How to Declutter Paper – The Awesome Step-by-Step Guide

Are you drowning in paper clutter at your house? Read this guide to learn how to declutter paper for good!

One of the most common types of clutter (and one that can accumulate in record time) is paper clutter. 

According to The Spruce, there are 5 main types of clutter:

  1. clutter without a place
  2. trash masquerading as clutter
  3. buying in bulk to make you feel safe
  4. aspirational clutter for the future
  5. sentimental clutter from the past

You can see that paper clutter can easily fall into many of these categories!

Think of magazines, old receipts, and junk mail as trash masquerading as clutter. Or consider school papers or old lists as clutter without a place. Also, paper clutter such as birthday or thank you cards, invitations, and kids’ artwork certainly definitely can be sentimental clutter from the past too! 

In this article today, we’re going to identify 10 types of paper clutter that may be lurking around your house. 

You’ll find simple and practical solutions to help you declutter paper in each of these categories.

Finally, we’ll cover some recommendations for getting rid of confidential papers securely and what types of paper you do need to hold onto for the long term.

decluttering paper

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Let’s dive right in, shall we? 

Paper Clutter culprit #1: Junk mail

Junk mail is a constant source of potential clutter in our homes! And it affects everyone.

According to the New York Times, up to 48% of mail delivered by the United States Postal Service consists of direct advertising – things like flyers, coupons, and more. That adds up to about 84 billion pieces of junk mail being delivered in the U.S. every year! 

How to opt-out of junk mailings

One of the best things you can do to alleviate paper clutter in the form of junk mail is to opt-out of receiving it in the first place! 

To opt-out of direct marketing, you can visit www.DMAchoice.org to decide what types of promotional mail you do and don’t want to receive. There is a $2 processing fee, but your registration will be valid for 10 years! 

So, for 50 cents a year, you will no longer have to waste time dealing with direct marketing.

Additionally, it’s a great idea to remove yourself from mailing lists for pre-approved credit cards and insurance offers. You can do this by visiting www.optoutprescreen.com. There you can choose to opt-out for five years or permanently. 

junk mail paper clutter

How to declutter junk mail

While opting out of junk mailings can have a significant impact on the amount of mail you receive, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place for decluttering junk mail that does make it through these filters. 

The solution is simple: every time you check the mail, take out all the junk mail and immediately put it in the recycling or trash bin. Make a rule that junk mail will never touch any surfaces in your home – no countertops, dressers, or tables!

If you keep a recycling bin outside or in the garage, you could make a rule that junk mail never even makes it through the door. 

Free printable decluttering checklist

If you want to create a more peaceful environment in your home, download and print the Ultimate Decluttering Checklist from the Jen Bradley|MOMs Free Printable Library!

You’ll find over 140 things you can declutter quickly and easily from your home. 

Click right here to gain access to the free decluttering checklist or on the image below. 

ultimate decluttering checklist

Paper clutter source #2: Old magazines and catalogs

Do you have a magazine basket or rack in your home? When was the last time you thumbed through it? 

Chances are, if you’re like me, it was probably AGES ago! 

If you have magazines that are more than a year old, and you haven’t looked at them in the past year, it is time to let them go! 

According to Live Green, glossy paper is definitely recyclable, so chuck those old magazines into the recycling ASAP! 

If you have trade or hobby magazines with tips or patterns for future projects, check and see if this information is available online. (It usually is!) Once you find and bookmark the site, you can successfully declutter the magazine. 

Also, if you have magazines full of photos you want you keep, make it a point to pull the pages out that you want to keep, and give yourself a deadline to get them displayed.

declutter paper magazines

Finally, catalogs are very easy to declutter. If you have catalogs that are more than even a few months old, it is likely the items being offered are no longer on sale and may or may not be in stock. Put all old catalogs in the recycling bin ASAP. 

If you do receive catalogs you enjoy browsing, make it a point to look at the catalog and then recycle it right away. Don’t allow catalogs to pile up in the future! 

Paper clutter culprit #3: Expired coupons

Similar to catalogs, it’s easy for paper coupons to pile up – whether that’s on the counter or in a kitchen drawer. 

No matter where you store your coupons, thumb through them and edit them quickly. 

First, throw away or recycle and coupons that are expired. (Except Bed, Bath & Beyond – they honor expired ones!) 

Next, go back through your coupons and make sure you’re only holding on to coupons for items that you already buy regularly. (Keeping coupons to buy things you don’t normally buy aren’t real savings anyway!)

Finally, choose a place to keep your coupons and decide on a way to organize them. This awesome coupon organizer from Amazon has 24 dividers, a shopping list and pen holder, and can attach to the handle of your shopping cart! 

expired coupons are paper clutter

Paper clutter source #4: Old receipts

In this day and age, it is rarely necessary to keep old receipts, thanks to online banking and email receipts.

Check your desk, handbag, and anywhere paper clutter tends to pile up and get rid of any old receipts for merchandise, food, gas, and entertainment. 

If you want to keep receipts for gifts purchased, keep them all paper-clipped together in a specific location. Once the holiday or birthday has passed and you’re sure no returns need to be made, discard the receipts all at once. 

declutter paper receipts

Paper clutter source #5: Owner’s manuals or instructions guides

Similar to receipts, it is no longer necessary to hold onto owner’s manuals or instructions guides – thanks to the internet! 

If you’re hesitant to recycle your owner’s manuals, here are three helpful ideas to reduce the paper clutter:

  • Pull out your collection of owner’s manuals and do a quick Google search for the manufacturer, make, and model, with the search term “owner’s manual.” It’s likely you’ll find a link to the online version of the owner’s manual you have in your hands. (Make a quick digital list of all the manufacturer, make, and model info too!)
  • If you don’t find the owner’s manual on Google, check to see if the paper copy is written in several languages. If possible, tear out the sections that contain any languages you don’t speak and recycle these. At the very least, you’ll be able to significantly reduce the space that your owner’s manuals occupy. 
  • Also, as you thumb through your owner’s manuals, view them with a critical eye. Do you really need the owner’s manual for the stroller? Or is its use self-explanatory? If so, recycle the owner’s manual. 

Paper clutter culprit #6: Bills and bank statements

Once again, bills are a great area to tackle when you’re on a quest to declutter paper in your home! 

One of the best ways to eliminate this type of paper clutter is to sign up for online banking or billing services. 

According to Better Money Habits from Bank of America, you only need to hold onto utility bills for one month after you verify the payment has been processed. 

(If you’re self-employed, you may need to hold onto utility bills a bit longer for tax purposes.)

declutter paper bank statements

Additionally, if you receive paper bank and credit card statements, it’s recommended to hold onto them for one year. 

Once these time periods pass, it’s a good idea to shred these documents instead of simply recycling them or throwing them away. This inexpensive paper shredder can shred up to eight pages at a time and includes a credit card shredder feature too! 

Decluttering Simplified

If you’re planning to do a whole home decluttering, check out my awesome online course called Decluttering Simplified! It’s a self-paced course that will help you mentally prepare for and successfully declutter your house for good!

Sometimes all we need is a little motivation and a good plan – this course will give you both.

Decluttering Simplified

Paper clutter source #7: Old lists and scrap papers

If you’re a prolific list-maker (like me!) or have a doodler in your home (like my kids!), you know how common it is to find discarded lists or doodles scattered all over the house. 

Every few days or at least once a week, gather all of the lists and scrap papers laying about and quickly rifle through them. Check to see which lists you’ve completed, and which papers your doodlers are ready to discard. 

For my kids, we do a simple “keep or give” session. Basically, I hold up each paper and they quickly reply with either the word “keep” or “give.” I sort the papers into their respective piles as we go. The kids then put their keep papers in a binder, and I throw out the rest!

(For more information and tips on how to successfully declutter with kids at home, read this article here!)

old lists are paper clutter too

Paper clutter source #8: Invitations

While the number of invitations you regularly receive may fluctuate a lot, there is no need to keep invitations long after the events have happened! 

When you receive an invitation, put the necessary information into your calendar and RSVP right away, if necessary. 

You can throw the invitation away immediately.

But if you’re particularly excited about the event, you can display the invitation on a corkboard or on the side of the fridge.

(Try to keep things off the front of your fridge to maintain the look of a decluttered kitchen! For more tips on kitchen decluttering, read this article here!). 

Then once the event happens, take down the invitation and throw it away. You don’t need to hold onto it to remind you that you attended! 

decluttering paper tips

Paper clutter source #9: Kids’ school papers and artwork

It’s no secret that kids product a TON of paper – whether it’s school papers or artwork! 

But let me give you permission here and now to throw out the vast majority of it! 

If your kids have a hard time letting go of their papers, you may decide to let them keep the best two or three papers they create each week. Then as these begin to pile up, you can have your kids choose the best five papers from the whole month. 

Then at the end of the school year, have your child choose their top 20-30 papers or art projects and take photos of each of them. You can easily compile these photos into an affordable photo book from Shutterfly or Snapfish. 

Once you receive your photo book in the mail, you can recycle or throw away the originals! Voila! Goodbye kid’s paper clutter!

If you do want to keep a few items from each school year, this large, stackable fiberboard box with a built in label is the perfect solution! 

declutter kids school papers and artwork

Paper clutter source #10: Sentimental items

Sentimental items are often some of the hardest things to declutter. It’s perfectly normal to want to hold onto mementos such as birthday cards, thank you cards, and special notes and letters. 

While the right amount of these items to keep may vary from person to person, here are a few ideas to help you keep this type of paper clutter to a minimum:

  1. Consider whether or not you have multiple pieces of paper from the same person. 
  2. Determine whether there was a lot of heartfelt sentiment poured into the item. If you’re holding onto a ton of old birthday cards that are simply signed, “Love, Mom and Dad” and have no other message, these obviously don’t represent a lot of time and effort. 
declutter sentimental paper items

How to get rid of confidential papers securely

Thankfully, most paper clutter can be recycled. 

But anything that contains information such as bank account information, medical or insurance information, or social security numbers needs to given special consideration. 

DIY options

The most inexpensive way to conceal confidential information is by using a simple redacting pen like this. This pen ensures that any covered text can’t be picked up by copy machines or scanners. It may take time to find account numbers throughout your documents and go over them with this pen, but it can certainly be done! 

Another option for securing your confidential information when decluttering paper is to use a shredder. If you’ll only use a shredder on occasion, this inexpensive shredder from Amazon is perfect.

But if shredding papers daily is important to you, this paper shredder can hold over 320 pages shredded, has an easy carrying handle, can shred 10 pages at a time, and can handle staples one at a time. 

shred important papers when decluttering

Paper shredding services

If you’re short on time and have the funds, you can pay to have your papers shredded for you. Staples, Office Max, UPS, and other office stores typically offer a paper shredding service. You’ll likely pay a set fee based on the number of pounds of paper you bring in. 

If you’re concerned about security, you can also have a paper shredding service come to your home. However, this can cost quite a bit more depending on where you live.  Keep in mind too that that a one-time visit will cost more than setting up a recurring service. 

Important papers to keep (and how long you need to keep them!)

While decluttering paper is a worthy effort, there are some types of paper that we do need to hold onto over time. 

First, you’ll want to find a permanent place in your home for documents such as birth and marriage certificates, a paper copy of any last wills and testaments, immunization records, and passports.

Bank of America recommends holding on to copies of your tax returns and any major financial events (such as inheritances or legal filings) permanently as well. 

Secondly, supporting tax documentation should be kept for a period of 3-7 years. This includes W-2s and 1099 Forms, annual bank and investment statements, charitable donation receipts, and tuition payments. 

If your tax returns are ever audited by the government, you’ll want to have all of these documents on hand. 

papers to keep long term

Final thoughts on how to declutter paper

Paper decluttering doesn’t have to be overwhelming!

The most important thing – as with ANY decluttering project – is to just start! 

I recommend starting by decluttering paper items such as expired coupons, old receipts, owner’s manuals, bills, old magazines and anything you have little emotional attachment to. 

Save the birthday and thank you cards, and kids school papers and art projects until AFTER you’ve started to see the benefits of decluttering in your home! 

And don’t forget to join the Jen Bradley|MOMs Free Printable Library to print and download your copy of the Ultimate Decluttering Checklist too!

Related articles about decluttering

15 Don’t Miss Tips You Need to Know for Decluttering a Kitchen

Closet Decluttering: 11 Essential Tips You Need for Success

The Ultimate Decluttering Checklist

9 Amazing Tips to Help You Survive Decluttering with Kids

3 Easy Steps to Make Decluttering Clothes Painless

how to declutter paper piles

Which type of paper clutter do you have the most of at your house? 

How to Declutter Paper - The Awesome Step-by-Step GuideHow to Declutter Paper - The Awesome Step-by-Step GuideHow to Declutter Paper - The Awesome Step-by-Step GuideHow to Declutter Paper - The Awesome Step-by-Step GuideHow to Declutter Paper - The Awesome Step-by-Step GuideHow to Declutter Paper - The Awesome Step-by-Step Guide

Jen Bradley is the creator of The Confident Closet

Hi there! I’m so glad you’re here. I am a mom of five kids who believes you can find joy in mom life – mostly by learning how to simplify motherhood! Read More …

 

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Check out my new Online Course!

Decluttering Simplified is an affordable, step-by-step, self-paced course that’ll help you get past the overwhelm of clutter and give you an easy system to follow! 

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