tidying Up-Marie Kondo*Part 2 of 4

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:

  1. Taming the Clothes
  2. Taming Paper Clutter
  3. Does it Spark Joy?
  4. Tidy All at Once or Bit by Bit?


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Showing 7 comments
  • Patchouli

    oooh paper ,I have important papers ,birthday cards, old magazines ,sentimental things ,bills ,receipts ,study papers all mixed up all over the house ( except bathroom and kitchen) in boxes ,bags and piles.Don’t have a paper system ,or any systems at all .Your method is so gentle which is what I feel I need right now as I am overwhelmed with physical and emotional stuff but I need to sort out this house and my son has a week off work next week and wants to decorate and do some jobs .Any suggestions please

  • Valerie

    Hi, Stephanie – I just heard of you today – just watched the first video I’m a fan of MK (who I have amateur-diagnosed with OCD) but need a little additional push of what I think you have to offer and just signed up for the Year… I am a “thinker” and a “what iffer” and there is a strong hoarding gene in my family. I’m also a perfectionistic book- and paper-lover who sees value, insight, information in every scrap so the piles get crazy and then I spend days on OCD “filing” (I have a bit of what MK has…)

    What I’d love (if it’s not coming to me already in the above) is a set of “thoughts” – how do I THINK about the “10 steps to the perfect upper arms” article that I’ve been hanging onto for 5 years … what ideas / insights will motivate me to let go / part with what could be the perfect article to lead my to my perfectly-toned-upper-arm future? 😉


  • Ruthann Mork

    PAPER, nothing causes me more problems. No matter what system, no matter how I label, sort, organize I can’t get past the problems, storage, updates, current copies etc. etc.
    Whether I am in my office at work or home, personal or professional I am miserable and feel overwhelmed. I read books, articles and videos and I am still in a paper depression.

  • Shellie

    This was my biggest problem, but I found her method was the very thing I needed in this area- less is so more when it comes to paper. Keep what is really working for you, ditch the rest! Deciding and filing into so many category systems was too hard for me and the reason I resisted. I have felt the best I have in my life about paper after doing this category. Now I find myself letting paper pile up way less than I used to- still getting better at it but so much happier with my progress and I don’t miss any of it! I love your slow drip method, however and intuituively it is kind of what I have done with Kon Mari because I have so much stuff and so little time, I just found it impossible to do all at once.

  • Catherine Simard

    Hello Stephanie,

    I signed up for your 365 day journey….and after reading day 1 decided to tackle a small project: our pantry. It’s too tiny even for one person and so it’s always a challenge to decide what to keep and what to discard. Each time it does get easier. Today it was satisfying to put my husbands stuff on the first two shelves since clutter bothers him the most. This will be a contribution to harmony and ease.

    With gratitude and looking forward tomorrow’s read!

  • Nancy Helmers

    Funny, I also have an Irange Julius recipe in my recipe box! Love your suggestion to back off when feeling orerwhelmed. Oh yeah! Ease……

    • Nancy helmers

      Oops, I meant “Orange Julius”. 🙂