Paper Sorting Category #1: Disposing of Paper

Sep 5, 2019 | Blog, Paper Organizing

Hello MO followers. If you have not read any of the previous blog posts on paper management, take a moment to review them first. They will help get you up to speed on my backwards paper management method, where you deal with the most relevant paperwork first. At the end of that post, your goal was to make a decision on every piece of paper that comes into your life, and put it into one of three categories: dispose of (trash, recycle or shred), take action (something you need to do or you are waiting for someone else to do something) and file. That is it, three categories and limited choices within each.

Now we are ready to dive deeper into those smaller categories by helping you make the best choice for each group. Today, I’ll be discussing the “Dispose of” category. In later posts, I’ll address the “take action” category and the “file” category. This means that you are sorting paper as you go, making your future organizing job much simpler.

The biggest thing that prevents people from getting rid of their paper clutter is a little something I like to call FOMM – Fear of Making a Mistake. If you find yourself not taking action on a piece of paper because you don’t know if it should be recycled, shredded, thrown away or kept, you are not alone. Today, we are going to break it down.

Fear of making a mistake when Organizing

Do you suffer from FOMM when organizing paper? You are not alone!

Items you Decide to Keep

Once you’ve made the decision to keep a piece of paper, follow this formula for what to do with it. I’ll address what to do with these in a later post.

1. Set aside anything that is an action item and put in your action item folder.
2. Put anything that is left into a labeled bin and only place things in that category in that bin. For example, a category could be “Annie’s schoolwork.”

We will address those individual bins in a future blog post, but in the meantime, if you need something, you will know where to find it and you won’t miss out on any action items.

Recycle Category

To understand how to recycle properly, research the local rules in your community for recycling. Go online, make a visit or a phone call to your local recycling center and make sure that you are clear about what the rules are, since they differ from state to state. Post these in your garage above the recycling and trash bin, in your office or place where you process mail and paperwork and in your kitchen where you handle packaging.

This information is important because it will mitigate the fear that you might be making a mistake and recycling improperly. Knowledge is cathartic!

Shred Category

To shred or to keep is another huge issue that causes FOMM. To find out whether you should shred something, review a paper retentions guideline like this one from Dave Ramsey, and talk to your accountant to see what should be shredded vs. kept.

Shredding when you are organizing

Shred as you go! It will save you so much time.

If you know for certain that something needs to be shredded, do it right away! Otherwise it will build up and cause additional overwhelm. Don’t worry about older items that need to be shredded, just focus on tackling the new stuff as it comes along. Keep in mind that shredding should NOT be recycled. The tiny shreds of paper gum up the machinery at the recycling plant, so they must be placed in the trash.

Trash Category

Trash can collect near paper, and is worth being prepared for it as you organize. Often this is due to trash cans not being located in a convenient spot. Make sure to place trash cans anywhere you have paper – in your office, near your mail sorting station, etc.

If you potentially have recycling in those rooms, consider having a bin for that as well. Then make sure they are emptied once a week. This is a great job for kids and a common service that home cleaners provide, as long as they are aware of the location of each recycling can.

Many people have questions about whether certain paper can be recycled or whether it should be thrown away. If you have paper with plastic binding or metal spirals, remove the binding, throw it away and recycle the rest. Anything with plastic like notebook and presentation covers must be put in the trash.

Making sure you are properly recycling, shredding and tossing paper as you go along will help you enormously as you move forward with better paper habits. Creating systems to tackle only the new stuff will help you change your habits and prevent future paper buildup without being totally overwhelmed.

Until next time, that is MyMO.

Melinda Miller


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