Despite the tremendous technological advances mankind has achieved, most of us still have a steady stream of “junk mail” that enters our home. Junk mail is one of the most common obstacles that separates households from becoming organized. Some people allow their mail to accumulate on a desk or table that is typically located near the front door, where the mail makes its entrance. Others simply stash unwanted mail into a large bin or trash bag with the intent to sort and declutter by eventually shredding the excess paper.
The following suggestions will help you avoid the massive pileup that often results after weeks, months, and after especially years of an unaddressed influx of mail.
1. Go Paperless – Unless you require paper copies of bills and statements, paperless is the way to go. Virtually all financial institutions and utility providers offer–and even prefer–e-statements, which can be accessed online or received through email, depending on the issuer.
2. Create a System – Most homes need a system by which mail can be quickly and easily divided AS SOON AS IT ENTERS THE HOUSEHOLD. I recommend using a hanging mail sorter like the one below. One tray should be labeled “IMMEDIATE” for mail that requires immediate attention. The second tray should be labeled “NON-URGENT” for mail that requires action within the next several weeks or months (i.e. renewing a magazine subscription). I also highly recommend placing a basket or small bin labeled “RECYCLING” directly under the mail sorter. This is where junk mail should go as soon as it enters the home.
Hanging mail sorter example (Amazon affiliate link):
3. Schedule time for upkeep – You will need to schedule time to address your junk mail organizational system. Otherwise it will overflow. I recommend setting aside an hour weekly to (1) address any lingering urgent mail, (2) move non-urgent items that are approaching their deadline to the urgent box, and (3) empty the recycling bin (and prepare it for curbside pickup if offered in your community). The weekly hour of mail decluttering can be scheduled concurrently with another activity, for example, if you are a person who enjoys watching television or listening to podcasts. It may also be easier to tackle a task like mail intake as an end-of-day cleanup activity before going to bed. Although I am recommending an hour, most households that address their mail weekly will likely need far less time to complete this task.
4. Deal with currently overflowing junk mail bags and bins – Many of us already have a stash of junk mail we “intended to go through and shred.” Over time, looking at that pile can become overwhelming. While the best approach is to simply go through and shred all the unwanted mail at once, many people may feel they simply do not have the energy. If this is the case, I would advise dividing the backlogged mail and setting goals (i.e. sorting and shredding 1/4 of the pile Monday, another 1/4 Friday, and so on until it’s gone). The important elements in this less intensive, “incremental” approach to decluttering mail are 1) setting clear goals and a realistic, but productive timeline and 2) being diligent in execution. If you set a productive timeline and stick to it, your pile of junk mail will be gone in seemingly no time, and your only related weekly task will be basic upkeep of your new system.
The key to both overcoming and avoiding junk mail clutter is to work at it strategically and consistently over time.