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Tackle Paper in 2021

The start of a new year means a fresh slate for so many things - why not use it as an opportunity to purge and organize all of the paper that's been piling up for the past year, or longer. 

For tips on how to get started, we turned to Kristen Ziegler, owner of Minima, a Richmond based organization service, who offers this advice:

In my professional organizing work, there’s one thing that all clients seem to hate: PAPER. My tips will make it much less painful. It’s easier than it seems!

The the 80/20 rule applies here. The most organized person will only reference 20% of the information they hold onto. Translation—you don’t need most of the paper you are probably keeping. Be consistent. Decide where you will manage paper and stick to it—your home office, the kitchen hub, a nook in the guest room. Where you deal with it is far less important than being consistent.

Dealing with paper can seem complicated, but you only have three options

Option 1—TOSS

Ask yourself these three questions (in this order) to determine if you can TOSS:

1. Is there a legal implication? Most paper does not have a legal implication. Keeping a bill that you wrote “paid” on does not hold legal weight. Things that may have a legal implication: mortgage documents, marriage license, social security card, tax returns, etc.

2. Can the information be found elsewhere? Most anything can be found online: bank statements, recipes, bills. Ditch the paper copy.

3. What’s the worst thing that will happen? In most cases, nothing bad will happen when you throw out a piece of paper. The best thing that will happen, however, is an organized space and a clear mind.

To lessen the amount of paper you have to toss, download the free PaperKarma app to stop junk mail from being delivered to you. You can also bulk opt-out of the mail you receive at

Related: How long should I keep records? (via the IRS)

Option 2—ACT

ACT papers require some kind of action before they can be tossed or filed. Keep ACT papers close at hand in the front of your file cabinet, in a desktop file, letter trays, or a wall file. If you have a lot of ACT papers, separate by the type of action you need to take: “bills to pay”, “calls to make”, “items to research”, etc.

Option 3—FILE

FILE papers are for reference only. No action is needed. Eliminate the manila folders and use the hanging folders alone. Pick a color you love and only use multiple colors if it helps you. Place the plastic tabs in the front (not back) of the hanging folders—when you grab the tab, the folder you want will open. When labeling, use parent and sub categories. Use as few parent categories as possible to keep the system simple. Additionally, use as few words as possible to describe a folder when labeling.

If you’re tech-savvy, digitize your files. It takes up less space, is easier to search and can be accessed anywhere with an Internet connection. I use Google Drive and love it. The free Genius Scan app will make the transition much easier. Check out the 1Password program for added password security.

That’s it—TOSS, ACT or FILE! Cheers to a happier relationship with paper.

Kristen is an Organizing Expert with a Bachelor of Architecture from Virginia Tech. With over fifteen years of combined experience in the organization and design fields, she is able to deliver spaces that are both functional and beautiful through her business, Minima, an organizing and redesign service based in Richmond, Virginia. 

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