Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ June 2013

Paper Clutter and What to Do About It

By Fiona Morrissey

By June 2008, the number of people with personal computers worldwide hit the one billion mark.  With the PC, it was hoped that there would be less paper accumulation in the home.  I have seen no evidence of this in my work.  The trouble is that new technology doesn’t always displace old technology.  For instance, not everyone likes to read the news online.  A friend of mine who owns a laptop and a regular computer still hoards newspapers.  He keeps a three-foot-high stack on top of his dog’s crate.  Recently he has started to store his papers inside the crate.  So poor Fido has to sleep somewhere else.

Excess paper is unsightly, takes forever to go though, and is adept at concealing items you actually need.  In enough quantities, paper presents a fire hazard and it also attracts a special kind of cockroach.  I haven’t seen this particular creature in the course of my work but I’ve heard it has a dark brown body and a pale yellow head.  It even has wings.

There are two sorts of paper:  paper you need to keep for good and paper you don’t.  Important examples of the first kind are active insurance policies (car, disability, health, life, long-term care, umbrella); adoption and naturalization papers; birth, marriage, and death certificates and divorce decrees; military/veterans records and discharge papers; passports; social security cards; stock and bond certs; wills; and general powers of attorney.

Paper that you don’t need falls into two distinct groups.  The first group is paper that was necessary at one stage in your life but no longer is:  obsolete insurance policies, for example, elderly instruction manuals, and old car registrations.  It still surprises me how many of my clients hang on to car registrations when they no longer own the vehicles in question.  This group also includes bank statements/checkbook registers, charitable contributions, childcare expenses, medical expenses, mortgage interest records, non-reimbursed business expenses, self-employment income/expenses, tax returns, and tax forms 1099-B, 1099-DIV, 1099-G, 1099-INT, 1099-MISC, 1099-R, and W-2.  You do not need any of these provided they are six years old or older.  If they are less than that, you hold onto them for now.

The second group of paper that you don’t need is the tricky one.  This group takes only a short time to accumulate and, if you’re not careful, will soon have the run of your house.  I’m refering to those leaning towers of newspapers, newsletters, magazines, clippings, and catalogs.  If you haven’t looked at them by now, kick ’em out.  Like all clutter, paper clutter has a mind of it’s own.  So no matter how fascinating, informative, or crucial these leaning towers pretend to be, remind yourself that they are one of the reasons you keep apologizing for your home when friends visit.

Loose recipes are another scourge.  One of my clients had 27 recipes for cheesecake stuffed inside an old jar of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise.  I finally convinced her that she didn’t have enough years in her life to make all those cheesecakes.

Books that you’ve never had time to read — or have read and won’t read again — belong to this category, too.  Earlier I warned you about paper and flying cockroaches but also be aware that the glue from bookbindings contain a special starch that these creatures enjoy snacking on.

John Burroughs said, “Leap and the net will appear.”  However, when you’re grappling with paper, a leap is a very long distance indeed.  I recommend short hops.  Set aside a certain amount of time — about half an hour — and begin with the clutter you find most offensive.  If it’s a pile of magazines, begin with that.  Pick up a publication and, before it has a chance to beguile you into keeping it, start firing questions:

When you’re done, continue with the pile until the time is up.  Persistence is the key thing here:  half an hour every day until that ugly pile has gone.  Then do the next one.  As Winston Churchill said, “Never give in.”  The payoff is that you will become better and faster at throwing out paper that doesn’t matter, you will grow more confident at disposing of non-paper clutter, and you will develop a greater sense of what it is that makes you feel truly alive.  A neighbor of mine told me recently, “After I took the plunge and cancelled all my subscription magazines, I discovered what I’ve been wanting to do all along — sit on my deck and listen to the birds!”

[Morrissey, Vice President of the NFCAA, is a Professional Organizer.  For more information see or call Fiona (contact details redacted).]   ■

   © 2013 NFCCA  [Source:]